You’ve heard it: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
It sounds like ancient wisdom, but it isn’t. A government official, T. Bert Lance, is credited with popularizing it in 1977. As a small-business owner, if you want to stay ahead of the competition — or even keep pace — you must find ways to operate more effectively and more efficiently. Technology helps do both.
Brian Moran, a small-business expert, said technology has made it possible for small businesses to compete with large businesses. But here’s the problem: You’re not using it.
“Small business owners are not embracing all of the existing technology at their disposal. According to several different studies, small businesses are only using about 30-35 percent of their existing technology’s capabilities,” Moran say. “Imagine what they can do if they were using 75 percent of their technology’s capabilities.”
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I’ve talked to small-business owners across the country, and the vast majority of them have no problem buying and using the latest gadgets and software. They’re just not sure how these things help their business.
Technology makes your business more efficient.
Assume you have one competitor, and you both employ an office manager. Their salaries are identical. Your office manager dabbles in technology, so your business functions at 30 percent of its technological capability, but your competitor’s office manager is a technology wiz, so their business functions at 90 percent capability.
In this scenario, your competitor’s business is three times more efficient than yours. And so are its employees. Your competitor’s office manager will do as much work by 3 p.m. on Tuesday as your office manager will do the entire week! Every week.
A 2013 survey of small-business owners found that while 51 percent of them use technology for accounting, they use it less-often for other things: scheduling appointments (39 percent), managing customer relations (34 percent), point-of-sales (25 percent). Here’s what shocked me: Less than half of them (48 percent) have a website!
A website helps in several ways:
Accessibility: A person can visit your website and get information about your business, and your product or service, day or night.
Advertising: You reach more people than you would have reached using a traditional advertising campaign.
Sales: A person can visit your website and make a purchase day or night.
Your website conveys stability: It says your business is here and will be for a long time. If it’s well designed and well written, it conveys quality: It says your business is well run, and your product or service is outstanding. More than half of all business owners are losing money because they don’t have a website. According to California-based Merrill Research, “If you take your online presence seriously, there is no better way to compete” with larger competitors.
Perhaps you’re thinking, “I have a website, a laptop, and a smartphone, and I use accounting software. My business runs just fine.” I assure you: Add a few things, and it’ll run much better. And you’ll make more money.
There are lots of gadgets and software packages, but buy only what your business needs. Here are some software items that will make your business more efficient. Each software has several brands, so choose the one that best suits your needs:
▪ Batchbook: Get demographic information about customers and prospective customers.
▪ Evernote: Organize appointments and business meetings, which you can access from your computer, smart phone or tablet.
▪ Google Analytics: Find out how many people visit your website and which webpages they view.
▪ MailChimp: Create newsletters, and e-mail them to your contacts.
▪ PHP Point-of-Sale: Allow customers to buy products or services on your website.
▪ QuickBooks: Maintain your accounting.
▪ Skype: Meet with anyone anytime, without leaving your office.
▪ WordPress: Create and maintain your blog.
Since you’re the owner, don’t wear the technology hat too. Hire someone to wear it. Be sure they know what they’re doing then task them with implementing it throughout the business.
Today’s business environment hardly resembles yesterday’s, so don’t cling to what used to work. In yesterday’s business, if someone called while you were on the phone, they’d get a busy signal. Now they get voicemail. In yesterday’s business, you made accounting entries with an accounting sheet, a pencil and a calculator. Now you use QuickBooks.
Technology makes your business and your employees more efficient, and it gives your business a competitive advantage. The opposite is also true. Whether you want the largest share of the market or simply want to maintain the share you have, your business has to be efficient. It has to evolve. Don’t follow the crowd: If you wait until it’s broke, it’s already too late.
Marvin Carolina Jr. is a vice president for JE Dunn Construction. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.