Failure to embrace modern digital technology could be catastrophic for your business

This is the rather blunt message from Joanna Swash who outlines why software is the key to future success for SMEs.

Failure to embrace modern digital technology could be catastrophic for your business

This is the rather blunt message from Joanna Swash who outlines why software is the key to future success for SMEs.

The world is embracing all things digital, and it’s time for SMEs to do the same. Digital technology is already a way of life. It is intertwined in all that we do and will only grow in significance. Already, people are shifting more of their daily activities to digital.

The world is using social media, mobile and other technology channels to communicate. They purchase goods online, or use the likes of YouTube to be entertained or educated, while staying abreast of what’s happening on this planet by visiting websites such as BBC or Sky News.

While large organisations have responded quickly to this trend, smaller businesses have been slower to adopt digital solutions. Perhaps they perceive them to be too costly or complex to implement. According to research by Be the Business, not only are smaller UK firms less likely to adopt technology than larger UK firms, but they are also less likely than their SME counterparts in Europe to embrace digital change.

For example, while 62% of large UK firms, and 68% of large German firms, are using customer relationship management systems (CRMs), the gap is much wider between smaller companies. For those with 10 to 49 employees, it is 26% in the UK and 40% in Germany.

It is worth explaining that many products are certainly designed for larger, tech-savvy organisations. The key to success is finding the right provider whose products address your specific needs. These are manufacturers who will listen to your requirements and then offer true sustainable benefits for your business. And they will also commit to being a partner long into the future. The reality is that digital technology is affordable and scalable, and embracing it can deliver real competitive advantages for a small firm.

First impressions count

By being small it gives businesses agility, enabling management to make rapid decisions in a manner that larger competitors can’t. But there are benefits to being big, too. People tend to trust companies that have been around for some time and have grown to a certain size.

Smart use of technology can help small firms appear to be bigger than they actually are. This conveys a sense of scale and stability, and will help to engender customer trust. Because most people research online before they buy, a high-quality website with professional images will certainly boost a company’s image.

There also needs to be engaging content, easy navigation and mobile optimisation. This is the key to establishing an online presence that’s as authentic and compelling to customers as any large company.

Set up separate addresses for different departments, such as sales, customer services, media, etc. Even if the same person responds to them all, it creates a sense of being a larger and well-established organisation.

Teamwork and time management

One of the biggest challenges for a small business is keeping the team working productively together. A new generation of productivity and project management tools is helping to keep everyone working at full speed. Trello is a highly customisable digital ‘to-do list’ that helps teams to collaborate on a wide range of tasks and projects. Asana, meanwhile, allows small firms to create private task management and team management tasks, and will effectively streamline project management.

Excessive multi-tasking can reduce productivity, so the Hello Focus app will prioritise and organise tasks for you. This will ensure that the most pressing issues are dealt with first. Small business owners are often time-poor and may find the Toggl app useful for tracking the time it takes to complete various tasks. It will also monitor how much time is spent on different projects during the week.

Instant messaging apps like Slack will keep conversations flowing between team members. More familiar are the video conferencing platforms such as Vimeo, Microsoft Teams and Zoom which allow virtual meetings to take place. All these tools will elevate communications to a different level, even at the smallest of companies.

Enhance customer experience

Customer experience plays a major part in attracting and retaining customers, and especially in the current economic climate. It is proving to be vital for business survival. Customers are increasingly demanding a rapid response from businesses. Digital tools, such as ‘AI Chatbots,’ simulate human conversation through voice commands or texted chats. Along with a more personalised customer experience, this results in greater brand trust, stronger customer relations and, ultimately, more sales.

Analyse and review

Digital tools and other new technologies are playing an important role in tracking progress for small businesses. For example, the latest communication software can analyse where customer are calling from and enable the business to respond quickly to changing trends.

Social media monitoring also tracks brand exposure and can be a useful tool for testing out messaging. It will also measure return on investment (ROI). For example, Google Alerts can monitor the entire web for mention of a company’s name, along with their competitors and other industry-related topics.

Reputation management is vital in the digital age, and ‘a must’ for small firms. Reputology is an app that allows users to monitor major review sites such as Yelp, Trust Pilot, Google and Facebook. Meanwhile, ReviewTrackers will track over 50 review websites in one place.

Save time and gain expertise

As small businesses grow, they invariably need additional skillsets on board. However, the cost of hiring staff, office space, furniture and computer equipment can stretch limited budgets. Yet digital technology enables small businesses to reduce these costs without compromising on expertise and skills.

Nowadays, companies can hire online freelancers. Many of these are specialists in areas such as design, marketing and IT, and will hire out their skills on a pay-as-you-go or project basis. In terms of productivity and performance, the aforementioned Trello, Zoom and Google Calendar are all useful tools for monitoring, engaging and guiding a remote freelance team.

Embracing all-things digital is critical for business success, both now and in the future. It will require investment, both monetary and time, but there will be immediate returns. If you can harness remote skills and expertise, streamline processes and improve customer experience ‘ while continuing to grow profits ‘ then SMEs will enjoy a competitive advantage going forward.

Joanna Swash
Joanna Swash

Share via
Copy link