We live in a digital age, an age where the pace of technological change is quite simply staggering. And it is having a powerful, transformative effect on small businesses in particular. Because it wasn't that long ago that you weren't able to operate as large companies do. You couldn't afford the hardware, the software, the maintenance, the office space. But today, small business technology is levelling the field.
Take a look at these 11 areas where technology can streamline your business, improve productivity and facilitate growth.
1. Work in the cloud
Forget expensive IT servers, onsite software and bulky hardware. Cloud computing is now the go-to model for small businesses.
Increasingly, software vendors no longer even offer a desktop version. Their products are only available on the cloud. Users simply sign up to an online subscription.
This low cost, flexible method makes them ideal for small businesses. Costs are reduced. You don't need to pay for installation, for someone to come and update the software, for expensive back ups systems and servers. It's flexible and scalable which is paramount for small, growing businesses. And you can access it from anywhere. At any time. From any device.
There are one-stop-shop solutions too, which further simplifies matters. Something like G Suite from Google will give you all the basics, and a few more besides. Email. Drive. Calendar. Docs. Sheets. Slides. You might also consider Office 365 from Microsoft which gives you cloud access to Office, Outlook and OneDrive.
2. Get on social media
Putting an effective social media strategy in place is essential. It can help you build brand awareness, interact and engage with current your clients and increase your customer base. It can also help drive traffic to your website and you can now advertise on all the main channels.
You can also sell your products on social media. Facebook Shop let's you show your product catalogue on your page. Instagram has Shoppable Posts. Pinterest has buyable pins.
Facebook Messenger is increasingly being used as customer service communication method too.
You can read about some of the more popular tools for simplifying your social media strategy here.
So you may be reading this and wondering whether you actually need a website if you can engage with your clients, provide customer service, advertise and sell your wares on social media. But you do.
3. Get a great website
As far as small business technology goes, your website should be the backbone of your business. There to support all of your digital marketing efforts. And despite the ever increasing functionality of social media sites, you do still need one.
Social media, for all its benefits, still has you at its mercy. Remember MySpace, Flicker, Periscope? All gone. What about all those algorithm changes, the ones that suddenly and quite catasrophically reduce your reach?
Your website belongs to you. You control the content, the message, the branding. And all that content you're creating? Whether that's in the form of a blog post or a product description or something else entirely. It needs a home. People need to be able to find it.
You need somewhere to send those that liked your Tweet or Instagram post and want to see more. Whether they are simply looking for more information or whether they are ready to buy.
4. Optimise your content for voice
SEO tactics to help your website rank higher on Google are not new. Neither are artificial intelligence assistants like Siri and Alexa. What is relatively new though is the way those two worlds are now colliding.
Voice search is changing the way people look for content. Why? Well we're increasingly using our mobile devices and smart speakers to search with our voices, and when we do, our queries tend to be more conversational and longer than what you would type in that Google search box. Like this:
Google Search: small business technology
Voice Search: How do I use technology to grow my small business?
According to Search Engine Watch, mobile voice related searches are three times more likely to be locally based than text searches. So for your small business, it could become crucial.
You can read more about why voice is important and how to optimise your content for it here.
5. Inbox management
The sheer volume of emails we send and receive can make managing your inbox a huge headache. Chances are this quick and convenient method of communicating is actually hindering your productivity.
A recent study by Mckinsey shows that at work we spend a quarter of our time in our inboxes. A quarter. The Huffington Post laments that the average British worker receives 122 emails a day. And as they rightly point out, that’s only an average. Chances are as an entrepreneur or business owner you are receiving a whole lot more than that.
There are, of course, a multitude of apps designed to help you manage email overload. We found this great roundup of the best ones.
They work with a variety of email providers and offer cool features such as managing multiple email accounts, automatically recognising important messages, and the ability to quickly filter, delete, store and organise your mail.
6. Email marketing
Many will tell you that email marketing is dead. It's not. Research suggests that there will be 5.6 billion email accounts in the world by the end of 2019. And that the ROI on email campaigns is a massive 3,800%. Enough said.
A well executed email campaign can create awareness for your brand, personalise your sales message, attract new customers and keep those that you've already get, as well as increasing your sales.
