Small business success and technology go hand-in-hand.
According to research from Xero Small Business Insights, greater technology investment is directly correlated to business growth. But the majority of small businesses have yet to make that leap forward with technology. In fact, only about 20 percent of small businesses are taking full advantage of digital tools, note George Collins, John O’Mahony, and Sara Ma in a report for Deloitte on connecting small businesses.
The challenge for many small business owners is applying those tools to their business model. Over-extended business owners may simply not have the resources to dedicate the time required to learn new technology. However, what is important to remember is that they don’t have to apply technology for every aspect of the business at one time. As a small business owner, you can decide how much tech to integrate and when, slowly adding more technologically-driven processes over time.
Here are ten technology tools that you can learn more about and determine how they would work with your business to help it grow.
Connecting with customers on social media is a must for small businesses. Those connections make it easier to market to customers and prospects, build brand awareness, and deliver responsive customer service.
But managing multiple social media accounts can get chaotic when you are trying to remember when to post, what to post, and what you have already posted. That’s where social media automation tools can help.
These tools allow you to schedule your social media posts in advance, posting on a certain day at a certain time. Consistency, which is the key to success with social media, is the greatest gain from these tools. By using this technology, you are better able to consistently update your content across all of your platforms and improve user engagement, says social marketing consultant Jeff Bullas.
The learning curve for automation tools isn’t steep since most take a plug-and-play approach and are user-friendly.
Managing the financial aspects of a small business is a never-ending task, but financial management technology can minimize the time spent in the books while also helping to ensure you are making smart financial decisions.
There are tech tools out there that can create efficiencies in areas that are important to your company’s success, including accounting, payroll, budgeting, billing, and financial analysis. Payroll software, as an example, will track the hours worked for your team members who are hourly and automatically send payments at a specified time to all your hourly and salaried staff.
The best such software can also handle things like benefits and regulatory compliance. If, for example, you have a contract with a government agency that has strict rules regarding what constitutes overtime pay, the payroll automation tool can learn the government’s parameters and ensure everyone who works overtime is paid fairly. No spreadsheets or manual calculations necessary.
So how exactly do these tools help a small business owner? Take the payroll management example. Payroll is a laborious process prone to mistakes, notes Meredith Wood, Vice President of Marketing at Fundera. By investing in a good payroll system instead of doing everything manually, you decrease the chance of errors, create efficiencies, and streamline your payroll process, she explains.
Closing sales is the foundation of any business’s success. Software tools can automate parts of the process to help you achieve more sales. They can also give you deeper insights into customer data, purchase patterns, and consumer trends which you can use to move them through the sales cycle more quickly. Sales intelligence, lead generation, sales prospecting and sales communication can all benefit from technology.
One of the most powerful sales tools that small businesses can implement is a customer relationship management program. This allows you to focus on your customer relationships throughout their lifecycle by giving you a clear overview of their interactions with your company. With this focus, you can close more sales and grow your business.
Email marketing should be part of every small business’s marketing strategy because it drives a higher return on investment than any other B2B marketing strategy, writes Michael Brenner, CEO of Marketing Insider Group. When customers give you their email address, they are inviting you to market to them. So you must take advantage of the opportunity.
Thanks to the available tech tools for email marketing, you can design and send email campaigns free of charge. These programs allow you to set up lists with thousands of email addresses, schedule them to send automatically, and analyze engagement data.
The hardest part is actually collecting the email addresses. To do this, look for opportunities in the sales cycle to capture that information. Proven methods include using customer feedback surveys and comment cards, implementing loyalty programs, asking at the point of purchase, and lead capture campaigns.
“Data analytics impacts every aspect of every business, from supply chain to customer experience and everything in between. It provides the knowledge needed to make business decisions that will grow revenue and profitability,” writes Anthony Bradley, Group Vice President, Emerging Technologies and Trends Research at Gartner.
Extracting and analyzing the right data to get the insights needed to improve processes can be a struggle for small business owners. For example, one common pain point for many small businesses is building digital assets, like a website and social media pages, that deliver leads and sales. How do you know if your website is working? Where is your traffic coming from? Are customers moving between different digital channels? These are all questions that you need to know the answers to when trying to reach more customers with your digital assets.
