It’s the 21st century, everyone’s going digital…Stop being a Luddite and step into the information age, and it’s time to get smart.
How can technology help my business?
Business has been transacted for thousands of years without computers, so its hard to argue that they’re mission critical, but they can help you streamline your business be more financially efficient. Computers can store vast amounts of information and perform analysis of data far beyond the realm of what humans can perform. By leveraging digital technology you can help your business run more efficiently and effectively than ever before. You might even save yourself some money.
What can technology do for me?
If you want to computerize your business, the first step is to take a serious look at how your business actually runs. By taking the time to map the path a piece of paper takes to get through your accounting process can be a real eye-opener. In fact, most small business owners find that the mere act of identifying and mapping their business process and workflow causes instant improvements, since we often become accustomed to the redundancies and waste of “business as usual”.
Automation of a business is usually performed in the following stages, to ensure maximum ROI and minimum disruption of existing business processes.
– Back-Office Accounting
Accounting, order processing, inventory control, order fulfillment, billing, employee management, and business analytics are part of the back-office function and are the core of any automated business.
– Front-Office Accounting
Sales management, marketing, customer support, internet presence, and ecommerce are the front-office component.
– If you run any kind of field-service operation, scheduling will make or break your profitability.
– Field-Service Automation
– While every serviceperson knows how to use a paper work-order, modern technology offers us many enhancements, like paperless work-orders, in-home credit-card processing
In addition to automation of business process, the business-owner can leverage related technologies like GPS mapping, GPS tracking, VOIP, and telecommuting.
How do I automate my business?
Automating a business is more about creating a workflow process than just buying expensive machines or paying consultants. In my experience helping small-business owners grow, they don’t really have a business process of their own – they live in a state of “entrepreneurial chaos”. Since most water businesses in the USA are trans-generational family businesses, this chaos is inevitably transferred over the years and never corrected.
Capture the scale of your business now, and in 5 years
Just how big are you now and do you want to grow significantly bigger in the next 5 years? How much revenue do you expect to gross this year, and in five years’ time?
Unless you understand what you are now, and what you want to be, venturing into the digital realm is an exercise in futility.
Create an organizational chart
Who’s in charge, who reports to whom, who is responsible for purchasing, receiving, customer complaints etc… Document the jobs you have now and the functions that you will need to fulfill your vision of the future. Create a detailed job description for each role, listing daily, weekly, monthly tasks & responsibilities.
Build an operations manual
The operations manual is never truly finished. This living document evolves as the business grows and adapts to changing markets. Every business will have their own unique manual, but the following sections should be included by all:
- Mission Statement & Vision Statement
- Organizational Chart
- Employee Directory
- HR Policies – Hiring, Separation, overtime etc…
- Daily operating procedures
- End of week, month, quarter & year procedures
- Marketing program
- Advertising strategy
- Sales policies & procedures
- Customer service policies & procedures
- Reporting, and record-keeping policies
- Safety & Security
- Disaster recovery plan
- Maintenance & repair
- Legal Matters
- Ownership succession/exit strategy
Where do the computers go?
Once you have a true picture of your business, you can begin implementing measures to computerize the process. The first decision to make is whether you-in-house or outsource your computing power. Outsourcing computer power is not a new concept, but it has only recently become affordable. Since outsourcing can be extremely secure and reliable, I am currently recommending most of my clients to outsource their accounting & CRM functions to reputable companies like Microsoft, Netsuite, Salesforce.com and SAP. Outsourcing can allow you to grow your business, without having to maintain an expensive datacenter or keep IT employees on-hand for the inevitable problems that can arise.
Outsourced computing is often referred to as “cloud computing”, where the cloud is a metaphor for the internet. It is a style of computing where IT-functions and software are provided as a “service” (SaaS) allowing you to access what you need, when you need it, and “pay-as-you-go”. You’re essentially bringing computing to the same level as a utility, just like electricity, telephone or water.
When deciding on an outsourced provider, or an in-house application, be sure to compare vendors, and talk to existing satisfied customers in addition to you web-based research. Prices can vary dramatically, depending on how much consulting you require.
