Using technology to streamline business systems, workflows and efficiency create the foundation for success.
Technology allows small businesses to get work done faster and smarter; it also saves costs over the longer-term.
Technology continues to innovate in leaps and bounds, keeping up with new and changing technology is exhausting. However, change can no longer be denied. If you are falling behind in the technology stakes, it won’t be long until your team, and your clients demand change; otherwise, you stand to lose massive market share.
Nowadays speed to implementation needs to be fast; your market can easily find your competitors who may already be offering a better service in their eyes.
To illustrate the importance of changing with the times, here is a hypothetical case study:
You own a small cafe, and you have a regular local clientele. Recently you have noticed there have been a few new cafes opening in your area. One of the cafes has a pit stop window offering a fast takeaway service for the busy workers; they also have the latest payment gateway installed where the customer can pay with the tap of their card.
Another cafe has gone environmentally friendly and introduced a no paper cup policy; they spread the word by cleverly using Facebook and Instagram. Now they have a loyal customer base.
Unfortunately, you don’t accept credit cards, your coffee machine is looking a little tired, and it can’t keep up with the speed of the new machines, and you haven’t changed your cup supplier for over ten years. Profits are dwindling, and the rent is rising. Times change and the customer wants more; it’s do or die.
There is a saying that rings true in this situation “If you can’t beat them, join them”. In this case, it not only join them but you have to do better than them, be smarter than them.
Technology for small business is much more accessible and affordable these days. However, there are still hurdles, so a good plan is required and some persistence.
Why is it that there are still so many small businesses struggle to adopt new technology?
Here are my findings:
- They don’t make the time to research and fully understand what they need in terms of systems and the technology needed to streamline and automate.
- Evaluation is time-consuming and complex.
- The learning curve is too high.
- It takes a long time to implement and get everyone onboard.
- They fear the cost will explode.
So I’m going to suggest some solutions to these barriers.
What can Business Owners do to Keep Current with Technology?
We can’t all keep up with the movers and shakers in technology; we have trouble just keeping up with news in our industries. There must be a smart way; the answer here is if you don’t know about something, you find someone who does.
Having documented systems, processes and procedures make introducing new software and automation so much easier. Knowing your existing systems and workflows allows an IT consultant to instantly understand what you are trying to achieve. Your current systems may be outdated, but the output will be the same just more efficient.
Evaluation of software, hardware, services and costs can be extremely time-consuming unless you are very organised, you’ll end up going around in circles.
Again, the shortcut here is to bring in a specialist. Some IT companies will conduct an audit and recommend the best solutions. The cost of an audit is well worth the time it will save you by trying to find a solution yourself. Most software programs will have trials, but it takes time to run through the trials and still difficult to compare, the real test comes after it’s been used for a considerable amount of time.
There are so many options out there if you are looking for work tools like a Project Management system or a Customer Relationship Management system (CRM). Some are very complex, and some can achieve very similar results but are much easier to use. In my experience, complex programs just don’t get used. The key here is to get recommendations from people who know the different options and are using the systems themselves.
How many times have you tried something new and your team just didn’t use it? One reason is as I just mentioned, the system could be too complicated, or another likely reason is that they weren’t shown how to use the systems properly. With any new system, process or technology, people need to be properly trained, uptake needs to be monitored, and ongoing support needs to be provided. It also helps if the business owner or Manager is keen to adopt the new systems, leading by example goes a long way to making sure your team follow.
There is a lot of competition in specific areas of software. Competition keeps the cost down. Also, most business software solutions known as Software as a Service (Saas) provide options to pay monthly or yearly by subscription. That way you can spread your costs and if you need to, cancel your subscription without the heavy penalties. For small businesses, this is good news because the costs are scalable to the size of your business, so in most cases, it’s affordable.
Remember that you won’t find a perfect system that does absolutely everything you want it to do. There has to be a compromise, but the important thing is that whatever system you use has to make the job quicker and easier. The alternative is to get a solution custom designed, that’s where you’ll be paying the big bucks and be warned, not necessarily still have exactly what you want.
Ways that Technology Helps Small Businesses?
There’s never enough hours to get everything done, using technology will make things faster. Here are just some of the ways that technology is helping small businesses to be competitive and stay on the cutting-edge.
Emailing backwards and forwards to try to arrange a mutually convenient time for a meeting takes time. A much better way is to have an online booking system that syncs to your calendar allowing people to book in time with you when your schedule allows.
If you are running weekly meetings, you will no doubt have a similar agenda each time. Why not use a project management tool and create templates for these type of recurring activities. That way the meeting agenda, notes and action steps can be shared with the entire team. The team can update the agenda with discussion items in advance, and people become more accountable for actions when they are assigned to them and followed up at the next meeting.
Make it easy for your customers to pay. Offer credit card facilities and for online sales offer PayPal and Stripe. Customer will go elsewhere if they can’t use their payment method of choice. For some services and larger purchases, consider setting up a payment plan with recurring monthly payments.
Business Systems and Processes
When your team have questions and need to know how to do something, where do they turn? They inevitably turn to you the business owner if you do not put documented systems and processes in place. Having an up to date online portal for company knowledge, policies, guidelines, checklists and procedures means your team can find what they need to know quickly, they will have the correct information and will not have to call you at 2 am when you are on holiday in Hawaii.
Internal Instant Chat
The workplace these days looks considerably different from years ago. Teams are now spread out, working from home, contractors overseas or working while on the train. With mobile technology, it’s so easy to work from almost anywhere. This dynamic workplace doesn’t come without its logistical issues. Trying to communicate across time zones and bring teams together can be challenging. There are some excellent communication and collaboration tools available to make easier and fun. Project Management apps keep everyone together on projects and apps like Slack allow instant communication via chat, sharing documents and video calls.
There are online tools to measure almost every area of your business, keeping in touch with your clients and prospects is essential. Need to know the anniversary date of a long-term contract customer, want to know when you last made contact with a customer? You can even find out how many times a prospect opened your proposal. Having this type of data at your fingertips is easily achieved and standard in most CRM software.
There doesn’t have to be a delay from the time a service is delivered, or a proposal is sent to getting paid. Whether onsite or online, with a click of a button your customer can pay immediately. If you deliver a service to a client directly, for example servicing an air conditioner unit, have the hardware ready for them to sign and pay on completion. If you are sending out a proposal, get the client to accept the proposal and pay on the spot.
You used to have to have a degree in computer science to put up a website. Now, there are easy systems to create websites, blogs and landing pages quickly with very little tech knowledge, if you can use a word processor, you can create a website. Need beautiful images? You don’t have to spend thousands on boutique photography when you can buy images instantly over the internet. Anyone these days can make email newsletters look stunning and professional, template choices are endless.
These are just some of the ways that technology can help small business.
Just about everything in your business can be streamlined and optimised to save time and expense and achieve better results. Remember first to start to map out all your existing systems and processes and the ones you want to implement in the future. I call this building the Business Systems Infrastructure. You can find out more here.
Once you have a good idea of what you need, set about finding expert help. All the work of finding the best solutions, testing it out and integrating it into your workflow will be in vain if your team aren’t properly trained. Support your team and customers for a frictionless transition. Embrace technology for what it can do for the future sustainability of your business.
If you would like to develop a Systems Infrastructure maps for your business and find out more about how this can help increase your business productivity with systems and processes, contact Wendy and book in a time to talk.