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Can This Business Be Saved? Interview with Katie Linendoll, Technology Wizard





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employees, to unpleasant facilities, to personal life issues, to fundamental marketing disadvantages, to incredibly outdated technology (in one case the business was still using a DOS computer!).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.

13 Comments ▼

Anita Campbell - CEO


Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder, CEO and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses.

13 Reactions

  1. Martin Lindeskog

    Anita: Will your interview with Katie Linendoll air on Small Business Radio? I watched the Berry Elegance episode and it was a real fruit punch and knocked me down! 😉 I like this kind of reality show that has a base in a real business. A Swedish version of the Dragons’ Den will start next year.

  2. Denise O'Berry

    Wow Anita, what a find! I watched one episode at the A&E site and this team is spot on with the advice and assistance they are giving small business owners. Sadly though, they have run into a typical problem — small business owners who think a product / service will sell itself because it’s so great. I encountered this many times in my work with small business owners. Often the passion that makes them want to be in business for themselves is what holds them back from being successful.

  3. Anita Campbell

    Hi Martin, no I did not record the interview. I just took notes. In hindsight it would have made a great radio interview, wouldn’t it?

    Anita

  4. Anita Campbell

    Hi Denise,

    Yes, most of the business owners had a classic case of “working IN the business, not ON it.”

    For example, you could tell that the doggie daycare owner loved working with the dogs but had far less enthusiasm for other aspects of running the business, such as presenting retail products in an appealing way. You hear her say “we almost never sell any of the dog food” etc. , which should be a clue right there that she should listen to the team’s advice about proper presentation of retail goods.

    Same goes for the pizza shop owner. He loved perfecting his pizza recipe, but was resistant to changes that would have improved marketing and sales. I loved the comment he made in the follow up video about why he tore out the customer order counter: because it was taking up two valuable table spots. Yet, the place was empty during the peak lunch hour when the team was there, and later he reported that the business had not gotten better. Doesn’t sound like the lack of those two tables was holding back business, yet that was a key reason for taking out a customer counter that made the place much more appealing to customers.

    What I got out of the series is that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. It makes me wonder: ‘what is obvious to others about my business, but I am too stubborn or blind to see?’ Hmmmmm. 🙂

    Anita

  5. Martin Lindeskog

    Anita: Yes, it would be perfect as a radio interview, but your notes are valuable too. Do you have any plans to start video TV / video interviews?

  6. This is a great find, I had no idea this was even on. I wish they would pick a different time than Saturday mornings though. I love shows like this, I often watch Kitchen Nightmares with Gordon Ramsey. It amazes me how clueless people can be. Even when they are offered professional advice, they fight every step of the way. I would give my left arm for an opportunity like this and I would take every piece of advice to heart.

    I agree with Martin that this would have made a great show interview. I’d love to hear about her experiences with these particular businesses.

  7. Amanda, did you see the contest for a $25K Dell makeover? Runs thru November 7th 2008: http://www.dellmeansbusiness.com/contest/

  8. I wasn’t aware of this program either which is surprising because I watch A&E. I’m going to have to go check it out now. . . .

  9. I love the show. I DVR it so I never miss it – as Sat. mornings are usually hectic.

    So far in the episodes I have seen, they take businesses that are in the red and owned by people you wonder why they are even in business. What I’d like to see the show do is take a business that IS making money and take them to the next level.

  10. Wow Inspiring to know Katie, a tech wizard.

  11. Yeah, But What if the Owners Won’t Listen? –> Then leave them alone. It’s their loss not ours.

    Just kidding. Well, we can always remind them or at least try to convince them that business must embrace technology. If still they won’t listen after we reach out to them, it’s their choice. By then, we must leave them alone of their lives and businesses. They will be held responsible for whatever consequences of their actions and decisions.

  12. It is easy to get new technology when it is given to you but who can afford $2000-$4000 dollars worth of computers and printers while the business is going? I’d love to update my POS but money is the problem.

  13. I just recently found the make over program and was very impressed with the proffesional manner in which it was done. My son is very good at what he does but needs help with the rest – He has a learning disability which affects his organization skills in running the financial part of the business. However he is very pasionate about his business which he has been doing since he was very young. I bought him a shed to work in when he was a young teen which he used up until a few years ago. He now has purchased a commercial shop and appears to be struggling. I explained to him that one can’t always be good at everything and that he needs to get his books organized – I am afraid that if he doesn’t get the help he needs he will end up losing everything. His first chld is on the way and I know with good direction he will be very successful. I hate to see him so stressed but lending him money is not the answer. I am hoping that your program would consider him for an upcoming make over. I thank you for your kind attention in this matter.

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