Running a business can take up a lot of your time without throwing family, children, a social life, hobbies and everything that makes up ‘life’ into the mix too.
Whether you’re happy to keep things ticking over or you have specific growth aspirations, online technology and a little digital knowhow can help you manage your business and meet your personal needs with a lot less stress, time and money.
This guide will give you the confidence to explore how the Cloud and online technologies help control operational costs whilst increasing sales using a range of channels to encourage growth. You will be introduced to the key elements you should consider to remain competitive in a changing digital world.
There are detailed guides available for SMEs wanting a more in-depth understanding of Superfast Broadband and the specific online technologies mentioned within this document.
2. What benefits might I expect?
- Controlled costs: Cloud software and data storage use a pay-as-you-go model that can immediately be scaled to suit your current and future needs.
- Sharpened reflexes: Because many SaaS applications integrate fairly easily, you can react to market needs and make changes quickly and cost effectively.
- Healthier collaboration: When systems collaborate across departments and divisions there is an opportunity to analyse and act on stronger market data.
- More sales: A cohesive strategy that runs across all marketing channels makes it easy for customers to recommend you and encourage exponential growth.
- Increased customer loyalty: You can increase retention using Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and social media to build relationships.
- Better customer service: You can also use CRM reports and analysis to plan marketing campaigns and deliver enhanced customer support and services.
- More productivity: Cloud-based applications allow off-site staff to update information in real time rather than having to come back into the office.
- Smarter choices: Switching face-to-face to virtual meetings allows you to minimise costs, reduce fuel consumption and win back lost travel time.
3. Real life example
A Swansea-based company specialising in the destruction and disposal of confidential documents has increased its turnover by more than 28%. Matthews Confidential Shredding revamped its website, put a new strategy in place for online marketing and, introduced a cloud-based system for all its management and customer information.
The changes increased the efficiency of internal processes by more than a third and enabled MCS to win new contracts, including winning its first client in north Wales, to expand its geographical foot print.
“The introduction of a cloud-based system to store and access management information has made a massive difference to the business,” explains sales and marketing director Nick Hardwidge.
“The ability to access customer orders and records, equipment lists and update the daily work diary on a central Google Drive means the team works more collaboratively and efficiently. We are a family-owned business that offers a very personal and cost-effective service to our customers, but the new technology has enabled us to improve our competitive edge and compete with the bigger players in the market.”
4. What is the Cloud?
Because we are used to downloading software and storing data onto our own PCs or networks, the idea moving to the Cloud can be unnerving. But it isn’t as intangible as you may think.
In essence, you are renting server space from giant warehouses to store your data and access software via the internet from companies that are also renting space. It’s a little like the difference between parking your car on your driveway where you can see it, and parking it in a secure multi-story carpark where you can’t see it but you know it is there, and as long as you pay the charges you can retrieve it.
The Cloud is a great tool for small and growing business as its flexible, pay-as-you-go model means you can scale up and down as your business needs change. As the Cloud is a common platform used for online technology, it’s important to recognise the role it plays for modern business.
5. Successful strategies for growth
As a smart businesses you should research the market, differentiate yourself from your competitors, and clearly and simply articulate the problem you solve for your customers. Then define your target audiences’ needs and the channels they prefer to be reached on so you can develop a marketing plan to promote your business and grow. This should include existing products and services as well as any new products or services on the horizon.
Take the time to craft marketing messages that are relevant to your customers and consistent across all channels. And think about the journey they take from the first time they hear about your brand to the point of purchase. For example:
- Which social media sites do your customers use; ask them and consider Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Linkedin and more
- Are you easy to find on the most popular search engines; they are now the most trusted source for information
- Which websites or forums do your customers visit; can you advertise or share content there? (e.g. a holiday cottage in Pembroke may find it fruitful to link with other non-competing local businesses or the Welsh tourism board)
- Do you work locally in a community that still reads the local paper; if you have a strong news story you could get publicity for free
- Do your customers agree to opt-into newsletters (and give you their data) in return for a special offers?
- The best marketing strategies create a brand people connect with and make it easy for their customers to get the information they need, when they need it, so they can choose whether to buy, and whether to share a good review.
6. Managing operational growth
Regardless of size, any company can use Superfast Broadband to power their business with online technology. And it is smaller more flexible companies that are starting from the ground up that may have an easier ride. By developing a process map of what you want to achieve now and in the future and selecting a few cloud-based applications to try before you buy, you can keep down capital costs and refine your processes as you grow.
It’s worth noting that most suppliers offer cloud-based Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions (pay-as-you-go) that reduce the high costs of running a business. Your starting point should be off the shelf packages, which offer excellent value for money if you only require simple, standard business functions such as office processes, stock control, accounts or payroll. If your requirements are not entirely standard, then it’s worthwhile mapping out your specification before you refine this into a Request For Quotation from potential suppliers.
Don’t forget to check compatibility with all your devices and other hardware or machinery that you currently use or plan to use in the future. Also consider whether leasing expensive items could be advantageous or if it is better to buy and quickly write off the costs against tax. Because Corporation Tax allowances change over time, it is always advisable to consult your accountant.
7. Recommended action points and tips
Have a destination
The Digital Skills Index (2017) from Lloyds Bank shows that 55% of Welsh SMEs do not yet have a website. Yet a well optimised website can put you in touch with more potential customers than any other method of promotion. Rather than putting off developing a website, consider affordable options such as using a freelance designer that offers hosting packages or developing your own using simple templates from WordPress or other suppliers.
Research from Global Web Index in 2017 shows that internet users almost always are social networkers, even in the 55-64 year age group (94%). Messaging, news and entertainment (including video) are big reasons for us visiting multiple social networks for an average of two hours and 15 minutes each day. However, social also has an important role in purchase journeys, which is why many SMEs set up a Facebook business page for its commercial potential.
Nearly 2/3 of internet users purchase products online and use social networks for product research (see graph below from GWI). So do your research and consider which networks your customers use.
Make use of the software available to design online brochures or manuals made available to customers as a .pdf download. Making these accessible via your website can be a great way to cut down the cost of printing. Along a similar vein, sending e-newsletters using a product such as MailChimp is simple, effective and, for a modest volume, free.
Make smart choices
Mobile applications are driving the shift to Voice over IP (VoIP) which enables users to work with devices other than the traditional desk phone and connect via the internet. Remember that even if you have a traditional landline you can gain the benefit of video calls to customers and business associates using a package such as Skype. This will allow you to share instant messages and make worldwide voice and video calls free-of-charge.
Office productivity software allows for multiple users to work from the same document at the same time, and from anywhere. They are designed to work across a range of devices and operating systems, and many have specific ‘apps’ available for download. Here are a few for you to consider; Google apps, Microsoft 365, Skype, Lync, GoToMeting, ProjectPlace, Replicon, SharePoint, Dropbox, and Exchange.
Make things flow
You may decide that you want to market to customers via social media, record their information on a CRM system and set up automated communication to encourage leads through their purchasing decision. Start by mapping out the overall flow of customer information and put this in a framework before researching which software packages are likely to be useful.
8. Additional information
- Use the Superfast Business Wales Software Directory to explore the software that could help you run your business.
- Register to attend a fully-funded Superfast Business Wales workshop.
- At the workshop, make an appointment to see a Business Adviser who will help you create a digital action plan to grow your business.