Technology and small business are the best of friends. As you’ve probably heard, whatever challenge you’re facing ‘there’s an app for that’. This was a marketing campaign by Apple in the early days of the app market, so it’s even truer today than it was then. But you don’t have to be an Apple customer to enjoy the fruits of cutting-edge business tech.
What sort of technology can help small businesses? To help illustrate the opportunities on offer, here are just a handful of (entirely made-up) scenarios in which different kinds of tech can speed-up operations, win more customers and, in general, prise open new channels of business growth.
Project management without the complications
Project management is a famously tricky area of business. A construction company needs to calculate timelines and costs, acquire necessary equipment and ensure they have enough people power to cover the job.
Once the project is underway, they must hit deadlines and keep to budgetary commitments, all the while ensuring that the project keeps going regardless of unanticipated hiccups like bad weather, sick leave and disruptions in the supply chain.
Without technology, the construction company’s project managers have a minefield of moving parts to contend with and, very soon, parts go missing, people turn up to the wrong sites and plans go awry. But with new cloud-based project management software such as Microsoft Project, Asana, Trello and Basecamp, they can organise projects more efficiently. These allow users to display tasks, deadlines and set reminders for fulfilment.
Cloud-based project and task management software helps organise complex business projects.
A family-run shoe shop prides itself on its traditional service; unfortunately this approach extends to its back office functions too. The business records sales in a paper ledger and receipts are kept ‘on file’ to be counted up and forwarded to the company’s accountant.
It costs the business hours in unnecessary calculations: transferring numbers from one written document to another. Doing everything with pen and paper also risks duplicate entries and mistakes must be identified and rewritten.
Today, a suite of software companies give fast, foolproof digital services allowing businesses to table everything in easy-to-understand interfaces. These include Xero, Quickbooks and Kashflow. Receipts can be processed with the snap of a smartphone camera and figures can be logged with an accountant at the touch of a button.
Quick and easy finance
A manufacturer is invited to pitch for a major new contract that will increase its profits by 20% a year. But the business must upgrade some of its equipment in order to win the deal. The new client says the deal is on the table if they can put the new tools in place, but the manufacturer’s cashflow won’t cover the unexpected expense.
The finance director starts to look for a loan and contacts its bank to request a loan and an extended overdraft facility. After several days, the bank comes back with an email requesting a meeting and evidence that the business can repay the loan. The meeting is set for two weeks’ time, but the new client needs to sign a deal sooner.
New technology-driven business finance providers such as ourselves work differently and can approve a credit line or a term loan quickly. Applications can be made online and lending decisions can happen within minutes, not weeks, meaning businesses can respond to new contracts without delay.Apps like Whatsapp lets users to form groups where they can share information as a team in realtime.
Communications that connect in real time
A mid-sized marketing agency has offices in London, Los Angeles and Hong Kong. It has a long list of international clients and multiple teams have to work on the same piece of work in order to hit deadlines. While one team is resting, another is hard at work.
But emailing designs and using the phone to contact colleagues in distant countries just isn’t cutting it. Team members work from different locations, including from home, and tracking down the right person or the most up-to-date version of a campaign is proving difficult.
This company is missing out on a constellation of communication software products capable of connecting people in different ways. Slack, for example, lets disparate teams collaborate on single pieces of work without disruption, while Skype shows its users who is online, when.
Apps like Whatsapp and Signal lets users to form groups where they can share information as a team, so that individuals can access the latest developments and act in real time. Yammer performs similar functions to Slack and is a strong alternative.
Keeping people organised and happy
HR is a headache for an employment law firm headquartered in London. The senior partner wants the company to practice what it preaches, so it must treat people fairly, providing incentives, benefits and generous holiday entitlements. Plus, it must ensure that grievances are processed properly, with any malpractice handled via the proper channels and in the proper way.
But without a good system, HR staff are dealing with a complicated array of different processes. People start to complain they haven’t received full holiday allowances, performance reviews have stuttered to a halt, new recruits find themselves without line managers and sick leave is soaring.
The business would benefit from a large selection of HR tools including Sage HR, SAP SuccessFactors, Gusto, BambooHR (which has a small business focus) and Zenefits. These provide services such as applicant tracking, benefits administration, payroll, performance reviews, time off tracking and attendance logs – all with live chat and phone support.
* * *
These scenarios may be made up, but businesses everywhere should take a fresh look at their technology and see if it’s due an upgrade. New tools save time and money, they erase errors and they free up capacity for key staff to concentrate on sales and customer service. Business and technology go together, so it’s always good to see if yours is up-to-date and working smoothly.