When you think about using internet technology for your business, the obvious things that may come to mind are email, web sites, and office productivity tools. The list might also include some applications such as QuickBooks for accounting or Salesforce for customer relationship management. Technology has the power to significantly impact your business productivity, improve customer relationships, scale operations, and improve employee relations, among other things.
Here we present a set of ideas to consider for your business that can have a high impact and reward.
Productivity and Business Acceleration
This is always on the mind of any business owner or manager. How do you get more done with the same or fewer resources? Technology can significantly improve your production processes, whether you are providing services or hard goods. There are tools available to help you analyze how your staff spends time and how your resources are utilized. By using these tools, you can make your systems and business processes more efficient.
Task management tools can ensure you accurately and effectively manage daily responsibilities and projects to ensure nothing is missed and work is done in a timely manner and with maximum productivity. Email management is also a critical factor in ensuring the productivity of your business is maximized. Timely review and responses to emails can be the vital lifeblood of your operations.
Another goal for businesses is the concept of business acceleration. Technology can impact your business operations by accelerating the speed at which you operate. One classic example is mail. Physical mail (snail mail) can take days or weeks to be drafted, send, and received and responded to. With email, this time can be reduced to minutes or hours. That is a significant acceleration in a key business process – communication. This can be true of any number of areas of your business, including financial transactions, production management, and more.
- Time Tracking Software – Even if you’re using this tool today, are you using it to your maximum benefit? Are you analyzing the data looking for opportunities to utilize employee time more effectively? Are you maximizing billable hours for consultancies and agencies? If you’re not using time tracking software, then it’s definitely something to consider.
- Project Management – There are many tools available today, ranging from classics like Basecamp to relative newcomers like Asana, Wrike, and Monday, among others. Each has its own strengths and niches that they are particularly well suited. The proper implementation of a project management system can revolutionize how you work and manage projects, customers, and team members.
- Digital Filing – This is an easy one to overlook. If your business operations deal with a lot of paper, it’s time to take a close look at how that entire process can be made digital and organized. Categorization, tagging, and cloud access can significantly accelerate your business operations.
- Email Management – If individuals in your organization are bombarded with dozens, hundreds or even thousands of emails every day then email management tools can have a significant positive impact. Regardless of using tools or not, having clear processes for ensuring email is properly managed can have benefits.
- Digital Dictation – Do you or your team communicate a lot? Are you on the go? Would it help to speak and dictate and send? It might not be something you have thought of before. With nearly everyone having a mobile phone, cloud-based data, and real-time access, this could be a game-changing change for your business.
- Upgrade Your Resources – Servers, laptops, phones, software, etc. play a part in how quickly your operations execute. Make sure you have the proper up-to-date resources in place to keep everyone and everything operating and peak efficiency. Outdated technology, for example, can be a significant hindrance to effective operations.
It goes without saying that it is critical for every small business to have an accounting system. Having the right system can impact your business operations with features such as real-time access, lender integration, banking integration vendor integration, and more. Many cloud-based solutions provide a host of features, including solutions such as QuickBooks Online, Xero, Wave, and many others. These solutions can help you control costs, project budgets, estimate revenues, and much more.
Here are some other specific solution considerations:
- Invoicing Management Service – Use an online invoicing service that will help you manage the process of invoicing as well as tracking and collecting payments.
- Inventory Management – Even if you deal with small quantities of inventory, this directly impacts your financials and core business operations.
- E-Commerce – Selling online in today’s world is almost a given. But are you doing it well? There are many solutions available today, such as Shopify and others, that can significantly improve and accelerate your online e-commerce presence. If you are not doing e-commerce, it’s something you should consider. Even if you have a services business, providing easy ways for customers to order and connect online can have significant benefits.
Companies who market themselves properly reap the rewards in the long run. Technology has created software that allows businesses to formulate a marketing plan – one that can be updated and shared with your team.
Technology allows you to build professional, eye-catching web sites while social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are great ways to promote your business to targeted audiences. Email marketing can also be effective, allowing you to reach out directly to your customers with news, updates, and special offers.
