Editor’s note: This is the first blog of a three-part series by guest blogger Alex Lau, Managing Director of SeeSharp Productions. The series will look at ways technology has changed the landscape for small business, covering day-to-day operations, marketing and communication, and customer relations and service.
The way small businesses operate has changed at breakneck pace over recent years, mainly due to advances in technology.
Some changes are easy to grasp, adopt and implement while others take more effort and a greater understanding of new and unfamiliar concepts.
Of course, not all online systems, tools or apps are appropriate for every type of business, but if there’s any day-to-day task that can be streamlined (or even automated) there’s every chance a solution exists.
If you own or operate a small business, and want to keep pace as your competitors embrace online tools, then you need to be prepared to change, too.
However, the fear of being left behind – powerful though it may be – shouldn’t be the only reason you investigate, identify and implement technology-based solutions for your business.
Who doesn’t want to work more efficiently, reduce effort, increase revenue and profitability, and even eliminate potentially costly double-ups, errors and miscommunications?
Let’s look at some of the day-to-day tasks of running a small business that can be streamlined by implementing a digital solution of some sort.
One of the advantages of being a small business is that you can be lean and mean. Unfortunately, that’s also one of the disadvantages. With finite resources – time, personnel, equipment – any inefficiencies, be they in responding to a client or getting where you need to be, can cost you dearly.
So it makes sense to be able to schedule everything you do, whether that’s by putting it in the right place in a queue or booking a specific time.
It makes even more sense when everybody’s schedule is updated simultaneously and everybody in the business has full access to the schedule.
The days of shuffling multiple Excel spreadsheets and writing on a whiteboard in the office are long gone.
One of the best things about digital scheduling is the ability to set different reminders for different people. If it’s to make a phone call, a five-minute reminder might be appropriate, but that’s no good if it’s to be somewhere that’s half-an-hour away.
You can even improve customer service by reminding clients of appointments and letting them know when you’re on your way.
Tracking goes hand-in-hand with scheduling. Knowing where every staff member is at all times can be the key to efficient scheduling. Why send someone from one side of town to the other when, by scheduling the job at a different time, you can deploy an employee who’s just in the next suburb?
If you queue jobs, rather than booking specific appointment times, it’s vital to be able to track how the queue is progressing, especially if there are delays.
If you rely on things being delivered to you before you can service a client, tracking plays an even more important role, and if you keep parts or supplies on hand, tracking inventory is easier than ever. You can even automate an order to top up your supplies when they’re getting low.
The other kind of tracking is keeping track of each job, from initial contact with the customer through to completion and payment. This becomes even more significant when the job requires multiple personnel and/or multiple visits to the client’s location.
The ability to consolidate and streamline all of our documentation, and access it from anywhere on any device, has been one of the universal business boons of the digital age.
Single copy physical files are a thing of the past with documents now available concurrently to all who need access, even allowing for multiple users at separate locations to collaborate and edit in real time.
No more confusion about who has the latest, most up-to-date copy. Everyone does!
At the same time, the ability to create and modify templated documents allows for consistent and professional presentation, from proposals to quotes to invoices and even emails.
It’s also now simple to add in and annotate images – for example before and after shots – for more comprehensive records of completed work.
When you do multiple jobs for one client or the same job for multiple clients, the ability to easily locate, refer to, and borrow from previous documents saves a lot of time.
Data analysis is something that used to be the domain of the big players, but now anyone can do it.
The first step is capturing the data, generally via the tracking previously mentioned.
Once you know how long each and every job takes, how long your staff spend in transit between jobs, how much each different sort of job costs your business, how much margin you have built in to each job, and a myriad of other facts that are quite easy to measure, you can crunch those numbers.
Knowledge is power, and knowing that you are not making enough on a common task gives you the power to justify a reasonable adjustment in pricing.
There are numerous other tasks that we haven’t covered, but suffice to say that whether you are improving your staff management, your accounting processes, your communication, your transparency, or your professionalism, the positive effects on your business will be obvious.
Your stress levels will decrease, your team morale will improve, and your reputation will grow.
The only thing better than a satisfied customer is an impressed one, because he or she is likely to become an advocate; essentially an additional salesperson.
If your staff are also more than satisfied, they become even greater assets to the business, too.
In the end, you really have nothing to lose and everything to gain by implementing any technological solution that fits your business.
UPDATE: Check out the second post of the series, which covers marketing and communications!
Alex is the founder and Managing Director of SeeSharp Productions, which specialises in turning regular small businesses into premium brands. He advocates working smart and streamlining operations using technology, unconventional marketing and strategic branding to enable small businesses to reach their full potential. For more of Alex’s insights, check out the SeeSharp blog here, and look out for his upcoming book “Marketing Reengineered”.