Joe Tibbetts an owner-manager for 30 years is a marketing and business development "engineer" and has advised hundreds of SMEs and many local and national government departments on their digital marketing communications


For the smaller owner-managed company turning over between, say, one and five million pounds a year finding the time to think strategically can prove almost impossible.

It is a fact of the owner manager’s life that dealing with tactical decisions on a daily basis takes up every waking minute. And yet whatever your business, peering into the future and finding the time to read or listen to other people’s ideas of what is around the corner is essential.

A few months ago I was asked to make a presentation at the annual get-together of a professional association of engineering businesses. Almost all the 120 plus members who turned up to the hotel in the Cotswolds were owner-managers.

I sat at the back while the day progressed and presenter after presenter offered more or less visionary solutions to the immediate problems besetting businesses of the type owned and managed by the assembled audience. The cost of energy was a recurring theme, “unfair” competition from China another, cost and difficulties of recruitment yet another.

I wasn’t surprised. These factors threaten the near term survival of many of our businesses. And yet if surviving and dealing with these immediate problems is all that we owner managers can do today, the trip-hazard that is just around the corner will surely pop up as tomorrow’s pressing and immediate problem.

Simply reacting to problems as they appear is not a viable business strategy.

Finally it was my turn. I had chosen to speak about “the digital future and the end of business as we know it”. My argument was simple. The digital future and the internet-of-things will be either a threat or an opportunity. Some companies will make good on these huge changes and some will be swept away by them but no company will remain untouched or unchanged by the digital phenomena already being felt in our businesses and in our personal lives.

My presentation was quite well received. There were a couple of good questions from the audience. In the bar afterwards a handful of people came over to discuss the implications of what I had been saying. But I couldn’t focus and it wasn’t the generous supply of drinks that was causing the problem.

I couldn’t stop thinking about the last presentation of the day, It was all about marketing. The presentation, by the owner manager of a PR company, focussed on the importance of good quality, regular press releases. I felt like a time traveller in a film on late night TV.

The picture went wavy and when clear reception was restored I found that everything around me was in black and white. I looked at my hand, it too was monochrome. I was in a room full of owner managers, with companies turning over a few million pounds a year who thought that resourcing a small, feet on the ground, sales force and (over) paying a PR company to churn out press releases and contact reports was a sensible use of their money and other scarce resources.

I was surrounded by managers contemptuous of the power and ignorant of the cheapness of social media; owners of expensive web sites that allowed them to change content once a year, for a fee, rather than inexpensive websites that allow updated content to be uploaded, cost-free, on a daily basis; proprietors who thought they had to pay to use media channels owned by other organisations rather than building their own, direct channels to their audiences; line managers who meet their sales force, face-to-face on a regular basis, in companies where messages are routed from one individual to another instead of being open for all who have the password to see.

My heart missed a beat, the picture went wavy and once again everything could be viewed in glorious colour.

“Are you coming to the dinner?” asked one of my hosts. But I made my excuses and left.