Here are a few ideas to consider for your marketing initiatives:
- Invest In Your Online Presence – Needless to say, having a web site is important. It’s also very important that your web site is effective, modern, and has the right messaging. There are so many excellent web site building tools for basic DIY work, or you can hire a professional firm for help. Either way, this is a must, and if your site is outdated or lacking, it should be a top priority.
- Go Social – This topic has been overly flogged in the last decade with many people either investing too much or too little. What is important is that you have some presence on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook, and it’s updated regularly. At a minimum it shows you are serious about how you present as a business. If your business has a significant opportunity in the social space and you’re not taking advantage of it, then you need to start now. It can be a long process and takes a steady, determined approach to be effective. There are also many cost-effective tools available to make managing your social accounts easy.
- Marketing Plan Software – There are many tools available to help you develop marketing plans, with many of them being free. Forcing your business to formally look at a plan and executing it can really help to focus your business on the necessary success needed to be competitive in your market.
- Content Truly is King – Web site blogs, white papers, marketing fliers, eBooks, it all helps if you’re trying to reach a wider audience online. It’s the oxygen for your web site search rankings and your social media engagement. If you are more of a local business, then it’s critical for local search your content is targeted and relevant. Having a clear content plan can be managed via various tools to support the creative process.
- Email and Text Lists – Being able to communicate with your customer and prospects via email regularly can be invaluable. There are many tools available to help you implement list sign-ups and ensure our meeting GPDR compliance. There are also many innovative ways to collect emails and phone numbers, especially if you’re a storefront. At purchase time, you can ask the customer for an email or text with many different POS systems, and you have instantly been given the right to communicate.
- Video Marketing – Video doesn’t have to be intimidating or hard. Simple clips can work to promote your business, share useful information, etc. There are also many options for explainer and other simple animated videos that can put your best foot forward.
- Digital Advertising – Google, Facebook and Amazon advertising can be done cheaply and effectively and can also very targeted by interest and local. There are many services you can look at to help you navigate the waters of digital advertising.
- Podcasts – Similar to doing videos, podcasts can be effective as well. Especially when they are focused on educational or informative based content related to your areas of expertise for your business.
Collaboration, Flexibility, and Learning
Communicating with your co-workers has been transformed over the last 20 years, with numerous technological advancements making the ability to work in other places possible. Cloud technology, in particular, can provide reduced costs, increased productivity, and the ability to scale your operations rapidly. Services such as shared storage, video conferencing, and collaborative tools all have the ability to impact your business operations in significant ways. Our modern web-enabled world allows for your business to work in ways you may not have thought of previously.
Technology can positively improve collaboration among team members, vendors, and customers. It can provide more flexibility in how your business operates. Examples include ad-hoc meetings between people in different locations, on-demand training, collaborative problem solving, and more are all possible.
The ability to learn, research, and continue to improve is always at your fingertips. Downtime can be turned into learning time, for example. Skills development and training plans can all be organized and managed online.
Finally, consider how you can leverage globalization and interdependence that is available on a global scale. Are there new markets you can access that you haven’t considered before? Are there suppliers and resources you can access that can be made possible through connecting via technology platforms?
There is likely a secret sauce of solutions and tools that you can implement to immediately impact your business operations. Here are a few of the technologies to consider:
- Video Conferencing and Webinars – Chances are you are familiar with WebEx, Zoom, or GoToMeeting type solutions and may have even used them from time to time. But have you really considered how you could leverage these technologies effectively? For example, are you recording training sessions for later access? Do you leverage them for recruiting and interviews? Are you leveraging them in the sales process to make a more personal connection with the prospect?
- Leverage the Cloud for Data – You likely are using cloud data to some extent in your operations, even if it’s for simple file-sharing. But spend time to really consider all the collaborative options for data and file sharing using solutions such as Google Docs, Office365, and other solutions. There are a wide variety of Software as a Service (SaaS), Infrastructure as a Service(IaaS), and Platform as a Service (PaaS) offerings that can help your business and off load the need for IT maintenance. How can you organize, utilize, and empower your team through cloud data solutions?
