Katie Linendoll started in technology at the age of 14. By 17 she was certified in computer networking, and went on to graduate from the Rochester Institute of Technology.
And now she has the title of “Technology Wizard” — part of a 3-member team that goes in to do a makeover of a small business in each episode of We Mean Business, a reality television show on the A&E Network.
Recently I had the chance to interview Katie (pictured above). She manages to mix solid technology smarts and a bright vibrant personality perfect for TV.
We talked about what she’s discovered about small businesses and their challenges through the show.
Can this Business be Saved?
The 3-member makeover team on We Mean Business features an entrepreneur, an interior designer, and Katie, the technology wizard.
They go to real small businesses … ones that not only need a makeover, but in some cases are in deep trouble. The businesses are stagnant or losing money.
Most have already sunk 6 figures into their businesses, usually with loans and credit cards. In one case the business owner’s home actually had been foreclosed while the owner tried to keep the business afloat. Another had $50,000 in credit card debt. Yet another was $160,000 in the red — and climbing.
The small business owners grapple with just about every issue a small biz owner could have thrown at him or her — from depressing financial losses, to anemic sales growth, to unmotivated employees, to unpleasant facilities, to personal life issues, to fundamental marketing disadvantages, to incredibly outdated technology (in one case the business was still using a DOS computer!).
The team has 48 hours to work minor miracles on these profound problems.
Common Technology Challenges
Dell provides the technology used to make over the technical end of each business. Katie comes in, looks at what the businesses have, and designs and installs new technology systems — new Dell computers, networking, point of sale, Quickbooks accounting software, customer self-serve kiosks, graphics monitors to show customer photos, faster printers, and more.
Through the series Katie’s seen it all. She tells me she was surprised by two common technology themes across the businesses:
(1) She was shocked to see no data backup or data protection in most of the businesses. That issue crossed over industries and even crossed over business size — nearly everyone was exposed in this way.
(2) She saw an over-reliance on someone else for technology with the business owners taking almost no ownership for their technology needs. A typical response to any question was, “You have to ask my tech guy.”
She notes, “It’s always important to have a tech person to rely on. But if you’re living out the American dream, it’s equally important to take some ownership of tech issues if you want to achieve your dream. Get a little more hands-on. You’ll find it’s not that intimidating.”
She has some recommendations for quick improvements for small businesses:
- If you’re still using old fashioned cash registers, go to a point of sale system. They automate your processes and give much better business data.
- Get a multi-function printer. They’re faster than the one you have, save space and are inexpensive.
- Consider a laptop. This allows the owner to be mobile and go home and be with family.
- Replace employee time cards with a swipe card or a time-keeping application integrated with the point of sale system. Better record keeping can save money.
- Invest in an inexpensive thumb drive (flash memory stick). You can save your data and take it with you, and don’t always need to lug around a laptop if you’re on the road.
Yeah, But What if the Owners Won’t Listen?
When I watched the episodes, it was my turn to be surprised. I was surprised by how resistant to new ideas several business owners were. Some argued openly with the team about their ideas. There was a follow-up video done a few months after each makeover, and in several cases the owner had un-done parts of the makeover. (Usually in those cases the business was not doing any better, either. Remind me the next time someone gives me advice, to take it.)
If you missed the shows on TV, or if you are not in the United States, never fear. You can watch the “We Mean Business” episodes online at the A&E website.