If your small business is among those in Australia actively fighting technology, you’re getting in your own way.
Whether used as in-house management, to reach consumers or even to increase the efficiency of employees, tech is crucial to a business’s success.
While Australians have adapted quickly to new technologies, the same can’t be said for our small businesses, says Peter Williams, founder of Deloitte Digital.
“Businesses are tending to lag and aren’t keeping up with the pace of their customers,” says Williams.
“Often this is because those running businesses don’t come from the digital age,” Williams tells SmartCompany.
Historically, it was expensive to buy technology and expensive to hire someone with the skills to utilise its worth. However, with SMEs now having the same access to advanced technologies as big companies, Williams says it’s time to use it to your advantage.
1. Apply the ‘digital lens’ to every part of your business
When people hear the word ‘technology’ in business terms often they don’t think broadly enough.
“People have this prevailing view that it’s all about marketing,” Williams says.
“SMEs can really apply technology to any part of their business.”
Running events, managing emails, managing accounting, all of these can be made a lot easier for business owners who embrace the possibilities of technology.
2. In-house management systems
A smooth running in-house management system can have major effects on how a company runs both from an internal and an external point of view.
Bookkeeping, invoicing and cash processing are all activities that can be made much easier with the help of technology. Williams argues it’s something SMEs push aside because they don’t feel they have time to do; however, digital tech can actually save you time.
“Standardised products can take a real burden off you and help you be aware of where your company is actually at,” suggests Williams.
There is an increasing demand from suppliers and consumers for information and usable data, and if your storage system can’t meet these requirements, that’s when you begin to lose business.
SME owners tend to leave their bookkeeping until ‘Sunday afternoon’, but as our world becomes more and more digitalised, suppliers and consumers want information to be more readily available.
3. The importance of having a website
Having a mobile-friendly website is important for Australian SMEs, with Williams outlining that more traffic now comes via mobile internet applications than desktop computers.
“The good news is that the price of websites has collapsed,” notes Williams. “What used to cost a million can be free on WordPress.”
With customers more likely to check you out online before making contact, not having a website will make securing their business much harder than it should be.
4. Monitor your social media
It’s one thing to have a social media presence and another to monitor any feedback that comes through these channels. Without doing so, engaging in social media can be rendered useless.
“If other potential customers see questions going unanswered they’ll go somewhere else,” says Williams.
“It’s important not to feed the troll, but to be seen as not engaging with customers won’t help your businesses image online.”
It’s important also to give customers the opportunity to voice their opinions on your products or services, as over time customers “start not trusting what businesses say about themselves and only trust what other consumers have to say”, with the first point of call for that information being a company’s online presence.
5. Pay attention to timing
Timing and frequency of posts and updates,- is important – in the sense that you don’t post too often or not enough and you don’t post when users of the social platform are asleep or not online. This concept may seem simple but can separate the businesses that succeed from those which don’t.
“Timing is everything, we are often told this,” says Williams.
“When you are operating a business this importance only grows as you are pushing your public image into the consumer market and hoping that it pays off.”
6. Keep systems updated and functioning
While it used to be about being able to out-spend the competition on the level of systems used by companies, the market has now become about out-thinking and executing concepts.
“In the old days a business would have to buy software, install it, configure it and manage it,” says Williams, making anything you do a much slower process.
Now it’s much easier, you can get what you want, where you want and on the device you have on you at the time.”
“It’s become a hell of a lot easier these days to move fast in the digital world notwithstanding what size company you are.”
7. Build your online brand over time
Like anything good, a beneficial online presence takes work and patience.
“You need to be careful not to shove content down the throats of consumers. It’s about letting people know what you’re up to and creating a conversation.”
Williams strongly suggests adding personality to presence online so as not to be seen as an automated robot: “Social media is about being human and relatable.”
“Simple posts, like behind the scenes of a production or something funny that happens, can go a long way in connecting on social media,” says Williams.
Something to be careful of is not to ‘spam’ people with information about your company, giving them a negative view of your business simply from their exposure to your online presence.
“Once it’s there, it’s the gift that keeps on giving.”
8. Be familiar with the social media platform’s audience
While social media websites might not cost much to run, the impact they can have on business can be unlimited.
Knowing the main users of the social media site you’re publishing content to can be crucial for growing your online presence.
“LinkedIn is used for business to business interaction whereas Facebook is for business to consumer interaction,” says Williams.
“Blogs can be very useful for any business, as it allows you to put your content out there and create two-way discussions.”
“SMEs need to be active in the platform where your customers are.”
9. Find a reliable ‘tech head’
Learning about technical possibilities for your company and how to enact them is not something that can be done in one night. SME owners need a ‘digital mentor’, whether it is an employee or even a family member, who can sit down once a month and go through the basic layout of concepts like the cloud and how to post on social media.
“If you don’t understand the ideas they’re trying to get across it just means they’re bad communicators. Find someone who you like that knows what they’re talking about and stick with them.”
Williams describes it as a ‘digital native’ mentoring the ‘digital dinosaur’.
10. Selective hiring, to some extent
It’s a well-known fact that your business is only ever as good as the people you’re employing. If those who work for you aren’t as efficient, motivated or skilled as they could be then your business will struggle no matter what technology you adapt.
“Looking at someone’s social media skills and presence before you hire them is really important,” says Williams. “Even if you’re employing them to work as a barista.”
Especially in small business, where hiring opportunities may be limited, having employees with useful skills at your discretion could become useful when least expected.
11. Don’t be afraid to ask
You competitors might not be the ones to ask but businesses in your area that have functioning websites can be an unexpected helping hand when contracting your online presence.
“Just call them up and ask them who did their website,” say Williams.
Peter Williams is one of the speakers at SmartCompany’s upcoming Growing Your Business seminar to be held on 12 August at Federation Square. You can buy tickets online now.