Why setting up a small business now is more exciting than in 1990

There’s one similarity between setting up Verbology now and when I last launched my own venture in 1991. Multimedia Creations (later Communications Instinct) took off in 1991, a noted recession year in Australia. The doomsayers are suggesting that I might be about to experience the same economic and commercial conditions as I did back then.

However, that is where similarities end. Verbology is a project that will test how all the advantages of social and business networking platforms will define business success compared to the traditional ‘steam-powered’ tools of the past.

In 1991, I thought I was really cool in my pursuit of the paperless office (still not achieved in most places today), when I integrated fax software into my internal Apple network so we could all receive and send faxes on the desktop. It was 28 years ago, and what was quite revolutionary when email was still to become mainstream, now appears quaint.

Direct marketing was essentially by phone, fax, letterbox drop and mail, for which Australia Post did not charge a premium to deliver a letter in a couple of business days. For a small business, the term ‘startup’ didn’t exist then, getting your name in front of thousands of potential clients was costly, labour-intensive and, let’s be honest, excruciatingly slow.

Fast forward to now and through business networking platforms like LinkedIn and, for some products, social platforms like Facebook and Twitter and the potential for reach is beyond anything we could have imagined in the early 1990s.

There was something of a cult film in Australia called Stone. It was sort of a budget version of Easy Rider and looked like it, but one bikie remarked: ‘When you’re on a bike - and I mean a big bike - you’ve got all the power in the world.’ I have that same sensation when I marvel at the computing power, the ‘big bike’ I can buy today for less than $2,000. I am empowered, riding that Harley Davidson with the hair I now don’t have streaming behind me.

In my previous venture, I invested $10,500 in an Apple Mac with 250Mb of storage, a miniscule 4Mb RAM, a 13-inch monitor plus a monocolour A4 laser printer. For a while I ran desktop publishing software on this - Aldus Pagemaker (later bought be Adobe and morphed into InDesign), a great presentation package, Aldus Persuasion (I have no idea of its fate) and Adobe Photoshop, the software package that established the Adobe brand. All-up I had about one percent of the computing power I have today - less than even today’s smartphone!

I have no idea what $10,500 would be worth in today’s dollars, but the upfront investment was gargantuan for minimal processing power and capability and, of course, no connection of any value to the outside world (until I later discovered the aforementioned fax software).

So I feel infinitely more enabled with Verbology than I did back in 1991. It’s a genuinely exciting world of possibility if you’ve retained the urge to take on the learning challenge of new technology and allow years of business knowhow to leverage from it.

Of course, it’s one thing to have access to technology and networks, is quite another to use it effectively. What are you going to do with the unbridled marketing power at your fingertips? When you reach your potential clients, will you have anything to tell them that is going to cut through the clutter generated by thousands of people competing with you from around the world?

As a guy who creates content for people, this really puts me through an acid test. If I cannot get my own story out there, I essentially render myself unmarketable to anyone else wanting me to craft their story and brand. My own success will reflect my effectiveness in doing this.