Running a small business means you need to be efficient and innovative. You need to look for ways to streamline your daily tasks, so you can have more time selling. Whether you are a maker or a retailer, technology can help you be that powerful, lean, and mean business machine.
Technology is often associated with life-changing innovations that revolutionize the way we live. But technology can also be powerful on a smaller scale and can alter the way a small business manages its daily processes.
Small business owners need to respect the impact technology has and can have on their business. Take a moment and think about how Amazon, Facebook, Google, Snapchat, and Yelp have made a difference in your life. Each one of these technologies has made a significant impact in how businesses market themselves as well. Think about how quickly technology changes and how quickly large multibillion-dollar companies adjust rapidly in a fast-changing market. Small business owners must adapt as well and do so just as fast, if not faster. You cannot sit and wait for technology to adapt to your business, you must adapt to technology and find the ways it can help your business.
Technology also drives marketing and creates more marketing streams for small shop owners. Today, you are presented with a multitude of options to drive sales, leads and traffic to your business. How do you decide which options are the right choice? Think about your customers demographics, where do your customers hang out? If you are a business to consumer-type company think about using Facebook and Instagram to reach your market. Are you instead, a business to business company? In that case, consider LinkedIn and trade publications. Look at what your competition is doing and how successful they are. Use this to your advantage when determining which type of technology will work for you customer base and for the goals you have made.
Technology Can Help Your Business Be More Successful
According to The Balance Small Business, “Technology can help small business owners leverage limited capital in smarter and more effective ways. In some cases, using technology is a natural progression for processes you may already have in place in your business. In others, you may need to make some adjustments to reap the benefits of these tech-friendly alternatives. The good news is that the benefits will often outweigh the short-lived challenges of the transitional process, once your new systems are in place.”
Technology can help in many ways – productivity, communication, time tracking, money management, marketing, collaboration, learning, customer service and so much more.
Simona Dedek owner of Wingstitution by Petal Connection in Santa Clarita, Calif. knows the importance of technology in her business, “In this day and age, I don’t believe it’s possible to stay in business without technology. I have two customers who do not have an email address, and stubbornly refuse to get one. I always wonder, why do they refuse? I then need to create a free email address for them, so I can process their credit card payment (which requires a valid email address). Why would one not take advantage of what’s available, only to be left behind?”
How Technology Can Help with Productivity
There are many ways technology can help you be not only more innovative and efficient, but also more productive. Simona Dedek uses software to increase her productivity, “I try to utilize any features available that I know can help me be more productive, even if it means spending a few minutes at the beginning to learn and set things up, which I admit, can be very frustrating. Things like calendar reminders, or voice memos are great features. I will remember something, dictate a quick memo into my phone and hit the “email to self” button (which I set up previously) and then when I get back to my office, it’s waiting for me in my inbox.”
Advances in technology can improve your efficiency which ultimately boosts productivity. Kathleen Krucoff, owner and designer of Adornments in Colorado Springs, Colo. took advantage of recent advances in technology. “Last year, I invested in a CNC (computer numeric control) machine to help me cut out the common shapes I use in my fabrication process. The machine is controlled by a computer program that utilizes my designs, translated into machine code. This allows me to focus on the real art portion of my jewelry and has eliminated hours of hand sawing to cut out the shapes manually.” For small business owners, technology has shown to improve their overall ability to execute and scale their growth plans allowing them to be more efficient and more innovative. It also helps with staff time tracking and organization of daily tasks. The following is a list of programs and apps that may help you in your business.
Favorites for Storing Your Thoughts, Checklists, and Sketches
EVERNOTE – great for note taking, with a ton of features you can customize to fit your workflow.
ZOHO NOTBOOK – lets you create different types of notes (called “cards”) depending on what you’re doing, from text to checklists, sketches, videos, and more. It also syncs across the cloud and all your devices and comes with a friendly user interface.
Declutter That Inbox
SANEBOX – analyzes your email history and re-sorts your inbox into important messages and items that can wait until later. It can also set reminders, so you don’t forget to reply to important messages.
BOOMERANG – a free plug-in for Firefox and Chrome with Gmail that allows you to do things like schedule an email to send in the future, bring an email back to your inbox at a certain time (like your flight itinerary the day before your trip) or return an email back to your inbox if you have not received a reply to it after a set number of days. Rather than leaving an email in your inbox in order to remind yourself to follow up on it or to make it easily accessible for later, use Boomerang to clear it out for now and have it come back when you actually need it.