So what about the internet?
The internet was designed to be a redundant network of interconnected computer networks. It was launched officially in 1983 and has been abused ever since. According to a recent study, more than 50% of all corporate email is spam. The same survey suggests that employees in America spend more than 1/2 of their at-work internet time looking at or participating in inappropriate content & activities.
The internet is really a conduit to get to resources. What resources you access depends completely on you. From a liability-prevention and security standpoint, content-filtering is critical on a business internet connection and should be incorporated as part of, or in concert with your firewall application.
Choosing to install an internet connection at you office is a smart business decision. Having access to the internet will help you communicate with the outside world, and enable you to connect with clients, business associates, and vendors.
Should I have a business website?
In one word, YES !
Not having a website in the 21st century is like being unlisted in the telephone book last century. Customers are turning more to search engines than ever before, and in some regions search engines are used before the yellow pages when shopping for goods and services. Your existing customers and prospective clients can and will judge you by the presence that you project on the internet.
Buying a domain name is a smart business decision. Domain names are the human-readable names given to network addresses on the internet, which make it easy to remember and navigate to. Instead of typing 188.8.131.52 into your web browser, you just type wcponline.com – simple & easy. Your domain name should be a reflection of your brand, and easy for your customers to remember.
Website design & content
Your website should be a reflection of the professional, and ethical company that you are.
Keep the content simple and clear. Avoid ranting about political or personal issues, and simply promote your business. The following are critical parts of any legitimate business website:
- A description of your company with a little history & what makes you special
- Your location and contact information
- The products that you offer
- The services that you offer
- Testimonials from satisfied customers
- Your warranty & return policy
With websites, less is more, avoid the temptation to over-embellish the site with sound effects, animations and videos. Keep it simple and easy to navigate.
Creating and editing a website is very easy, especially with software like Microsoft Frontpage/Expression and a host of others. Many webhosting providers will offer free or discounted deign assistance as part of your hosting package.
Blogs, Facebook, and LinkedIn
The most significant impact of the internet in modern society is “social networking”, where people from all over the globe and around the neighborhood are able to communicate effortlessly together. Blogging is a great opportunity to communicate your thoughts with others, just remember that that can usually be read be everyone, so make sure that whatever you post in blogs and discussion groups is suitable to be read by your clients, your religious leader and your banker ! The same rules apply to Facebook and MySpace, you and your employees will be judged by the company you keep online. LinkedIn is a particularly powerful online social networking tool for business professionals where you can meet and connect with other professionals without the clutter of traditional social networking sites. Feel free to connect to me at http://www.linkedin.com/in/gregreyneke
Even if you don’t get your own website, get your own email address that has a legitimate domain, not the kitschy freeware addresses like aol, gmail, yahoo msnbc etc… that just smack of unprofessionalism. Even without your own website, you can still procure a custom email address from reputable providers like network solutions.
Search Engine Optimization
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is popular and has achieved much notoriety. Essentially, it is the art & science of increasing the quality & quantity of web traffic to your site. For most small businesses, this can be very confusing and is usually best left to professionals. You can do a very good job of promoting yourself by actively participating on blogs, bulletin boards and discussion groups. Be sure to promote your website on all company correspondence and vehicles.
GPS navigation & tracking
If you run a traditional dealership, you need to visit clients at some point. Simple devices like GPS vehicle navigation systems can save you and your business the inconvenience and hassle of getting lost. Certain models have up to the minute traffic information and can provide voice-guided turn-by-turn directions. GPS tracking devices are usually mounted in your vehicle and can be used to properly monitor and control usage of the company fleet. Many fleet operators realize a significant decrease is gas consumption, as well as an increase in net productivity after installing GPS tracking as part of a comprehensive fleet management program.
The Paperless Office
While once a publicist’s dream, the paperless office will one day become a reality. By relying more on digital technologies, you can make your business more efficient, effective and environmentally friendly while lowering your net labor overhead. Always make & keep current backups, especially off site backups of mission-critical data. Embrace technology, but always remember that it is the people the make the business.