In today’s hyper-competitive marketplace, technology is a necessary component of business. Today, technology solutions offer the most efficient and effective way to schedule labor, track inventory, bill clients, gather and analyze data, communicate with customers, hire employees, showcase products and services, and much more. But many wholesale plant and landscaping businesses struggle to implement technology solutions in the workplace.
Business owners may fear that long-term and older employees won’t adapt to new practices or fear investing too much money into technology when profits are tight. Those who work mostly with earth and stone might feel like technology solutions are too far outside their fields of knowledge or might not realize the benefits technology can provide.
But wholesale plant and landscaping industries are facing many challenges: droughts, pests, diseases, increasing labor costs, employee shortages, competition for resources, and increasing customer demands and expectations, to name just a few. It’s time for industry businesses to implement the changes necessary to make sure they run as efficiently and effectively as possible.
Here are some tips for making sure your business is successful when making the changes necessary to transition into the future.
Ask an Expert for Guidance. The number and variety of technological solutions available to solve almost any business challenge can be overwhelming and intimidating, especially if you don’t speak tech. Most small businesses do not need or have the means to have a full-time technology expert on staff – meaning you are on your own regarding decisions about which software to purchase now and in the future. Consult with your peers, or even hiring an outside consultant before you make a purchasing decision. A good consultant should understand how your unique business needs and operations would work in relation to different technology solutions.
Use technology as a tool, not a replacement. Many people believe technology eliminates the need for human labor, but that’s misguided. It’s important to understand that technology, while efficient, cannot replace a interpersonal relationships and good, hard-working people who can think on their feet, who can problem-solve when challenges arise and who can communicate well with others. This is especially true in the relationship-based wholesale plant and landscaping industry. Good employees are the life-blood of this industry. Technology should be seen and used as a tool to help employees do their jobs more easily and effectively, and not as a replacement for employees. Technology creates opportunity for good people and good companies to do more with less and focus more on relationship-building, growing and designing. Ask your employees what tasks they think would be easier to do through a technology solution.
Know what problem you’re trying to solve and set achievable goals for solving it. Knowing what you’re trying to achieve and why, prior to implementing any technology solution, is critical. You must have a way to measure progress before you start. Are your labor costs too high? Implementing a time management software solution may help you decrease labor costs by 5 percent. Are you throwing out too much inventory? Inventory tracking could help you decrease waste by 10 percent.
Create a committee and communicate to employees early on. When rolling out any change or technology solution that will impact employees, it’s paramount to communicate the what, when, where, how and why early on — from the very beginning. Create a committee that includes representation from the ground level on up — middle management, upper management. Tell committee members what problem they must solve and what goal you want to reach. Committee members can test out technological solutions, work through any deficiencies, address employee concerns, gain the buy-in of their direct colleagues and train others when the time comes.
Implement technology in incremental steps. Once a business has decided to begin changing ways and implementing new technology solutions, don’t go all-in at first. Take steps and roll out the changes in phases. With nearly all web-apps (otherwise known as “Software as a Service,” or SaaS solutions), it’s usually possible to do a trial period first with just one or two employees using the software or technology. Take notes on what works and what doesn’t and on the initial challenges and potential training needs. Make sure the software does what it promises, and if it doesn’t, note the cost, time and strategy it will take the business to get the software to integrate with the business. If the software passes those tests and works for those initial employees, then begin training more employees. Using incremental steps will make changes more digestible for employees and keeps a business from rolling out a software solution that doesn’t work according to its needs.
Be patient and give it time. Oftentimes, companies might expect immediate results from their technology solution and wind up giving up too early, either because there aren’t goals or metrics to measure success or because those goals weren’t realistic. Most technology solutions take time to see results. It will take time — say, six months or a year — for your workers to learn a new skill or a new platform and to adapt to using it as part of their workflow. It will take time to build a social media audience. It will take time to move a database. Implementing new programs and changing processes has financial, emotional and business costs associated with it: the financial burdon of investing in the technology; the emotional toll on employees, whether positive or negative, relief or frustration; the time it takes to transition from one process to another. Companies that quit before they see benefits will have a bigger mountain to climb when they try to get going again.
Be careful, be calculated, but don’t be cowardly. It’s important to be considerate and thoughtful of your business needs, goals and expectations before implementing new technologies into the everyday workflow, but don’t let thoughtfulness and consideration progress to the point of fear. No person or business is successful if decisions are made out of a fear of investing in themselves or in their business, and no good changes are made from the fear of change. While some businesses may fear long-time employees won’t pick up the technology or will refuse to use the technology, employees that are willing to learn and willing to improve are more valuable than employees who are unwilling to do the work efficiently and effectively. Plan for success and reward employees for getting on board.
Make use of the data. Technology can help a business get the information it needs to prosper, but that data isn’t useful if business owners don’t analyze it and make the subsequent changes. For instance, technology can help growers more accurately and easily pinpoint the full cost of bringing a new plant to market, but the data isn’t helpful and the investment in the technology is wasted if prices and crop sizes aren’t adjusted accordingly.