Technology is a huge part of our daily lives, but small business owners may find it difficult to navigate all the online opportunities, gadgets, software, and tools geared to help increase profit margins. So how do today’s entrepreneurs best utilize technology to help grow their businesses?
At Count Me In For Women’s Economic Independence, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping women grow their micro businesses into million dollar enterprises, this is a question we tackle on an ongoing basis. Technology plays a major role in our efforts as it continually changes and evolves.
Before you start purchasing the latest and greatest tech finds, it’s important to ask yourself what you really need to take your business to the next level. Consider how technology can best improve the following four key processes and practices to produce more with less, resulting in an efficient and versatile operation.
1. Accessibility and customer service
Today’s businesses operate in a 24/7 world, so ensuring that your business is accessible to customers anytime, anywhere is essential. Your website can make this possible, and implementing a few key features can help keep customers happy. Consider allowing clients to schedule appointments or make purchases online at their convenience, and give your customers the opportunity to provide feedback via surveys and questionnaires. These and other features can help you fine-tune service and increase communication with your customers in an ever-increasing virtual setting.
Don’t rule out social media as an important customer service tool. In addition to tapping into social media channels to market your business, you can use them to respond to customer comments, complaints, and reviews that are posted online. Engaging customers in this manner can show that you’re proactive and that you care about their wants and needs.
2. Hitting goals
Good planning is necessary if you want to make deadlines and accomplish important goals. However, as a small business owner, you may have little or no staff to help you keep track of all the details and to-do lists that are necessary in order to hit those goals.
The good news is there are many online planning systems from which to choose that will help you keep your eye on the prize. Invest some time in finding one that works best for your needs and that can help you with everything from calendar organization to completing the smallest of tasks.
There are many software options that can help you be more productive. Time-tracking software is one product that is worth considering. It will allow you to see how you are spending time running your business and can provide insight into what can or needs to be changed.
Successful productivity also boils down to information organization. In our experience, it became clear that we needed to operate on a cloud platform to more efficiently and effectively communicate with our thousands of members. Cloud-based solutions that allow organizations to store data at a centralized location on the Internet are fast becoming the best way to organize information and handle a wide range of business activities including banking, file sharing, data archival, and accounting.
4. Education and training
Technology keeps evolving, and so do you and your business. Learning new software programs and social media platforms and understanding the latest wants of your customers all demand that you keep learning to remain competitive.
If you are a member of any trade or business organizations or associations, take advantage of the varied educational resources that are available to you online, including webinars, online business training, apps, and so on. Online information is bountiful—be sure to take advantage of it.
Technology and its rate of change are intimidating to most of us, but it is clearly an essential part of conducting business in the 21st century. The good news is that technology continues to allow small business owners the opportunity to do more and to reach more customers than ever before.
Nell Merlino is founder, president, and CEO of Count Me In for Women’s Economic Independence, the leading national not-for-profit provider of resources for women to grow their micro businesses into million dollar enterprises. She is the author of “Stepping Out of Line: Lessons for Women Who Want It Their Way in Life, in Love, and at Work,” from Broadway Books.