That’s me in that picture. After jumping out of a plane. Craziness. But that’s not the point. The point is that the guy I’m attached to in that picture is at work. The skydiving instructor who is wearing the parachute that is going to keep us out of the local evening news and keeping an eye on our altitude and my pulling the right chord at the right time. He is a “small business owner” in “the office”. At 12.000 feet. Not a computer in sight.
When I worked at Google we would often talk about “the advertisers” meaning the people who use AdWords. We would be talking about features or services to build for these “advertisers”. The problem is that below a certain company size (roughly where there is no longer one person doing online advertising full time) you are dealing with users who would not describe themselves as “advertisers”. Or as whatever it is you call people who use the app you’ve built. They may be bakers, builders, music teachers or skydiving instructors. They may employ several people and run a substantial business.
What characterizes a lot of “small business people”, is that they are nowhere near a computer throughout their working day. We talked to a business owner who went over to his uncles house whenever he needed to use a computer. And that’s a business owner who got most of his clients through online channels. As opposed to most desk workers, and definitely most tech workers, lots of people associate computers with NOT doing work. By definition, if that skydiving instructor is sitting at a computer, he is not doing his 12.000 feet in the sky job.
I try to keep that in mind when working on tools for small businesses. The relevant characteristics that set them apart from larger businesses is not simply the number of employees or the revenue. It’s how and when they do their work, and not least what they consider to be “real” work and what they don’t.