Stay Focused and Avoid Distraction
MOMENTUM – a barebones app designed to help you build and strengthen good habits by forming “chains” or streaks of good deeds. For every day you do what you’re supposed to your chain will increase. That’s pretty much it. As simple as it sounds, though, there’s something strangely satisfying about keeping a chain going.
ONE BIG THING – a super simple app. Each day just type in the one big thing you want to accomplish and make that your focus. You can also add several secondary tasks to keep you focused if you happen to get your big task accomplished early. This is like a digital version of the sticky note, and the UX is so clean and simple that you’ll want to use it daily. You can also upgrade for extra themes and stickers to make the app uniquely yours.
PROUD – takes everything people love most about other productivity apps and merges them into one. You can use the app to store all your ideas and to-dos, remember important moments, set up triggers to stick with your habit changes, and even remind you to take breaks throughout the day. This app will also help you get organized for the days and weeks ahead with personalized goals.
Manage Work Flows When You Work with a Team
TRELLO – a deceptively simple, yet powerful way for individuals and teams to keep track of what’s going on. It’s easy and satisfying to move cards from “in progress” to “done” but that same interface also makes it a great way to keep track of personal tasks and goals.
IFTTT – short for “IF This, Then That” is a nifty tool that lets you string together tasks involving different services into easy but powerful applets. Simona Dedek uses this app daily. Some of her automations include – send a copy of incoming IndieMe orders to her Evernote archive; when a new order comes in, send a text message so she knows to check her email to confirm ASAP; Send Instagram post to Pinterest board.
Manage Your Customers and Your Orders
CAPSULE – a simple, flexible, and effective web-based CRM (customer relationship management) tool you can use for your small business. Capsule is a good tool to keep track of your contacts and companies you do business with, communications with them, sales opportunities, and what activities and tasks need be done.
Simona uses Capsule to manage her business. “I love my Capsule CRM. It allows me to track all my customers and prospects and it links with my email account, so I have all the customer information in one spot, and I use it to set up follow-up reminders. For example, when a customer emails, “I’ll be buying in March in anticipation of our May opening,” I will immediately set up a follow-up for end of February to check in. I also set up order follow-up workflows to remind customers how long it’s been since their last order, etc. which result in re-orders without my having to reach out individually.”
FRESHSALES – a cloud-based CRM solution that helps businesses across different industries manage their interactions with existing and potential customers. Key features include one-click phone, sales lead tracking, sales management and more. Users can also send personalized bulk emails from the solution, and then monitor activities on these emails.
Technology Can Help You Communicate More Efficiently and More Effectively
In today’s world, people are busy and trying to communicate with customers can be daunting. Technology bridges this gap and allows you to be more communicative in ways that make the customer more likely to engage.
Simona shares how she communicates, “I rarely speak to my customers on the phone. Emails are much less intrusive than phone calls. Store owners are busy people, and I don’t want to take away from their time with customers by interrupting. Email gets things accomplished the same way, but they can deal with it when they have time. I prefer sending out invoices from my back-office platform rather than calling, because it allows the customer to manage their own payment, and I never have access to their credit card information that way.”
Today’s technology allows small business owners many ways to communicate. From email platforms like Mailchimp and Constant Contact to social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. Find where your customers gravitate and marketing to them becomes much easier. Kathleen Krucoff says, “I have also found that Instagram has been a great avenue to show current and potential customers my process and finished work. I think Instagram’s photo-driven platform is a great way to communicate with the public.”
Customer service stands at the forefront of managing any business. Great customer service results in brand loyalty and increased sales. You can leverage the use of technology by utilizing the most of up-to-date solutions and look at what is currently trending. The business that is most responsive to customer questions, complaints, or other needs can gain a clear competitive advantage. It is important for the small business owner to understand how new technologies can help anticipate customer needs, how it can tailor business processes to best serve customers, and ultimately improve the efficiency of the business. There are multiple ways technology can communicate for you.
WEBSITES – today all companies, large and small, must have a website. Be sure to include a clear path for questions and contact information.
SOCIAL MEDIA – find where your customers hang out the most and post there frequently. Share your stories and encourage your customers to share theirs.
