Is your industry making buggy whips?

In today’s economy, it’s easy to assume a drop in business is the result of economic conditions. As soon as the economy comes back, so will my business, right?

Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. There were many buggy whip manufacturers about the time the automobile was introduced. Even though there is some demand for buggy whips, even today, it’s not what it once was, and any survivors would have had to adapt.

I used to frequent my printer several times a week, but I don’t think I’ve been there this year — maybe not last year or the year before either. What’s changed? The economy has nothing to do with it. Desktop publishing made the difference years ago.

Even though I’ve been doing my own printing for a decade or more, I would still go to printers to get proposals elegantly bound. Now I don’t even do that. With Adobe Acrobat I can produce a professional looking document electronically. I always ask clients whether they would prefer it electronically or as a hard copy, and they always opt for the former.

Additionally, I used to use FedEx to deliver these documents. Now I e-mail them. Even FedEx can’t match the speed of light, plus e-mail is free. I imagine FedEx and other overnight services have seen a significant decline in this type of business.

Speaking of which, I just gave up my fax number after all these years. I don’t think I’ve gotten a fax I actually wanted in the last couple of years, and I got sick of all the junk faxes. Just like faxes made a dent in overnight services all those years ago, so e-mail is hurting the fax as well as the overnight business.

Teleconferencing has been around a long time, and I’m amazed at the businesses that still fail to take advantage of it. I can’t tell you how many trips videoconferencing has saved me. It’s not perfect, and we still have to meet in person, but those meetings are fewer and further between. Airlines, hotels and restaurants are seeing a corresponding downturn. Some is no doubt from the recession, but much of it is because flying has become such a miserable experience, and technology offers a suitable option.

Software and a microchip

No doubt you’ve seen TV stations, newspapers and other media soliciting photos on newsworthy events from amateur photographers. Pictures of storms, fallen trees, car accidents, house fires and the like are requested and may in fact be published or broadcast. Photojournalists, who make their livings from producing such photos, have got to be a little worried. The amateur photos may not be professional quality, but they’re free, and the readers and viewers don’t seem to mind.

Fast Company magazine recently published an article explaining how even the pornography industry is in trouble. It seems there is so much free porn available no one wants to pay for it anymore. Imagine — porn stars are being forced to take pay cuts and many are out of work.

These are just a few examples, but what about your business? Are some of your products and services being replaced with new ways that have nothing to do with the economy? If so, the end of the recession won’t help. What new products or services can you offer? You might even have to rethink your business model.

What about your job? In his 2003 book, “Re-Imagine! Business Excellence In a Disruptive World,” Tom Peters says, “A bureaucrat is a very expensive microchip.” Peters went on to claim that “80 percent of white collar jobs would be gone in 15 years,” and he said this back in 2003.

If you have a routine job, a little software and a microchip may be all it takes to replace you.

What are you doing for your business and for yourself to ensure you have a future? The past doesn’t work anymore.

Ronald J. Bourque is a consultant and speaker from Windham. He has had engagements throughout the United States, Europe and Asia. He can be reached at 603-898-1871;;