7 Great tips for business owners
It is true that for hundreds of years, people got their jobs done without so much as a single computer, so why then do we constantly need to be looking to technology to help our businesses grow? Why are small business owners feeling compelled to invest in technology? Does it really make that much difference?
Good questions, but as we are all aware, we live in a world where things change at pace. It’s just how it is. If we stand still for too long, we will end up going backwards. Or if we look left and right, we may find our little piece of land is not ours any longer; instead lots of hungry competitors are now perched on our little patch. We have to keep re-inventing and changing how we do things otherwise we start to go into reverse. As they say in business “you are either growing or going”. If you haven’t already read the book “Who moved my cheese”, I would highly recommend you have a read. It’s a tiny book with a very powerful message.
It is only when we take a trip down memory lane, that we realise the extent to which software and technology have evolved and how it has impacted on our lives, our businesses and how we perform as we work. We all know the evolution of technology, so don’t worry I won’t start from the 1900’s, but what is important is the way that technology has been adopted, particularly by small businesses.
In the 80’s, big computer screens started to make their appearance. Software was something that was green, not pretty, but was designed to perform a certain job. Servers were huge and extremely expensive. The early adopters of computer technology would have been larger organisations and it took a while for the smaller businesses to start to get computerised. Accounting software and Word Processing tools were probably the first applications to be adopted by smaller businesses.
It was only in the 90’s that software began to look prettier when Windows 3.1 made its appearance. More applications came on stream with spreadsheets and presentation software making their mark. We added one piece of software after the next, struggling to contain our excitement that software could now help relieve some of the time and pain staking duties that we would otherwise have had to do.
As we moved on through to the online world, things changed again. We got used to emailing, not posting, we were happy to like, poke, friend, connect and share with friends, colleagues and beyond. This whole idea of sharing was previously an alien concept, but it seemed that almost overnight, we jumped on board and started sharing with everybody who would listen.
In the office, over time, old computers were replaced with new shiny ones and later laptops and tablets. People expect things to be done much more efficiently and the level of understanding and patience does not exist like it did in the past. Customers, Suppliers, Shareholders and Staff have certain expectations and need those expectations to be lived up to, in a timely manner.
To achieve this, it is obvious that we need information fast, where and when we need it. Yet, what amazes me is that this notion of sharing that we spoke about rarely translates itself back into the office, particularly in smaller businesses. The evolution of software has led to a situation where software applications such as accounting software were replaced/upgraded and sometimes modified. New software applications were purchased for different departments such as Marketing, Sales, Customer Service, Warehouse, E-Commerce. Each decision was made in isolation, leading to many desert islands. People on each island can see each other, they can potentially phone each other or shout across at each other, but nobody can see what each other is doing – information is confined to each island. So, as a business owner or financial controller, yes you could quite easily hop in a boat and navigate from island to island to gather your information, but is this really the most efficient way of doing business? Will your customers or your Board of Directors wait while you start up the motor to head across to your customer service department looking for answers? Of course, not, but surprisingly this lack of connected or "joined up thinking" is more common that you may have thought.
We may struggle on with our little boats and islands, but inevitably a re-think of the situation needs to happen. Is it only when somebody has “moved our cheese”, that we realise that perhaps we are not doing things in the smartest or most efficient way?
There is no quick fix to this very common problem, but here are a few tips that may help:
Tip # 1: map out your goals
Investing in I.T .for the sake of it is a big mistake. You really need to establish your business goals and see how I.T. can help you get there. I.T. is a facilitator and applied correctly, could make a huge difference. Like all projects, investing in I.T. should be measured. You need to be able to see the difference whether that means more happy customers, happier employees, more sales orders processed per day, higher profits etc.
Tip # 2: think about what information you need to run your business
Where is this information held? Is there a way of connecting up different systems to help get this information into the one spot? Have you checked if software integration would be feasible?
Tip # 3: review your sales function
Try to get a handle on where the cracks are? Are you losing out on business because you were not efficient enough in responding? Which competitors have you lost to and what do they do differently? Are you accurately forecasting sales? Are you using a CRM system? Could technology help you do things better and give customers a better impression of what you are like as a company?
Tip # 4: look at your internal and external communications
Do you use tools such as SharePoint or Yammer? Do you use Social Media? How do you share information internally in the organisation? Where is the information held? Does everybody who needs access to information have access to that information? Can you see the full picture of your projects or your customers or prospects?
Tip # 5: look at your I.T. set-up
See if you can streamline what you have. Do a proper analysis of what hardware and software you have in place. You may find that you actually don’t need or use some of the old equipment or software applications. Are you still paying maintenance on these? Paying maintenance is not cheap, so consider what’s important and then you can free up some money to re-invest in technology solutions that will help you achieve your goals.
Tip # 6: look at your processes
Spend the time looking at what way you are working as an organisation. Ask your employees to share their issues and concerns. See where the bottlenecks lie. Ignoring your team leads to unhappy employees and this has a knock-on effect on productivity. See what processes involve duplication or manual processes. Is there a better way of doing things? Document your processes, this can really help see the reality of your situation and can help shed some light when it comes to prioritising the areas to be addressed first.
Tip # 7: consider your customers
What are your customers doing themselves with software and technology in their businesses? Give them a call to find out. If they are investing in their own software systems, it is important that as a supplier, you remain part of the solution and do not become their next problem.
For a no obligation chat about your business and how technology could be used to help you achieve your goals, why not book a consultation?