Let’s face it, most small business owners are time poor. It’s no surprise given you need to juggle the management of staff, bookkeeping, invoicing, marketing and daily business operations. You also need to monitor the economy, industry trends and technological change.
With the speed of technological change accelerating, business owners need to adapt as a result of the rise of social media, the dominance of Google and the explosion of smart phones and cloud computing. In fact, the way we do business continues to change with business owners constantly searching for productivity gains to save time and improve their bottom line profits. For example, five years ago every business had a fax machine but courtesy of email and scanning technology they are almost redundant.
We have identified seven key technological changes that most business owners need to adopt to stay competitive:
1. Websites are a Marketing Magnet
Your website needs to be more than just a billboard that simply lists the who, what and where of your business. It should be your marketing hub that draws prospects to your business with social media links and information that targets your niche markets and ideal customer. It should be a marketing magnet and your virtual sales manager available 24/7. It should not only detail your business information, opening hours, products and prices but it should create sales and track visitors to your site so you can create a pipeline of prospects to contact.
Everybody looks for products and new suppliers on the web and if your website is not set up to capture prospects details in exchange for an e-booklet or newsletter, you could be missing out on sales opportunities. Of course, if you are capturing the contact details of the prospects who visit your site do you also have a follow up system in place to convert them to customers?
Consumers want to be able to complete their orders online and they are too busy and time poor to wait for the call back, email or personal visit. Their mission is to find what they want, pay for it and move on. If you sell products then a shopping cart is an essential part of your website because if your business can’t satisfy them with a few clicks of the mouse, they will quickly move on to one of your competitors that offer instant purchase gratification.
Your website will always be a work in progress and remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Don’t feel overwhelmed with the need for instant change but create a wish list of features you want on your website. Make a commitment to read and research about search engine optimisation (SEO), blogging and software to integrate your contact management, payment processing and automated marketing campaigns.
2. Abandon the Cheque Book
The convenience and speed of online banking means there are very few reasons why you still need a cheque book. Online banking, Paypal, direct debit services and secure shopping carts mean the old cheque book is almost extinct. If you are still paying your bills by cheque or don’t accept electronic payments to your bank account then it’s time for change. Everything is difficult until you do it the first time and there are other benefits with electronic banking. For example, most accounting software programs will let you import your electronic bank statement that could potentially slash your bookkeeping time and you might save bank fees as well.
3. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
Having a great website is a terrific start but if no one can find your business online it is a complete waste of time and money. It is crucial that your business appears on page one of Google searches. If you’re a plumber, what happens if you Google ‘Plumber in your Suburb’? You can access these statistics and the results are staggering. For example, there are close to 6,000 searches per annum for ’Plumber Richmond’ and what if you could attract 5% of the traffic? Would an extra 300 calls a year help your business?
To optimise your website for Google you need fresh and relevant content plus make sure you also claim your inbound links from well credentialed websites like Hotfrog and True Local. This is just the tip of the iceberg but SEO must be on your radar in 2013 and beyond.
4. Using Web-Conferencing
Face to face meetings will always be the most effective way to do business and build relationships but the travel time, expense and inconvenience can be a big obstacle. Web-conferencing provides the next best thing to a face to face meeting and with free VOIP carrying voice, webcams and screen sharing for the visual, participants don’t need to leave their own desk to do business.
5. On Line Training
There are a range of fantastic online training tools available for small business operators at surprisingly low cost. Again, like meetings, by receiving your training or conducting staff training online you have reduced the cost of bringing the trainee and trainer together. If you have Gen Y staff think about videoing all your systems and procedures because this demographic don’t want to wade through massive procedure manuals when they can watch instructional videos. It will also make the staff induction process faster and simpler.
6. Paperless Office
Once upon a time each and every transaction required a piece of paper. Thanks to technology those days are nearly gone because we can now review and action almost everything online. Apart from the time saving there is less impact on the environment and going ‘paper less’ could also save expensive office space and even make your business more valuable.
7. Social Media
This is huge and if your target market is Gen X and Y customers then you need to have a social media presence. Social Media has changed the way people connect, discover and share information. It is the technology that connects people whether it’s to share content or just to chat.
Social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn are the places where social interactions happen while Social Media Marketing is the way to use that technology to build relationships, drive repeat business and attract new customers through friends sharing with friends. In a sense, social media marketing is really just word of mouth referrals powered by technology.
Recent surveys suggest that 75% of people are somewhat or highly likely to share content online with friends, co-workers and family and 49% of users do this at least weekly. According to Constant Contact’s 2011 Small Business Attitudes & Outlook Survey, 73% of small businesses and organizations have started using social media marketing and 62% of those not using it expect to start marketing through social media within the next 12 months.
Here are some ways you can use social media to promote your business:
- Build your brand by telling customers and prospects who you are and what you can do for them
- Drive Sales by giving customers offers that are so good they’ll share them with their friends.
- Listen and respond to what your customers are saying about you online. Build deeper relationships and trust with your customers so they keep coming back for more.
Like the accounting profession, your industry probably has more innovation on the way. History tells us that the sooner you embrace change and adopt the technology the better. Invest some time to educate yourself as to how Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest could potentially grow your business.