“MANY SMEs perceive digital communication technology as a tool that assists in running their businesses not as a necessity in and of itself,” says a 2014 report prepared for the Australian Communications and Media Authority on SMEs and digital communications technologies.
“SMEs highlighted the importance of needing to see a strong case for adoption of digital communications technologies in the immediate future to offset potential barriers to use,” says the report.
Small businesses can no longer look the other way as far as technology is concerned.
Almost all aspects of business are now driven by technology – whether it is streamlining the internal financial system or keeping in touch with customers via email or reaching target markets via social media.
The most transformative technology for businesses in recent years has been cloud computing. A smartphone or tablet device is all one needs to keep track of customers and sales.
Cloud technology enables real workplace mobility for entrepreneurs. Consumers expect the small business entrepreneur to be connected all the time and even while on the road they can keep up with what’s happening at the office and with the product.
This also gives a small business owner greater flexibility because he can make decisions while on the move and out of the office. So the entrepreneur does not have to get back to a physical location to make a decision. He can do it wherever he is – at lunch or at a cafe.
Streamlining internal systems
From payroll, to accounting to the internal intranet – all these systems in the digital age are descended from technology. No matter the business, it uses streamlined systems that make for less paperwork and physical files.
Email has made things more immediate and others expect quick responses. People expect the small business owner to be connected all the time so that there is a quick response to a query, and a speedy solution to a conundrum.
Gone are the days when a person searching for a product had to flip through the yellow pages and make a series of phone calls to check out who best fitted his needs.
Say, for instance, a person needs a carpenter. Ads in yellow pages stood out but everything could not be highlighted. Today a carpenter can list all their services on the website. So a Google search can bring up all relevant websites and a customer can choose the one that fits his needs best.
Of course, in this day and age, having a rudimentary website may not keep a potential client engaged.
The ACMA report says, “Many SMEs were using or had trialled social media. SMEs are open to experimentation with low cost technology such as social networking.
“However the resource and staffing implications for using social media can be a significant barrier to uptake and lead some to stop using it. SMEs were very conscious of the 24/7 nature of social media engagement, the management and maintenance of which is different from the slower timelines of business hours customer contact and traditional forms of advertising and marketing. Some SMEs had instead deliberately chosen to concentrate on their ‘bricks and mortar’ business.”
Having a social media presence seems to be a given in this digital age. How well it is managed is key. But social media makes that interaction between small business owner and customer much more engaged.
When a product is bad, the small business entrepreneur will hear about it on social media – where people go to vent their anger and frustration. But that need not be the only time they engage with the company. With a good social media strategy in place, they could use it to give glowing testimonials and, in a way, market the product via a good word.
Small business can now reach a global market and should no longer think parochially. Reaching out to a wider market was not in the purview of SMEs. Now, with a website and a social media presence the product could be viewed in any part of the world. Once a local market is captured, the national market is ready to be tapped. And from there the world.
So not only has technology streamlined systems, it has also equipped SME owners to make decisions while on the move and give them a global reach.