This blog often sympathises with the time poor smaller business operator. If it isn’t enough to be on top of staff, finance, marketing, operations and the economy, the rapid pace of technological change means that the notion of ‘spare time’ is a distant memory.
But if you can keep on top of technological change, there is an extremely useful payoff.
Because those that are up with their technology will be enjoying what, at worst, are significant productivity gains and, at best, is a fundamental change in the way you do business.
Sign up for SmartCompany newsletter.
Free to your inbox every weekday
And these gains can seriously impact your bottom line.
Of course, the specific gains you can make will depend on your line of business, size, budgets and so on. But here’s a list of recent behaviours that most small business operators should be benefiting from, or at least planning to adopt.
1. You web-conference instead of meet in person
Nothing beats meeting in person. Despite all the online conferencing tools in the world, technology is yet to replicate the range of engagement capabilities that a person to person meeting can create.
But the inherent problem of meeting in person is the time, expense and relative inconvenience of having all parties in the same place at the same time, particularly if their workplace is not near yours.
So web-conferencing provides an excellent ‘next best’ solution. Free VOIP can carry voice, webcams (which I think can be overrated) and screen sharing can carry the visual component, and participants can stay at their own desk. It makes for a very good second best scenario.
2. You consult with your LinkedIn connections regularly
As pointed out in these pages recently, LinkedIn allows you to have some of your business world’s wisest sages literally at your fingertips. No matter what your business quandary, an army of experts is ready willing and able to assist within a matter of hours.
3. You use several cloud solutions
Like meetings, collaboration with your stakeholders can be an expensive and inconvenient exercise. But “cloud” solutions have not just streamlined but revolutionised collaboration.
Everything from shared folders and financial records to calendars and even noticeboards can now be kept and shared in the cloud, making it a breeze to share and collaborate with stakeholders everywhere.
4. Most of your enquiries come via your website
Your website is now the hub of all your business information, from prices to opening hours and, of course, instigating a sale.
It’s the first port of call for pretty much anyone seeking information about you. If you’re not doing it well, you are likely to be losing significant business.
5. You don’t possess a chequebook
Given all the online payment capabilities available these days, who needs one? Online banking, Paypal, direct debit services and secure shopping carts all make the old payment mainstay pretty much defunct.
6. You create regular content for your website/list/connections
The notion of creating regular content is a relatively foreign one to many smaller business operators. Only those accustomed to issuing a regular newsletter to their stakeholders would be accustomed to generating regular quality content.
But, these days, regular content is the catalyst to online success as the online world consumes and disseminates it for no cost at all. Those who do it enjoy the benefits of unprecedented viral marketing.
7. Customers can purchase your product/service directly via your website
The naysayers continue to poo-poo the power of selling online. They are also the ones who complain to anyone who will listen about how online sellers have impacted their business.
The truth is that these days, both business and consumers expect to be able to complete the transaction they want in one sitting. They don’t want to wait for your phone call, email or visit. They want to be able to find what they want, pay for it and move on to the next thing in their busy lives.
Any business that doesn’t allow them to do that may as well just hand their business to a competitor.
8. Your business is prominent on Google et. al.
Whilst many pundits forecast the importance of search engines as part of the purchase process, few forecasted just how ubiquitous it would become, or how it would come to be completely dominated by a single player.
To take advantage of the vast number of customers who start their purchase process with a search engine, it’s now imperative that your business is prominent within them or, again, risk losing business to a search engine friendlier competitor.
9. You train and are trained online instead of in person
Like meetings, training can be very inconvenient and costly when it comes to bringing trainer and trainee together.
But, these days, there are a range of brilliant online training tools and capabilities at the disposal of the smaller business operator at surprisingly low costs. They can help slash the cost and time to organisations for training staff.
10. Your printer is gathering dust
Remember the days when every single business action we took required at least one piece of paper? Those days are now rapidly diminishing as we review and action the item online – with the additional environmental benefit.
No doubt there are many others that are impacting your specific industry. Either way, the sooner you can adopt and embrace some of these technologies, the more time and money you will save.
In addition to being a leading eBusiness educator to the smaller business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team, which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs in Melbourne and beyond. www.theeteam.com.au