You suspect that your millennial employees call you a Luddite. As far as you’re concerned, they’re slaves to their gadgets. You can work unplugged because you ran your own business before the advent of the Internet. But today, you’re wondering if you should make a quantum leap into the 21st century.
Although you started the day an hour before the office opened, you didn’t get much done. 15 minutes into reviewing your 5-year business plans, the phone rang. Then it was one crisis after another. Urgent meetings. Saving a long-standing client account. Finding your checkbook under a stack when a bill collector made an unexpected appearance. (You had lost the invoice and forgotten all about it.)
You may already be using a computer, a mobile phone, and a tablet. But that doesn’t mean you’re leveraging the power of technology in your small business.
When used well—not as an escape pod to social media—technology can automate your business. Become lean and efficient to speed up many business processes that you may still be doing the old-fashioned way.
Here are 7 ideas to help you leverage technology better:
1. Jump on to the cloud. Your computer network is not the outer limit of your technological universe. By using cloud storage you can store a large volume of data online. Storage services like Google Drive or Dropbox allow you to access your files from any computer anywhere in the world. Collaboration services like TESTQ allow you to manage content management, mobility, unified communication, enterprise portals, team workspaces, enterprise social networking, and messaging. The cloud lets you share files too big to email. It lets you share data with partners and contractors. It lets you update employees on the progress of projects. It lets you coordinate team members’ work.
2. Compute in harsh environments. Computers may be sensitive devices but you can still put one on the shop floor. Kontron, a global market leader in embedded computing technology, says that industrial computers are “bringing to life numerous technologies and applications that touch millions of lives.” That’s to say you can embed computers in places like factories or aicrafts. You can bring the artificial intelligence of computers into almost any kind of workplace. This includes environments that are dusty, gaseous, or damp; environments that are either too hot or too cold for most electronic equipment; or environments that have high vibrations (like military tanks).
3. Find customers without going out in the field. There are many ways you can get customers to come to you. Instead of hiring an army of salespeople to knock on doors, you can get listed on Yelp! as well as list your business on a giant platform like Google. Do you run a service business? Then list it on Angie’s List.
4. Communicate without lifting up the phone. If you want to stay in touch with your customers, then just send them emails through an autoresponder. You can write emails once to update your customers on all your special offers throughout the year.
5. Sell to more people without hiring more salespeople. People love to buy online. In fact, they often find it more convenient than going to a retail store. Why not create a virtual store to complement your brick-and-mortar store? An ecommerce site will allow your customers to view your best merchandise and buy it online. You can mail out their products. You can also hire a fulfillment company to dropship for you. If you run a restaurant, customers can get pickup or delivery with iMenu360 or GrubHub.
6. Go global without buying a plane ticket. If you’re looking for international business partners to open up an office, you don’t have to fly over to talk to them. Just use voice conference calls on GoToMeeting or video conference calls on Skype to propose your offer. If things go well, you can legalize the contract with esignature.
7. Improve customer service without hiring more employees to answer the phone. Customers ask for customer service when they have questions. They may have complaints. They may want to return merchandise. They may need to directions on how to your premises. A website can answer FAQs. It can direct them pages for shipping and returns, business hours, or maps to your location. You only need a few customer service people to troubleshoot unique problems. You can also use chat boxes for people with quick questions who don’t want to wait on the phone.
8. Simplify your business administration. When organizing your business, you have to manage projects and keep on top of scheduling. Software can do the heavy lifting for you. For project management try software like Asana or BaseCamp. For customer appointments try BookFresh or FullSlate. Skip endless rounds of phone tag. Instead, allow customers to schedule appointments online around your work schedule. They can see at a glance what days and times on the calendar you have available.
It’s Not to Late to Join the Revolution
While you may have grown your business using paperwork, you can still join the Internet revolution. In fact, electronic documents are much easier to manage than stacks of files. You’re only a few mouse clicks away from semi-automating your business. You won’t have to spend all your time on the phone and you’ll be able to find invoices faster. And you can get that 5-year business plan done much faster with business plan software that offers you templates to plug in your data and fancy charts to map your progress.