Web analytics tools, many of which are free, can answer those questions. They show how customers interact with different parts of your site: the homepage, the “Contact Us” form, and your educational resources. With these insights, you can better strategize how your digital presence connects with potential customers.
Solid internal communication is one of the keys to maximum productivity in a small business. Though there may not be many employees in a small company, they all need to be connected to each other and moving in the same direction for a business to succeed.
“Effective internal communication ensures that your employees are working collaboratively towards a common goal. It develops a cohesive culture and enables employees to make the right decisions in line with the organization’s goals,” explains Sushman Biswas at HR Technologist.
There are a number of different types of internal communications tools that would work with any size business. Some of the more common include:
The ones you choose for your business depend on your processes and goals.
Much of today’s economy is functioning in a paperless environment. This can be a dramatic shift for small businesses as they outgrow their paper processes and transition to a paperless business. However, it’s a move that can have positive results because going paperless increases efficiencies by streamlining processes and centralizing information for easier access.
With the transition comes the need for tech tools to manage electronic documents. “Document management systems (DMS) help companies digitize, store, manage, and track documents, data objects, and images electronically,” explains business and technology writer Kaylee Kolditz. The greatest benefit of these tools is that they allow you to centralize all of your documents while providing security to protect them from digital privacy invasions.
Every piece of your business has some sort of workflow, whether that’s product fulfillment and shipping, or accounting. Each has its own process that can be improved with a workflow management tool.
If you have an e-commerce shop, you’re already familiar with the workflows of fulfillment and shipping. You receive an order, retrieve the product, package it, then ship it. It’s a to-do list with four basic steps. If you get one order per day, you can mentally handle that to-do list. If you get a hundred orders per day, you’ll want to write them down and track the progress of each order.
That’s why software like Process Street or Trello can be so helpful for anyone running a digital storefront. Those tools act like smart to-do lists, with tasks you can check off as your complete and edit as you need. The tools can send reminders so you never miss a step in the process, even if you have multiple other orders in different stages of fulfillment.
In adopting workflow management software, you will spend less of your limited resources on administrative tasks, such as monitoring deadlines, and more time perfecting your craft, working on projects, and growing your business.
Hiring is a challenge for all businesses. It can be especially difficult for small businesses that face a number of unique challenges, such as the lack of a dedicated HR staff and processes that aren’t compatible with keeping up with compliance. These problems are exacerbated by the heavy administrative activities necessary in human resources management.
Upgrading your small business with HR management software will relieve the pressure of HR and help your business grow from the inside out. These tools can perform any number of administrative tasks to save you time and money on your HR processes. They can help:
There is a perfect HR tool out there for every business, no matter how big or small or what you need it to do. Even if it is only handling payroll, that’s one less manual task a small business owner has to complete.
If you haven’t already come across “the cloud,” you will as you research these different technology tools for your business. Most of them have cloud-based options. In fact, more than half of the businesses surveyed say they use the cloud for website analytics, non-website analytics, marketing automation, file sharing, and Salesforce automation tools.
But what exactly is the cloud? Essentially, when people talk about information being stored on the cloud or being connected through the cloud, they are referring to software and services that run on the internet instead of on your computer, explains Bonnie Cha at Recode.
The biggest advantage of using the cloud is that you can access that information from any device, anywhere. You don’t have to be logged in to a particular device. The cloud also frees up room on your devices and gives you more flexibility in your workspace. The downside is that if for some reason you can’t connect to the internet, you won’t have access to the cloud.
However, using the cloud is especially useful for small business owners who work from home or are on the road a lot. Harnessing the cloud allows them to stay connected and grow the business even when they are on the move.
Small business owners who don’t embrace the power of technology and use some of these tools can get left behind by their competitors who are using them to improve their processes and grow. The tools are the key to “future-proofing” small businesses, says Marie Rosecrans, Senior Vice President of SMB Marketing at Salesforce. That’s why small business owners must take the time to learn about these tools and understand what role they can play in growing their company.