Guest post by Lilach Bullock.
Getting a small business off the ground isn’t easy. But even after your enterprise has achieved liftoff, it can be tough to keep abreast of the latest technological innovations and remain competitive. This is especially true when your rivals have bigger budgets to play with, affording them the cashflow to explore new avenues and maximize the use of nascent platforms.
However, there’s another way of looking at it: larger businesses are often at a disadvantage, shackled to expensive legacy systems that are too costly to modernize, while smaller, more agile businesses can stay on their toes.
Although it can seem daunting, there are definitely ways and means of modernizing and making sure your business runs smoothly without completely breaking the bank.
To maintain profitable growth, business owners must take advantage of the capabilities offered by modern applications, tools and services. Here are six actionable tips to help keep (or bring) your business up to date and stay a step ahead of your competitors.
1. Step up your marketing endeavors
Many small businesses lack large advertising and media budgets that can produce instant results. But you don’t necessarily have to raid the safe to promote your company. Indeed, there are several affordable yet effective methods of getting the word out about your products and services, including:
- Sending out promotions with your invoices
- Pay-per-click advertising
- Involving influencers, bloggers, or local journalists in your business events, open days, etc.
- Hosting presentations or web seminars related to your products/business, with the option of advertising across digital channels
- Promoting content and ads on social media
- Exploring cross-promotion with businesses operating in different, but related, sectors
2. Build a bridge between the physical and digital
Digital technology breaks down barriers and helps level the competitive playing field for small businesses. With almost everyone now carrying around a smartphone around in their pocket or purse, business owners are able to offer a consistent, positive customer experience across various formats and devices: a.k.a., an omnichannel marketing experience.
More and more customers are transacting business online, but many also move from screen to store, meaning you have to be ready for this multi-directional challenge and seek to influence buyer behavior accordingly.
This can mean discount codes for those who visit and purchase in a physical store; triggers based on location; QR code functionality; or some other experience which underscores the interconnectedness and elimination of boundaries between the physical and digital worlds. It also means maintaining consistent visuals and tone of voice whether you’re selling face-to-face or online.
Seamlessly integrating the physical with the digital is something big companies do well. Think about browsing in an Apple Store, for example: it’s like walking through a physical manifestation of the website.
3. Upgrade your communication channels
There are a number of team collaboration tools that that can help you group communicate and coordinate efforts more productively.Slack is just one of them.
Essentially a workplace messaging platform, Slack helps the employees of small businesses and large enterprises alike communicate and manage tasks more effectively. An easy-to-use, chatroom-like service, it can be used among teams and departments but also with outside participants such as leads, clients and freelancers.
Slack simplifies communication, reducing inbox clutter. It’s being used by close to eight million users globally, cross half a million organizations. According to McKinsey, social technologies like Slack can raise the productivity of knowledge workers by up to 25%.
You might also consider streamlining inbound and outbound communication using a VoIP phone network system. These are highly cost-effective, particularly if you have to regularly make calls to stakeholders, suppliers or customers in different time zones.
What’s more, they let you work from anywhere that has an internet connection. Your biggest challenge may be sifting through the hundreds of VoIP service providers available. Simplify things by using a VoIP comparison guide or a tool like GetVoIP to identify the best options for your size and needs.
4. Switch to cloud-based services
It’s not uncommon for small businesses to still use outdated, unwieldy filing cabinets for storing paper documents like invoices, contracts, and receipts.
However, migrating data to cloud-based technology is financially and technologically feasible for most firms, since many such services are based on modest monthly or annual subscription fees rather than hefty up-front costs. Documents in the cloud can be edited and shared on the go via a mobile device, eliminating the need to physically pass paper documents around the office.
Cloud services are more than just digital filing cabinets, of course. Another advantage of this online technology is its built-in analytics and machine learning capabilities, giving business owners access to useful data and actionable intelligence across an array of processes.
5. Become an expert in the “customer journey”
As business owners, we like to profess that we know all about the customer journey. After all, it’s our bread and butter to get it right. Unfortunately, many simply pay lip service to the customer experience and, believing they can easily put themselves “in the customer’s shoes,” don’t bother with proper journey mapping.
Customer journey mapping is all about visualizing the consumer’s experience, from the moment of first contact to a completed sale, and hopefully onward to forging a loyal long-term relationship. Armed with this critical information, business owners can deliver an improved customer experience (CX).
6. Start automating
The coming AI apocalypse, which will see us brutally overthrown by our clever robot overlords, might have you nervous. But the futility of trying to complete all of your daily tasks in anything like a reasonable timeframe should be enough to compel you to automate.
There are a number of personal productivity tools that offer to swiftly streamline your day-to-day tasks, as well as more challenging recurring duties that eat, Pacman-like, into your time. RescueTime, for example, helps you better understand how you are spending your time online so you can minimize, delegate, or eliminate unimportant activities. Shift brings a number of popular online tools and services into a single interface.
Budget limitations are no excuse as there is an abundance of free automation platforms like Leadsius. This tool lets you create landing pages, reporting and web analytics at no cost.
Invoicely is another complimentary tool which lets you simply and securely automate your invoicing process. You can even track expenses, mileage, and other billed tasks which previously would have absorbed precious minutes and hours from your working week.
If you want to stay ahead of the curve, or even just meet the demands of a modern market, you need to plug into new tech which saves you money, accelerates your processes, and boosts your ROI.
Those businesses that are geared up, from a technological standpoint, and willing to modernize when a useful new app or system comes along, will always be best-placed to grow. As Jason Jennings and Laurence Haughton have written, “It’s not the big that eat the small, it’s the fast that eat the slow.” Follow these tips to better sell your brand and manage your workflow, and you’ll stay ahead of the pack.