Tech skills are no longer optional

The pandemic, among other things, has taught us that technology is more important than ever. So when I speak to clients and mentees who still think they can get by without having a website, or without using social media, or who are simply waiting for things to go “back to normal”, their ostrich-worthy denial seems just tragic at this juncture.

It is absolutely possible for people trying to grow their business in spite of the pandemic. I applaud their chutzpah and their fortitude. But if, for instance, like a couple of my clients, they still insist on doing it without involvement of any Google-related tool (not even search), then those decisions are placing serious strictures on even the possibility of that business is success. There is only so much that can be done to move a project forward without social media, email marketing, a website, active in-person marketing of some sort (virtual counts!), or other tech driven tools that help keep you organized and connected with the rest of the world.

This viewpoint has nothing to do with my age or my fondness for tech. It is the expert opinion of someone who has observed a variety of businesses over the last three decades. The fact is, if you aren’t using tech to promote your work, then your competition probably is…and you will be left behind. Technology has become so ubiquitous in all forms of business that it simply cannot be ignored. It is no longer optional, and the way we use tech is one of the biggest factors in the survival of the fittest in commercial endeavors. This includes performing arts careers, arts administration, and many other creative endeavors that may seem too artistically righteous to be bound by the norms of the hard, cold business world. But remember, you’re in in show business, too.

The bare minimum

So, let’s break it down to a basic minimum of skills that must be fully achieved by everyone. If you already have them, great: let’s have no judgment of those who don’t, as this is their chance to catch up. In order to be functional in the arts (or really, a business or career of any kind), you must have a clear understanding of and proficiency with at least the following things:

  • Basic computer navigation, including clicking, dragging, double-clicking and the difference between a file and a folder.
  • File management, including being able to find, copy, move, and rename files.
  • Send attachments such as photos, PDFs, documents, etc as actual email attachments. Know the difference between this and sending inline photos, which are often much more difficult to extract. Some email programs will also resize those photos on your behalf, and so you will automatically be sending smaller files than you had intended. Be aware, and learn to use your software properly.
  • Rename photo files so the recipient has some idea of what they’re opening.
  • Essential understanding of the existence of different file formats and platforms, and that not everything will work with everything else. This includes, for instance, the realities that websites don’t work like Word, PDFs are not pictures, and videos can’t always be inserted where you want them to be.
  • Photo size matters. You cannot take a small photo and blow it up to a larger required size and then expect it to look good. If you can’t maintain your own original files and make sure you’re sending something that is useful, then you’ll have to adjust your expectations about the end result.

Your tech talk says a lot

And finally, here are a few choice phrases that should be enormous red flags if you hear them in your own speech. You don’t have to know how to do everything, but you should at least understand enough so that you can ask somebody else to do it coherently. If you are relying on others so much that you don’t understand anything about what they do for you, that’s a major problem. Fill more of those gaps, and you will be far more functional than you are right now.

  • “Oh, (insert name or role here) handles that for me.”
  • “I shouldn’t have to deal with that.”
  • “I hate technology.”
  • “That’s just for teenagers.”
  • “I’ll have my granddaughter look at it.”
  • “Why do I need to know this if I have you?”
  • “Where do I log in for that?”
  • “You have my password, right?”

The good news

You can handle this. If you are running something or in business or promoting something or diving into a project, then this is part of the job. Just like a musician that can’t read music, you will not be respected if you have no tech skills whatsoever. But just like music, there’s no reason to be afraid of it. You just have some things to learn, and it must be done.

Take a class if you have to. Search for online tech skills websites. There are even sites that allow you to practice clicking and dragging. Treat all of this like building your musical muscles, and practice. Practice, practice, practice. Then practice some more. Keep going until you don’t have to think about it so hard anymore, and everything will be easier for you. You will be able to communicate with your colleagues. You will get better results out of your employees and your freelancers and your partners. Your projects will have a far better chance to thrive.

The bottom line

This is your responsibility. If you have been hiding from technology for whatever reason, start taking it seriously now. Just like so many other things, it just takes some consistent work. You’ll get better. And so will your life.

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