Small businesses and agencies are renowned for running tight ships. A ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality keeps them on their toes and the most forward-thinking are using technology wherever they can to stay ahead of the competition, save money and explore opportunities for growth.
Indeed, bigger companies could learn something from their smaller, savvier siblings. Instead of getting bogged down in the myth that investing in technology requires in-depth IT knowledge, long lead times or bags of cash, nimble business managers understand even small changes can make big differences to a business’s operational efficiency. And even short-lived challenges such as moving from more manual processes to tech-friendly alternatives, or moving from in-house servers to cloud computing, are quickly outweighed by the long-term benefits.
Just keeping the show on the road can take all available grey matter, but if you’re the CFO, CEO or COO, there’s a responsibility to regularly sense-check how the business is operating, double checking your IT strategy is on track and you’re competing at your best.
You can do that by asking questions that challenge efficiency and look for room to improve with smarter IT.
Here’s a comprehensive list that will help you get started.
Could your business benefit from any of the following?
Open-source software provides business owners with alternatives to mainstream commercial applications in the day-to-day management of their businesses. It’s attractive because it typically requires no financial investment, so you can trial it for free and decide whether it could work for you longer-term.
One of the most popular open-source tools available is OpenOffice.org, an office software suite that allows you to create and share word documents, spreadsheets, presentations, graphics, databases and more.
Businesses are more dynamic and fluid than ever and with the increasing use of smartphones and other mobile devices in business, not everyone needs to be in an office or on a computer to do their job. As a result, some business owners are replacing landlines with more cost-effective telephone services like mobile, VoIP (voice over internet phones) and virtual phone lines, that allow employees to be in the office, even when they are not.
Even small businesses have a global reach, so much of what they do has a virtual element to it. Conference and Web Conferencing tools provide a simple way to talk to groups of employees or clients at the same time across the world, making it a simple, but essential tool for those who need to be economical with everything from time to money.
Regardless of how you bill your clients, there’s real value in keeping track of how your employee work hours are spent. Time is money after all, and it’s only by understanding how your business runs and where improvements can be made that you can influence positive change.
Time tracking tools will also help identify any points where your efficiency and productivity slow down and can make work estimates and pricing more accurate - all of which will boost the bottom line.
There are lots of time tracking tools available including desktop and online applications, and services you can integrate into existing project management or bookkeeping software. You just need to find the one that works best for you (or get some advice from industry experts).
Project management tools
Most business owners would admit they could benefit from better allocation of time, money and effort. But not all of them can afford the dedicated project management resources to get them there.
That’s where project management software and tools come in, helping businesses adopt agile methodologies to everyday business practices and put more robust processes around things such as:
- Task allocation
- Task management
- Progress tracking
- Team communications
- In-house and agency collaboration
Managed well, all of these elements can free time and allow budget to be spent more efficiently, contributing to a more effective and profitable business.
Data protection and file sharing
Collecting, using and protecting data comes with a lot of responsibility today, which means a business that plans to accumulate it, must also ensure it’s safekeeping. It’s a big issue for business, with compliance, governance and regulation coming to the forefront of online enterprise, but worry not, as the right software can help you:
- Meet your regulatory obligations
- Share customer and other sensitive business information safely
- Ensure the information you collate actually serves a purpose
Online invoicing and payment services
Small businesses live or die by how effective their accounting is, making bookkeeping and good invoice servicing a must. That doesn’t mean you need a sophisticated accounting suite - indeed, a simple online invoicing service might be just the ticket, allowing you to manage your billing process more efficiently.
Technology also lends a hand when it comes to online payment options, a route well worth exploring to help funds keep moving in your direction.
A tight rein on the accounts will stand to any business and the more organised you are the better informed you’ll be about how your business is looking in terms of investment versus expenses. Remember, they have knock-on tax implications too, so it’s worth paying attention to how budgets are being spent, as proper allocation could actually save you money in the long run.
Remote desktop applications
Smart technology is key to businesses that embrace remote ways of working and a BYOD or CYOD policy, and need to access systems on the go. This kind of freedom allows businesses to operate 24/7 essentially, with your home or even your car becoming a virtual office.
Remote access applications like GoToMyPC and LogMeIn can keep you connected, and in industries where fast turnaround times are essential, they can give your business a competitive edge. All without the office commute.
Online file conversion
If you operate in an industry where information exchange and file sharing is an everyday occurrence, you might benefit from an online tool that can convert file formats, helping you avoid roadblocks or losing time because you can’t access a specific document, audio, video or graphic file.
Help desk applications
Good customer service and keeping customers happy are top priorities for businesses of any size, and with the right help desk software, you can find an application that will help you manage, prioritise, ticket and respond to all customer requests.
It’s worth saying that not all packages are created equal and some work better for bigger businesses or internal teams, but an IT expert will be able to assess your needs, make recommendations and guide the way for better management and organisation around your customer care.
For some businesses, it makes more sense to have an online booking system than employing someone to wait for the phone to ring. These cost-effective systems allow customers to schedule appointments, select services, choose prices and even pay deposits for the products or services they want to use.
Online appointment scheduling allows your business to take bookings 24/7, so customers have unlimited access no matter what time you open or close.
The benefits of effective marketing speak for themselves, but finding the time to get the team together and work through plans with creative, digital, social and PR agencies can be a challenge.
Marketing software can help you create and share plans as well as schedule work and chart your presence on channels like social media.
Intelligent CRM programmes can also help you collect contact information, support your customer journey with targeted communications and measure marketing ROI.
If all of that seems a little overwhelming, fear not. There’s an IT software solution out there to solve pretty much any issue your business faces. And don’t worry if you’re not technical. This is bread and butter stuff for IT consultants who live and breathe operational efficiency. With their help you can quickly identify where small and affordable changes can help set you up for the future and maybe even save you a few quid in the meantime.
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