EMAIL – create newsletters that not only inform, but educate as well. There are many platforms that can help you reach the masses quickly and efficiently. Our favorites include Mailchimp and Constant Contact.
Accenture, a leading technology consulting firm, suggests that businesses that want to use technology to raise the quality of their customer service focus on the following:
- Data management and analytics. Use data collected from customer to analyze their preferences.
- Insight-driven marketing. Gain insight into your business from customer data so you can more effectively direct your marketing efforts.
- Marketing automation. Streamlining and automating business processes to improve efficiency and keep costs low.
- Self-service optimization. Discover ways for customers to interact with your business how and when they want to.
- Workforce effectiveness. Encouraging your staff to embrace new ways to improve customer treatment by providing tools and training to deliver better service.
Communicate With Your Customer Base with Instagram
Instagram’s popularity has skyrocketed lately. According to the company’s website, there are 500 million+ Instagram accounts worldwide which are active every day. Of those, 80 percent of accounts follow a business on Instagram and 400 million+ accounts use Instagram stories every day. This social media powerhouse allows you to tap into people’s passions to create deeper relationships with your business online and off. It can spark exploration allowing you to connect to new customers and strengthen relations with current ones.
One of the best features of Instagram is that it’s free. This photo sharing social media platform allows users to post photos, stories and create ads. Instagram Stories are photos and videos that disappear after 24 hours, which are quickly becoming a valuable marketing tool. You can find the stories of the users you follow at the top of the homepage. Leveraging the power of stories can help retailers move product and get in front of their users in an innovative manner.
In addition to Instagram Stories, users can take and stream live video that disappears – sort of like a combination between Facebook Live and Snapchat. According to Business News Daily, you can give customers a live look behind the scenes of interesting aspects of your business, show products or answer live questions through the comments.
Once the video ends, it lives in your Instagram Stories for 24 hours. If you want video that remains on your Instagram feed, you can upload video you’ve taken or shoot video directly through the app to post.
There are many ways to interact with other users on Instagram. For instance, you can tag other users in your photos or privately message people. You can like, comment, mention, tag and direct message on Instagram.
Hashtags are a great way to help other users find your content on Instagram. Hashtags can include letters and numbers, but they can’t contain any non-numerical characters. Some hashtag examples include: #bodymindspirit #fall #onlinemagazine #magazine #smallbusiness #shopsmall #smallbiz #retail. Like other social channels, businesses have the option to advertise on Instagram. There are three formats for advertising including photo ads, video ads and carousel ads. All three ad formats appear in users’ home feeds. These ads support four objectives: video views, click-throughs to your website, mobile app installations and mass awareness.
Staying Up-to-Date with the Newest Technology (when it seems to change daily)
With new software, techniques and innovations released on an almost daily basis, it is hard to keep up to date. For those who are not programmers, developers, and techie people there are many resources to keep you on top of advances.
SOCIAL MEDIA – Find and follow influencers on social media. What are web designers and other tech type people talking about? What is getting them excited? Who are these influencers following? Our favorites include Unbox Therapy, Marques Brownlee, and Linus Sebastian.
READ, READ & READ SOME MORE – stay aware by reading every day about something and anything tech focused. Find and follow blogs, read articles, and scan Twitter feeds of those tech influencers. Start with smartbiztrends.com, ted.com and techguidebook.com.
PODCASTS – listen to podcasts frequently. It’s an easy way to stay current while driving or making dinner, podcasts offer information on a multitude of subjects. Check out sticher.com, garyvaynerchuk.com and ducttapemarketing.com.
Cheryl Lloyd Thompson explains how she stays on top of technology, “I’m constantly crawling around the Internet looking for new ways to make my business efficient and visible to potential buyers. I use Animoto to create videos and PicMonkey for eye catching ways to create photos for ads or social media. Joining Facebook groups has helped a lot to gather more information from others in the same business.”
Kathleen Krucoff stays on top of trends as well, “I subscribe to CNet and follow some others like John Paul Aguilar who sends out alerts about what’s happening in the technology space.”
Cheryl sums it up for us, “In short, technology is an important part of any business. I learn a lot about a company by researching online first. More and more people are shopping and researching online. It is essential that any business use some sort of technology to stay competitive and successful.”