Small businesses these days need all the help they can get. It’s a good thing then that the right technology can level the playing field, no matter where you fit into the game. For technology is truly transformative. It can boost you right from the rookie league into the stratosphere, but you have to do it right.
Our guide to the many ways in which technology can re-invigorate your small business aims to provide the inspiration to get you started, so…
Here’s why your business needs technology:
It helps your business to be more efficient
We’ve all heard the stories: machines are taking over the planet. All jokes aside, there’s a reason why everyone is getting a bit nervy about the prospect of increased technological sophistication: computers can do many things much faster than humans can (it’s worth noting that there are some exceptions, however: apparently anything requiring fine motor skills, such as picking strawberries, is still a major challenge for robots). Most small businesses can benefit from at least some automation of their tasks. As with everything, consultation is the key. Engage your team in some business process mapping to identify which of your highly repetitive, labor-intensive business processes could become candidates for automation. (Just leave strawberry-picking off the list for now).
It allows your business to be always on, all the time
If you’re aiming to go international with your business one day, or even to sell products and services across more than one coast, technology can enable you to be accessible to your customers long beyond the typical hours of a standard 9 to 5 workday. Automating business processes, like enabling online shopping carts or enlisting the aid of virtual reception services, can suddenly make your business visible to a whole new audience. And if you could streamline the process of paying your business, no matter where your payees are in the world, why wouldn’t you go ahead and do it?
It encourages your business to connect with others
The advent of virtual business telecommunications, such as the arrival of video and teleconferencing, has meant that businesses now have an easy means of connecting with others while not being located in the same space. Once upon a time, businesses were restricted in their relationships to local areas, or, when venturing further afield, had to resort to flying all over the country to meet with potential customers or suppliers (just think how much travelling they did in Mad Men, for instance!) While face-to-face interaction is undoubtedly still important in business, it can now occur in any space of your choice – virtual or physical – and at your convenience. And evidence suggests there is more change to come, with the coming tidal wave of Internet-of-Things enabled devices and all the innovation that will bring. Watch this space!
It brings your business peace of mind
Not so long ago in the big scheme of things, most records in small business were wholly manual (and indeed, in many places, they remain that way). While paper-based back-ups may be useful for the odd occasion when the power goes out, nowadays most businesses are moving towards storing and accessing their records in digital formats. Valuable databases such as client administration, business transactions, and asset registers may be retained securely in the cloud and accessed on demand as needed. Internal systems can keep track of who has access to what records when they were accessed and what was done with them. Regular automated back-ups can ensure that records are never permanently lost in the event of accidental deletion or corporate sabotage. All these are good reasons to incorporate digitization of the main company records into your risk management plan.
It enables your business to interact with your customers
Remember the good ole days of the suggestion box? Well, we’re not suggesting that they have entirely disappeared, just rather morphed into a myriad of channels that customers can access to tell you what they want. The truth is, there are lots of online platforms available for better communication with your customers. Aside from the obvious (have your customers email, message or tag you on social media; use a unique hashtag to have them send you their ideas; run an online survey or competition), there are many brilliant ideas you can beg, borrow or steal from out there. For our money, one of the all-time classics is the MyStarbucksIdea site; a super-cool, long-running conversation with customers that enables crowdsourcing of customer-suggested products and improvements.
Technology essentials for small business
So if you’re a small business owner looking to ensure you have all the technology basics covered, where do you start? Here’s a rundown of all the essentials that every small business owner should have in place.
Computer hardware (Desktop Computer and/or Laptop)
Ok, it almost goes without saying, but every business needs to start somewhere. Nearly every aspect of your business these days can be run from a desktop computer and/or laptop; and indeed, some businesses run entirely online. A computer enables you to run social media accounts, set up email, billing systems, run marketing campaigns, do your financial accounting and accept payments, among many other useful functions.
A great looking website
In the early days of the Internet, many businesses went out and either designed their own cruddy looking website or found someone else to do it for them. Unfortunately, many are still using a version of that same original site… and it shows. Nowadays though there is no excuse not to have the slickest, most professional looking website around… and all for peanuts. If you’re interested in exploring the options, check out this article from Entrepreneur.com.
A social media marketing platform
Social media is a complex beast. It can quickly suck up enormous amounts of time, effort, and resources, and often with no clear return on investment. If you are committed to being on the key social media platforms, you can significantly reduce the amount of time you spend maintaining your social media accounts by using a social media marketing platform. Such platforms can coordinate content across channels, manage your posting schedule and suggest content for resharing. Examples include Hootsuite, Buffer and Sprout Social. Most allow you to take the functionality for a test drive before you have to commit to buying.
Email marketing software
Even from day one, your business can benefit from investing in email marketing software and autoresponders such as the likes of MailChimp or AWeber. You may wonder why you can’t just manage your email on your own steam… that is until you realize that every business nowadays needs a strong email list if it is to survive. Autoresponders take all the heavy lifting out of email management and marketing for you so that you can spend more time focusing on what counts… building your business.
This list just scratches the surface of the full range of technology that small business can take advantage of. Make sure you have the essentials in place, and then don’t be afraid to build on what you’ve learned to extend out beyond your comfort zone. You might be amazed what can be done with even the simplest among the new technologies… and there’s something new on offer every day.
Liked this article? If so, check out our other related articles: