Is it Time to Bring your Small Business Online?
This is a guest post from Jori Hamilton, see her bio at the end of the article. Thanks Jori!
There is no doubt the digital landscape offers benefits for small businesses. There are tools to positively impact productivity and efficiency. The online marketplace can open you up to a global audience of consumers. Yet, small business owners often express hesitancy toward shifting to primarily digital practices. We’re not just talking about advanced tools, here. One report found 29% of U.S. small businesses don’t have a website.
This is understandable to an extent. While the price of technology has lowered significantly in recent years, digitization can be a serious investment. Some entrepreneurs have also become comfortable in their analog practices. They don’t want to disrupt the systems they consider to have been reliable for years. Others feel digitization might take the local mom and pop feel away from their small enterprise.
As a business owner, you might fall into one of these categories or have a range of issues holding you back. Whatever the case may be, it’s important to review what the positives of digitization could be if you’re willing to take the risks.
Let’s examine some of the primary benefits.
Whatever industry you specialize in, your access to tools and knowledge can positively impact your ability to thrive. This can be particularly important if you’re undergoing or expecting a period of rapid growth. A lack of resources — physical, financial, and intellectual in nature —has been the downfall of many small enterprises. They became too big, too soon. Understanding how digitization results in access to resources may be essential to your survival and a successful upward trajectory.
Data is one of the most valuable resources you gain from going digital. By setting up social media channels and a website, you have access to important insights into how different customers and demographics are interacting with your business. If you adopt eCommerce sales, you will be able to collect direct information on consumer preferences and behavior.
This data influences the growth of a powerful business analytics approach to even small enterprises. By collecting and analyzing this data correctly you can establish a better understanding of your operations so you can make decisions based on solid evidence rather than guesswork. Just as a heads up, interpreting the data can be challenging, so it might be worth working with an expert analyst to provide practices and reports in an understandable and actionable way.
Alongside internal data, digitization gives you external resources. Many entrepreneurial organizations and business leaders have their primary presence in online spaces. Take elements of your business into the online environment. This way, you’ll have an opportunity to interact with these figures (thought leaders, other business owners, vendors, etc.) and share knowledge. Indeed, if you are offering business-to-business (B2B) services, this can be the primary method to open your company up to valuable leads. The digital landscape is at once a boost for your relationships with your customers and a venue for networking. But this does mean you need to put consistent effort into maintaining your presence.
An analog approach to your small business may be more in keeping with your brand. However, it doesn’t often provide you with the tools you need to respond to a vibrant and changeable marketplace. Digitization, on the other hand, places many more solutions in your entrepreneurial toolbox. This means you generally have a greater capacity to handle the challenges of small enterprises in an agile way.
This doesn’t have to involve a lot of complex equipment. You can have an impact by utilizing cloud document creation, sharing, and storage platforms for daily operations. As an example, online cash flow spreadsheets would have an updated record of alterations. Or informational resources like employee schedules can be produced and shared efficiently.
If you’re working from home, being online is instrumental in making certain your home office is a productive space by removing a significant amount of clutter and keeping your files well-organized. You can also incorporate other digital home office solutions such as online checklists in project management platforms that can be shared among remote staff.
Productivity isn’t the only way digitization allows you to be agile. Shifting your focus to purely online marketing techniques can help your company be more responsive to the digital economy.
Your traditional marketing tactics may have garnered a small loyal base of locals. But as you grow, digital marketing is a tool to not just reach wider audiences but better respond to their needs.
You can create and share quality marketing content relevant to your current campaigns but also make real-time alterations if they no longer appear to be successful. Digital also means you tend to be able to do this much cheaper than you would with traditional techniques. In essence, marketing digitization helps you better follow the vibrant and ever-changing marketplace with minimal disruption.
Small businesses too often have a reputation for vulnerability. This suggestion that you’re a small player among big corporations is not only patronizing, it also doesn’t reflect reality. Your enterprise has the potential to be a strong presence in the commercial landscape. You can enhance this when you utilize digital methods to make your practices and operations more robust.
Adopting digital documentation can be a step in the right direction. This involves shifting your current paperwork practices to electronic alternatives. But it’s not quite as simple as scanning physical forms and sending them via email. Rather, there are protocols for producing and sharing digital documents in ways that are most appropriate for your business while keeping them secure.
For small businesses, there are certain essential documents that translate well to digital formats and are relatively accessible. Utilizing digital invoice platforms allows you to keep track of what has been issued and paid. Many are directly compatible with accounting software.
Electronic contracts can also help you to both maintain records and communicate in ways larger business customers are more attuned with. Electronic signatures on these and other documents — like non-disclosure agreements and employment contracts — can also ensure you keep accurate records of interactions.
Beyond simple digital documentation, it can be worth considering digital payment solutions. If you have a brick-and-mortar store, you’ll find it is less desirable to accept cash today. This can be a security risk for your property, create additional trips to the bank, and is just plain unsanitary.
There is a range of secure digital payment solutions on the market, including credit card readers and mobile transaction applications. This can also expand your business offerings to a presence at community events and conferences. However, it’s important to make certain you are by using encrypted networks when deploying these methods to minimize the risk of data theft.
We are living in an increasingly digitally-enhanced world. It is vital for the trajectory of your business to start adopting some key digital practices. Some elements can be resources to aid your productivity, while others will allow you to respond to the commercial landscape with agility and strength.
Many of these methods aren’t especially complicated. But using them to their best effect requires a little focus and research. By taking the time to ease your small business into the online era, you have the potential to achieve your entrepreneurial ambitions.
Jori Hamilton is an experienced writer residing in the Northwestern U.S. She covers a wide range of subjects but takes a particular interest in covering topics related to business productivity, marketing strategies, and HR solutions. To learn more about Jori, you can follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.
Shawn Kinkade Kansas City Business Coach