There’s so much you can achieve but to succeed you'd be wise to find some email marketing software. Here is a great roundup of some of the more popular ones.
These programmes let you design and send professional emails to a database of customers. Many will integrate with online shopping platforms such as Shopify and WooCommerce. And some, such as ActiveCampaign, will also provider marketing and CRM automation too.
Check out our top 3 tips for building an email marketing list the easy way.
Don't have a CRM system? Keep reading to find out why you should.
7. Nurture your customers
It wasn't that long ago that CRM systems where only for the big and mighty. They were expensive to implement. They were hard to use. But today, thanks to the cloud, businesses of any size can take advantage of the benefits a CRM system has to offer.
So what do CRM systems do? They aren't just an address book. Somewhere for you to log the names and email addresses of those that clicked on your website's 'subscribe' button. They help you maximise your communications with your customers. Improve your sales efforts. Build more effective relationships. Provide better customer service.
Perhaps you've used a spreadsheet up until now. But now that your business is growing that spreadsheet might be getting a little clunky to use. It's not easy to update, to interpret or to sync. You've probably got important customer information scattered across that spreadsheet, your inbox and your head. Perhaps it's even scribbled on bits of paper.
So in a nutshell, your most important data is spread across multiple systems and multiple people. Which makes it almost impossible to make any real use of that information. The result is that the communications you have with your customers is patchy at best.
Your client relationships are key to growing your business. So it's really important that you nurture them.
McKinsey recently published a report that found that effective collaboration can improve business productivity by as much as 20 to 30 percent. That's huge. And luckily there are a range of small business technology tools to help us get better at it.
Communication apps like Slack provide a way for the people in your organisation to chat, communicate and share files.
Project management tools like Trello make it easier to collaborate on multiple projects. You can organise and track you work, assign tasks, get notifications and much more.
Video conferencing solutions also play a part as the trend for remote working increases. You can record calls, share your screen, some of them even let you change your background.
9. Better customer service
You need your customers. So it makes sense to do what you can to improve their experience.
You probably already have a Facebook Business page. But have you considered Facebook Messenger as a communications tool? A Nielsen survey showed that messaging is the second most popular form of communication for customers when interacting with brands.
You can use it to facilitate shopping, increase awareness and provide responsive customer service. Messenger helps resolve customer issues in less than a minute on average.
Chatbots are also increasing in popularity. These new, conversational bots behave like real humans and respond to a customer’s specific query. They use emotional intelligence and can empathise with those they are chatting with. They're so clever that they can even adapt their choice of words, expressions and tone of voice to any given situation.
Check out what Google Duplex can do.
Bots can be there when you can't. You need to sleep after all. And they can improve self service for customers and reduce expenses. This is because they offer a cheap and importantly, a repeatable method of communicating with your customers.
10. Manage your money
As an entrepreneur or small business owner, you'll be only too aware of how important cash flow is to your business. A recent study by Xero found that 50,000 businesses fail in the UK each year because of cash flow issues.
Today, this industry is giving access to easy to use, affordable solutions that can help you manage your cash flow, grow your customer base and ultimately grow your business. You can now manage your money as your larger competitors do.
Small business technology tools such as QuickBooks and Xero, will give you complete insight into your financials. A single application that helps you manage your accounts payable and receivable, create invoices, view balance sheets and profits and loss, as well as seeing complete transaction histories.
With cash flow being a major concern for small businesses, the importance of financial software can't be overstated.
11. Wearable tech
This may seem like an odd inclusion in a post about small business technology, but according to mildly successful entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg and Richard Branson, exercise has played a key role in their business success.
As well as all the good stuff like losing weight, preventing depression and protecting ourselves from heart disease, high blood pressure, strokes and diabetes, exercise also affects our memory and thinking skills, as well as helping us stay focused.
All essential for building and growing a good business.
Make small business technology work for you
Today's digital age provides a multitude of small business technology tools and solutions that can really help you grow. From chatbots to finance to email marketing. Whatever your problem areas are, chances are there is a technology out there that can help you.
Small business technology is all well and good. But if you could also benefit from some human help in any of the areas above, why not consider a Virtual Assistant? You can book your free consultation here.
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