It’s the 21st century and it’s almost impossible to run a business without bringing computers into it. That doesn’t mean every business needs an IT department. But you also don’t want to depend on paper and pencils when you could streamline your processes and grow your business by taking advantage of modern technology. Just how much tech do you need?
Before we get into the tech talk, let’s try some math:
- According to BIA/Kelsey and ConStat, 97% of consumers look online when they shop locally.
- The NFIB Research Foundation reports that 47% of small businesses (under $1,000,000 in annual revenue) do not have a website.
- In Northwest Arkansas, a team led by Raul Najera found that 89% of businesses surveyed believed that a website would grow their business.
- In a recent study, only 28% of business owners surveyed knew how many visitors their websites had.
In other words, consumers look for local businesses online, and business owners know that being online will bring in more customers, yet nearly half of all small businesses have no website at all.
That number, by the way, is larger for the smallest businesses. The more money a business makes, the more likely it is to have a website — and vice versa.
Those who have websites don’t know what those websites do for their businesses, though. We did a survey of small businesses in Northwest Arkansas a couple of years ago and found that the majority were not happy with their websites’ performance, didn’t actually know how the sites were performing, and hadn’t made any efforts to improve the sites’ performance.
And that’s just the websites. Most businesses will also need workflow software, a Customer Relationship Management solution, accounting software, and perhaps point of sale. Your business should also participate in social media, and you may need tools to streamline the process. You need a way to accept and process electronic payments and perhaps electronic billing software. You may need document management solutions. No business can manage without email, and many should also use Skype and virtual meeting software. You’ll probably need graphics for ads and brochures and you might also need to be able to create and present PowerPoint presentations.
That’s before you get into any industry-specific needs.
The list can be daunting, and a lot of business owners just look at a paragraph like the one up there and feel like giving up. Instead, make it easier on yourself.
- Clarify your workflow and systems before you start adding in more technological solutions. When you have a clear idea of your customers’ path to purchase, of your sales process, of the systems you use to produce your goods and deliver your services, and of how your accounting systems integrate with the rest of your work and information systems, you’ll be able to make better decisions about technology. When you have this information clearly set out, determine where automation would help and make a shopping list.
- Work in the cloud. Before you buy, configure, and install software on your office computers, look into software as a service. Most software needs can now be handled on a subscription basis, with updates done automatically. If you use MS Office comfortably already, you can probably find a suite of services that will all work within Office. Most services offer a free trial, so you can see how they’ll work in your office environment.
- Allocate resources. You can find programs at every price level, including free, so figure out what you can budget to meet your tech needs. Beyond that, set aside enough time to make a good decision. Downloading the free 30 day trial for that project management software and then never touching it will not give you the information you need, so make sure you have time enough for the decision makers to explore possible solutions and make the right decisions.
- Get help. Deciding on a tech solution, configuring it to meet your needs, and training staff to use it is a big project. Building and managing a website is a big project. Migrating data from paper files or outdated software to a new system is a big project. If your staff were going to be able to achieve these things without outside help, you’d have done it by now. Choose systems that provide the support you need, or hire someone to help. For most small companies, outsourcing some of the tech work is the most cost-effective plan.
And hey — if you don’t have a website, get one. This is the 21st century, after all.