Digital innovation literally saved our small plumbing company. We weren’t saved by digital toilets or pipes but rather by digital platforms and business tools like Facebook, Google, Verizon, Yelp and LinkedIn.
Going digital was the biggest reason we survived the 2008 recession, and it is a big reason we are growing, hiring and making customers happy today.
That’s why I am surprised and disappointed that Sen. Josh Hawley, Attorney General Eric Schmitt and so many elected officials are attacking the companies that have helped us and our 17 employees.
And I know we aren’t alone. In a recent study, 85% of small businesses reported that digital tools are critical to their success.
We are not a “digital business.” We are a simple plumbing company that services local homeowners and property owners.
We have always done quality work at a fair price, but our culture and commitment were hard to communicate in Yellow Pages advertisements, door hangers and coupon clippers.
We spent tens of thousands of dollars on those ads and still struggled to find new customers.
Things turned around with the internet. Facebook and digital marketing, especially videos that showcase our plumbers and other team members, help us share our company culture and build our brand in local communities.
Google ads connect us with people at the precise moment they are looking for a plumber. Yelp and Google reviews help people learn more about the quality service we deliver to customers.
Digital marketing and advertising saved us tens of thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of labor, and now our business grows 10% annually while costs continue to decrease.
Our technical and business teams also use digital technology. Plumbers use YouTube to send clients’ private videos of their plumbing problems. Verizon Connect monitors our trucks, and Virtual Supervisor allows field techs to reach a supervisor anytime and anywhere.
Gmail, GSuite and Online Banking make our entire business operation portable, so when the 2017 tornado knocked out power to our office for three days, we all worked from home and business continued without a hitch.
In the old days, a 3-day power outage would cost us $25,000 in lost business, but that is not a risk after going digital.
Today, our biggest challenge is finding more skilled plumbers. Our best recruiting tools are LinkedIn and Facebook, but we are also experimenting with new digital recruiting platforms.
Digital tools have helped our business streamline operations, hire more plumbers and keep more trucks and teams in the field helping more customers.
With so many positive effects that result from digital innovation and online platforms, it’s hard to understand why politicians are on the attack. I understand that many people believe “big is bad” when it comes to business, but these digital platforms are empowering our small business and many more. That should be celebrated — not attacked.
I also appreciate that these companies have lots of data about me and everyone else and that people are concerned about privacy and data misuse. Consumer data should be managed carefully, but my small business and our 17 employees really appreciate when new customers find us on Google, Facebook and Yelp and new team members find us on LinkedIn.
Those successes are directly related to platforms’ data collection and analytics that our little company could never do by ourselves.
As our elected officials consider whether to change the way Facebook, Google and other big tech companies operate, they need to consider how these companies are helping small businesses.
We must continue to reap the benefits of digital innovation, and we certainly don’t want to return to expensive and ineffective Yellow Pages ad and coupon clippers.
If that happens, our business will probably be out of business.
Stella Crewes owns Morgan Miller Plumbing in Granville.