- Team Messaging – Email is great, but team messaging is much better. In fact, many organizations tend to use team messaging almost exclusively for routine day-to-day communication even over in-person meetings or video conferences. The benefits of team messaging include:
- Ability to multi-task and respond as needed instead of stopping at an inconvenient time to meet and discuss
- Keeps a record and history of the chat – its “automatic notes” that can be reviewed and followed upon.
- Group chats for larger teams for ad-hoc discussion
Services such as Skype and Slack provide powerful platforms to message and collaborate and can also provide integrated collaboration on document creation and more.
- Cloud Learning and Training – The wealth of information on the net is hard to understate, and the many learning platforms and services are extensive. Coming up with a formal approach to how you integrate cloud learning into your organization can have significant benefits in improving team skills.
Customers are, of course, critical to any business, and providing customer service and support is central to success. Improving your customer service via technology can pay big dividends both in the quality of the service and in reducing the cost of the service. Tools such as engaging websites, online chat, video conferencing, social media engagement, CRM, and more can provide big rewards.
- Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Software – This can be a very confusing space to understand what solution makes sense for your business. There are solutions such as SalesForce, which are used by all types of businesses to more niche solutions. The key is to at least get started and do research to determine what solutions might fit and then looking at specific features and costs. A little investment in research and assessment could yield positive results.
- Small Data – You can think of this as a “high touch” type service. Collect small data about your customers from interactions. This might include things like birthdays, anniversaries, favorite foods, quirks, and interests to really anything that will help you understand and engage your customers better. You collect this data in simple note systems like Evernote or full-blown CRM systems.
- Social Media – If you have a presence, make sure you’re monitoring and engaging from a service standpoint. That can include ratings, direct messages, and more. There are many useful tools to help you monitor and engage socially to provide excellent service.
- Help Desk Ticketing – Providing a way for customers to create a support ticket versus sending an email or making a phone call can empower both the customer and your own operations. Tickets take email and voice mail out of the equation and make for easier tracking and updating. There are many excellent solutions available for different types of business needs.
- Scheduling – Providing an online schedule can make it easier for your customers to make that important appointment when they have time to do it versus waiting on the phone or sending an email. There are many types of scheduling solutions available for all types of industries.
- Surveys and Questionnaires – Getting feedback can provide invaluable insights into how happy your customers are as well as provide insight into new opportunities. Many CRM, help desk, and scheduling systems already have this integrated into their systems. You can also look at other third-party tools as well, some of which are free or are very low cost.
Mobile Working and Telecommuting
Working on the go or at home provides a level of flexibility for employees to work, which can lead to many benefits, including reduced office expenses and better customer service. It can also allow your business to tap into a larger talent pool that you would not have previously considered due to location or other logistical challenges.
Here are a few ideas to consider for enabling a more mobile workforce:
- Setup virtual phone numbers that employees can manage for mobile and home access
- Leverage cloud solutions for sharing files and data
- Look at apps that can be leveraged for access to your software platforms (e.g,. accounting, file sharing, etc.)
- Leverage video conferencing and team messaging
- Utilize time tracking tools to monitor employee productivity
- Many of the tools discussed throughout this article go hand in hand with enabling a more mobile and flexible workforce.
Along with all this technology comes the requirement to ensure your systems and data are secure. It’s a broad topic and is very specific to specific business systems and tools. Make sure this stays on your radar as you begin to implement technology solutions into your organization. Some key considerations include:
- User accounts and password management – Make sure user accounts are enabled and disabled as needed and passwords are routinely updated and managed
- Backups and Off-Site Data – Make sure key systems are backed up, even cloud solutions that you utilize. Consider how you can securely keep snapshots of your data offline for emergency access.
- Third-Party Providers – Make sure you understand the service level agreements (SLAs) and data retention and recovery options for all third-party services utilized.
Finding the right talent for key positions in your business is crucial to success. There is a myriad of options available for job posting and recruiting. These services can include skills tests, pre-screens, and more. Explore the many different recruiting services and make sure you look for services that focus specifically on your business niche.
It’s fairly obvious internet technology is critical to today’s businesses. The key question is, are you effectively using all that’s available in your business operations? Spending time to learn about what benefits you can gain from the type of solutions outlined will be a worthwhile investment that can pay strong dividends in the future. This is true for small, medium, and large businesses.
We hope you found this post useful. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us.