Elance Blog

Six Rules for Small Business Technology Success

As you know, technology is so important to the growth of a small business. While all businesses need good technology strategies, larger businesses can throw tons of money into marketing, or into hiring lots of people and still be effective, up to a point, without using technology effectively. However, small business owners with our limited budgets, fewer employees, more demands on our time and other challenges have the most to gain and the most to lose by leveraging technology.



Just about every small business owner knows they need a website, email newsletter, email and some other basic technologies in their business. But once you pass the basics, there's some more key aspects of technology that you must consider. These are my Six Rules for Small Business Technology Success: 
 

  1. Consider technology as an investment – not as a cost
  2. Email is NOT CRM
  3. Web 2.0 is no joke
  4. Mobile technology empowers small businesses
  5. Smart small businesses outsource their tech needs
  6. Don’t technologize a bad business process

  
1. Consider technology as an investment – not as a cost
You spend money on insurance – right? You have a lawyer (most likely) and an accountant (for sure) – right? However, when it comes to spending money on technology, many of you ONLY spend money if you have to. You don't spend money on technology that you think you don't need. This is a mistake.

If you are building a business that's built to last you must think of your technology spending as an investment in how technology can help your business GROW. You must invest money in technology that will help you now and in the future. The right investments in technology today will help you save money, save time, do more with less and overall grow your business tomorrow.

Don't think of where your business is now, but think of where your business will be in 5 years and invest in technology accordingly.

Consider your phone system. To many of you, your phone is a necessary evil. However, did you know that your telephone, especially for industries where the phone is used quite a bit (like real estate or insurance), can be a powerful customer service and sales asset? Imagine having a telephone system connected to a customer database? Or cmaybe you are paying for 20 telephone lines; if you had an updated telephone system you only needed to pay for 10 as the new system could better manage outgoing and incoming telephone calls!

2. Email is NOT CRM
Many of you, like I do, use email as the core foundation of your business. You use it to manage your email, tasks, notes and calendar and that's good. But if you want to increase sales to your current customers and really know everything you can about each customer – based on each interaction they have with you – you must use a true customer relationship management (CRM) tool in your business. CRM is not only a product, it’s a business process, aided by a technology product.

When a customer buys from you, chats with your sales rep and maybe returns a product, for whatever reason, a TRUE CRM product/service can help you mine this data and help you use this raw data as POWERFUL information to know more about your customer.

For example, maybe a particular customer is always buying color socks. Your CRM application helps your phone sales team, or online store, cross sell the customer with a color hand bag or backpack. Very similar to how Amazon.com analyzes your buying habits and informs you of other things to buy.

3. Web 2.0 is No Joke
You've heard all about FaceBook, MySpace, LinkedIn and a few dozen other social media tools that help you connect with others. Many websites also enable you to comment, upload your own videos and share your own insight with others. This is what web 2.0 is about. It's more than you giving content or a sales pitch to someone – a one way conversation. It's about having a conversation with customers and letting customers have a conversation with each other – all about you and your product or service.

You need to do this with your own online communications. You must have a great website, with awesome navigation and content. You must have an email newsletter to reach people right in their email inboxes. You really should have a blog to foster more conversation and boost your website rankings in search engines.

The next step is to ensure your website enables visitors to communicate and connect with you and each other as well via "web 2.0" technologies.

I was in Home Depot the other day and heard an announcement over the speakers, inviting customers to submit videos or photos of projects done, to Home Depot’s website. Home Depot has had a website for years, but this new initiative is all about enabling customers to now communicate with Home Depot and with each other through their project submissions. Web 2.0.

Increasingly many businesses are finding that social networks are indeed a good way to keep in touch with customers by creating personal or corporate profiles and find new customers (maybe even a younger demographic) through paid advertising or good networking.

4. Mobile Technology
If you and your staff are sitting at desks all day and never leaving the office, I guess you don't need mobile technology.

However, if you and your staff are traveling (as I suspect you do), visiting customers, going to meetings, and enjoying a few extended weekends, then you need to implement mobile technology solutions. This means that you can access your office wherever you are – email, faxes, files – you can access it all.

There’s no reason to tell a customer that they have to wait until you get back to your office. There’s no excuse for telling a partner that you haven’t received a fax someone sent you or missed a voice mail because you were not in the office. Take your office with you.

Your customer’s need, is often just a phone call or mouse click away. By effectively leveraging mobile technology you can ensure that your business is able to respond quickly and accurately. You ask, what does accurately have to do with mobile technology? Well if you are in a hotel, 500 miles away from your office, you can still access important inventory records, product detail and customer records if you have the right mobile technology systems in place.

5. Outsource Your Technology
There is NO need at all for you to manage and implement technology on your own. Sure, you are an expert in what you sell (be you a florist, computer vendor, lawyer, graphic artists or media consultant). But you are not an expert in network security, data backup or mobile technology. In fact outsourcing goes beyond just expertise.

I was recently at an event where the speaker was talking about how small businesses need to dive into using social network sites and someone asked, how does one find the time (or the expertise) to do grow their own business if they are always stuck putting out fires and selling. Getting help – outsourcing to someone who can help you grow your business – is the way to do it.

If you find that you are scanning business cards, answering phones and faxing proposals you need to hire someone else to do these tasks for you so you can concentrate on your business. If you are a one person business or a 50 person business – you need to manage your company and concentrate on its growth. Hire someone else, like a virtual assistant to help you.

6. Don’t Technologize a Bad Business Process
I'm sure you run a very good business and do your best to manage its various processes. However, if there are parts of your business that are not going so well and you think technology is the answer, you're wrong.

Maybe you are wondering why sales are going down and you decide to issue BlackBerrys to all employees. You then wonder why sales are decreasing even faster? After investing further you realize that half of your employees are rude and nasty to your customers and prospective customers. The BlackBerrys have now simply enabled your rude sales to more quickly get to customers – more quickly decreasing your sales. This is technologoizing a bad business process.

About
Ramon Ray, Technology Evangelist, is the editor of Smallbiztechnology.com and author of Technology Solutions for Growing Businesses (Amacom).  He has written thousands of technology articles and news items for Smallbiztechnology.com and other media including: Inc. Magazine, New York Enterprise Report, Black Enterprise Magazine, CNet, Var Business, TechTarget, Entrepreneur.com, Small Business Resources and others.

Comments

Hello Mr. Ramon Ray,

Very nice and very true points you have mentioned. I appreciate your article and the points for growth and success of any IT small business.

I agree wholeheartedly with everything written here. Before 1990 all you needed was an ad in the yellow pages and another in the Sunday paper and your business line was ringing non-stop. Jump forward to 2008 and phonebooks are for people who can’t see over the steering wheel and newspapers are issued online. The only time I search the yellow pages is if it’s on Yahoo and I don’t give much attention to businesses listed without a website link. It really saves a lot of time when you don’t have to call, remember what questions to ask, etc. On the flip side when a small business does finally decide to get a website in order to “technologize” itself they can’t just leave it at that. If the website isn’t both up-to-date and informative, then what’s the point? You can always tell when you write them an email and you don’t hear back for a couple days—if ever. All they would have really had to do is get themselves an iPhone. Organize YouTube clips and keep up immediate correspondence with clients with the same GSM brick, that sounds like a win win to me…

I like the comment about email and CRM and you are very right. Do you have any tips for small businesses in regards to software they could use for their CRM which is free or not too expensive. In my experience most CRM packages are very expensive or requiere a lot of finetuning before you can realy use them which makes them uninteresting for smaller businesses.