Power Up Your Small Business – Transform With Technology

If you are a small business owner and you are looking to increase your ability to do more in less time, then harnessing the benefits of technology could be the answer. We take a look some of the ways your business can harness technology to help take it to the next level.

1. Automate Administration

Look to automate as much of your administrivia and backend procedures as possible. Start with any of the functions that are repetitive or time-consuming. Automating these processes will assist in reducing the amount of time taken giving you additional capacity to take on other functions. Typical applications you should consider are word processing and spreadsheet functions.

Using word processing applications allows you to set up templates, merge documents and create forms, or you can go one better and install software such as Microsoft Groove and create online forms. Email applications allow you to communicate quickly and easily using email

2. Formalise Finances

Installing Accounting applications, such as MYOB or Quickbooks, is a fantastic way to formalise your finances. It allows you to quickly and easily enter your financial information. It also allows you to work quickly and effectively with your accountant when it comes preparing Business Activity Statements, end of month financial reports and end of year taxation activities. This all helps keep your accounting fees under control. Another benefit is that you have the ability to create a raft of important financial reports, including cashflow forecasts, debtor aging, sales reports, etc which helps to provide vital information to assist in effective decision-making.

3. Corral Customers

Using software to establish a centralised customer database has enormous benefits for your business. Firstly, it keeps your information together, in one location, and becomes a single source of the truth. This ensures that your business is not at the mercy of one or two key employees and acts as a ready reference for new employees, enabling them to get up to speed quickly.

Having a customer database is the foundation stone for effective marketing. You will be able to analyse, profile and segment your customer database in order to better understand your customers, their needs and wants, which will enable you to better target and market to your customers and to develop new and improved products.

4. Open Online

Establish an online version of your business. A fully functioning e-commerce site is like having another branch of your business open. It allows people to research your business, your products and your services at their convenience. It also provides your customers the opportunity to shop from the comfort of their home or office, which could be local, national or anywhere in the world.

5. Master Marketing

Using online marketing techniques, allows you to design, develop and deliver marketing campaigns quickly, easily and much more cheaply than using traditional mail. Online marketing software allows you to automate campaigns at sign-on, for special occasions, such as birthdays and anniversaries, set up seasonal campaigns such as Christmas or holidays and can even automate the delivery of training and education programs.

6. Start Socialising

Use social media, such as Twitter and Facebook to market your business. These sites are a fantastic way to reach potential customers and to create a sense of community, which helps to create customer loyalty. Social media can also be used to build influence, improve your business or personal reputation and earn your customers trust.

7. Consolidate Communications

Implementing a centralised and online communications hub within your business enables you to gather your organisations communications in one place and provides ready access to all your staff members. Software such as Sharepoint can help consolidate all those important communications in one place. Documents you may like to include are standard operations guides, company policies, employee guides, Occupational Health and Safety Guidelines, memos, research papers, project information and status reports, meeting agenda’s and minutes – to name but a few.

8. Initiate Integration

Start to look at ways you can integrate these systems to make your life even easier. For example, you may want your online business automatically download transaction information to your accounting package, or your customer database to synch with your online marketing software.

Looking for ways to automate your business can help you to make your business operations, faster, easier and simpler. They can also provide additional capacity into cash strapped businesses with limited resources.

Continue to look for opportunities to power up your small business.

Small Business’ and Microsoft Office 2007

When you start up a small business, one of the questions you need to address is what software is essential to my business? As a small business consultant, I have seen many companies, owner managed businesses and sole traders start up and be faced with this question, invariably linked to very scarce capital resources. The main purpose is to get software that can quickly sort out complex data and unburden the computer with the help of a fast processor in a stable manner.

Although there are other software suites available, available in a number of versions, Microsoft Office provides the essential applications and is the most commonly used. For business purposes, the options open to you are; Office Standard, Small Business, Professional or Ultimate.

Microsoft Office Standard 2007:

The entry level for Office, this version includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook. These are the basic essentials of most businesses, a word processor (Word) a spreadsheet (Excel) a presentation package (PowerPoint) and a combined email, calendar/ diary, address book function (Outlook).

Microsoft Office Small Business 2007:

The Small Business version includes all the above applications with the addition of Publisher 2007 while the Outlook version includes Business Contact Manager, which helps you to organise all your business contacts, rather like an rudimentary CRM system. Publisher is a desktop publisher package, designed to help you create publications and marketing material. In fact, this can really help you to save money. You can create your own letterhead, business cards and compliment slips and print them off as required, rather than go to the expense buying several hundred from a commercial printer.

