Technology should be servant – not master – of your small business strategy. Phone systems, mobile phone apps, payroll management, customer surveys, search engine optimization – how is a small business owner to start-up and keep-up?
Even this discussion takes time, and time is a small business’ biggest expense. When evaluating your own technology needs, consider the following areas:
- Self-evaluation: Not all small businesses are the same. The retail store has little in common with the local building contractor. The medical service shares little with the virtual consultant. Some have one employee; others have a hundred plus. You need to look at who and what you are; how you market and how you want to market; what your business model is and where you want to take it. This understanding tells you what you want in a website, how dependent you are on phones, or what your internal and external communications require.
- Advice: Jacks-of-all-trade are masters of none. This is not a one size fits all situation. At the same time, a small business is not ready for the financial burden of a stable of experts. Call on your network and advisors group to recruit the guy or gal you need for your needs.
- Phones: Most small businesses are phone-central to one extent or another. Your business needs a strong internal phone system with a back-up plan. Increasingly, small businesses need innovative and evolving external systems to connect with various smartphone/android systems. Phones are not just for voice anymore; they are an indispensable gateway to audio-visual connections. They can locate, trace, and review your business. Don’t let your business wind up on the short end of this stick.
- Storage: Almost any work you do, any records you produce, and documents you write can be stored on The Cloud. Look at DropBox, HyperOffice, ElephantDrive, or Trello to see what works best for you. For example, DropBox is extremely simple to navigate, but Trello is more oriented to business process. Among other advantages, you can share elements on these drives with designated employees and clients, and you can store your disaster plan and communication trees. These are decisions I think you can make on your own.
- Video: You need to take the lead in video-enabled sales, training, and follow-ups. People expect to see you and collaborate with you in “person.” As telecommuting has become a way of life, customers feel a closer connection with vendors who can connect in virtual face-to-face contact. You need now or very soon to have the technology to hold video conference calls, to buy and sell “in person,” and to scout and serve customers “live.”
In short, these areas are starting places. Shop for advice, and price products that take you to this place at a reasonable cost. Because this is all cost, most of it sunk cost, you need to build it into your small business strategy plan. The burden is a first year issue, but the plan must be organic enough to allow for sustaining tech costs as well as growth tech costs as the business grows and evolves.
By Steven Schlagel