Microsoft Office Professional 2007:

This version includes everything above and includes Access 2007. This database is invaluable if you need to handle large volumes of data and want to make it relational, such as contact lists, orders and stock. It includes templates of common applications and is reasonably easy to use.

Microsoft Office Ultimate 2007:

Probably a bit over the top for a start up, comprising as it does, all the above applications with OneNote 2007, Groove 2007 and InfoPath 2007 as well. OneNote is an extremely flexible application that allows you to keep unstructured notes in a series of tabs. For example, if you are researching product lines, you could keep screen shots, URLs, and competitive information, all in the same place. When the business is larger and can justify a server, OneNote is an invaluable area to let your employees keep ideas and brainstorming thoughts.

Groove is another application that is really designed for use by a number of people on a network. It helps you to keep common files in one place and notifies those people who need to access them when there are any changes to those files. InfoPath is an application that allows you to create forms used to gather data which can be used in conjunction with databases or online. As the forms are based on XML, they have extensive applications in Ecommerce.

Of course, every business has different needs, so you will need to choose the version most applicable to your requirements.

Marketing Strategy – Getting the Marketing Groove

Wouldn’t it be great to have a year where your marketing efforts were streamlined and got the results you were after? None of us want to struggle with marketing, and yet this is the one topic that continues to be highest in the minds of small business professionals.

Let’s really consider some of the reasons that can sabotage our marketing efforts, and how we can turn that around.

Lack of a marketing mindset

We don’t see ourselves as in the marketing game. The truth is, if you are out there running a business, thinking like a marketer has to become your priority. It’s no use having a great service if nobody knows about it, or you.

Lack of knowledge is your enemy. Start by reading whatever you can. Speak to successful people in your field and ask them what strategies they use. The information you need is out there for you to take.

Lack of investment

For many small business owners, the focus on cost control prohibits them from ever investing enough money into marketing and promotion. These activities are seen as costs rather than as an investment. So this year I encourage you to reframe your attitude towards marketing. Once you know what marketing activity to do, and have confidence that it will bring results, spend the money enthusiastically.

Lack of focus

Perhaps you do spend time and money on marketing, but you aren’t happy with the results. Or your efforts are ad-hoc rather than carefully planned. Whatever it is, 2005 is the year to take charge. If what you are doing isn’t working – stop doing it! Ask a professional for help (not your friends or associates!). Or put yourself in your customers shoes and work out what’s going to attract them to your business. If an ad-hoc approach is the problem, take the time to complete the marketing plan in the ‘How to…’ section and become ruthlessly systematic this year.

Lack of over-riding marketing strategy

Marketing activity and tactics are all well and good but it is like driving a rudderless ship if there is no grander plan. Part of creating a marketing strategy is to clearly understand exactly where you are right now, and where you want to be. Your goal may be to have sales of $1,$5 or $50 million. Or you may want to revolutionise your industry. Or you may want your company to be acquired within 5 years. What matters most is that you have a clear, precise vision of where you are, where you want to be in 1year, and where you want to be in 5 years.

Not surrounding ourselves with the right people

All of the great books on success advocate spending time with people who are already successful at what you want to do. Why? By surrounding yourself with people several steps ahead of you, you can absorb the attitudes and values that made them successful, as well as picking up new strategies and ideas. So If you are hanging out with people who also lack a marketing mindset then it’s time to think about expanding your professional network to include those who are already down the track to success.

Marketing is more of an art than a science. Often times you learn by systematically trying different activities and approaches. The experts don’t always have all the answers . . . and this is exactly why you need to give plenty of personal attention to make sure your marketing is working as hard as it possibly can. If you want to get serious about success in business, then understanding marketing is an ongoing priority.

Here’s a quick list of 10 ideas to get you into the marketing groove:

1. Commit to reading one new marketing book per month

2. Start learning about how to market online

3. Make a list of people whose businesses inspire you, and carefully study their marketing techniques. How many of these are you using?

4. Make a list of successful people in your industry and check out their marketing strategy. Why not offer to take one of them out for coffee to learn more about how they got where they are (what’s the worst that could happen?)

5. Revise your marketing budget. Look at your previous investment in marketing, and ask yourself if this is the amount a truly successful business would be spending

6. Review all of last year’s marketing activities. Work out which ones brought new business in the door, or were successful in some other way (building credibility for example). If you can’t quantify how successful the outcome was, stop spending the money!

7. Implement an ongoing ‘keep in touch’ program with existing customers

8. Ask 10 or more of your most loyal customers for a referral

9. Stop doing those marketing activities that you know don’t work, but you do them anyway

10. Market research – ask 20 of your customers what value you provide to them. Use what they say in your own marketing materials