Software is now officially approaching its 60th birthday – did you know that? Software got its start in the 1950s. And computers have had a place in the small business workplace for decades, especially starting in the1980s with the advent of Apple computers and the IBM personal computer.
With software and hardware being around for so long, you'd think we business owners would know all the benefits of technology in our businesses, right?
But here's the rub. A lot of technology change has occurred in just the past 5 years. Given the speed at which technology is traveling, you might want to take a second look at how technology can help you become more successful in business – and make sure you're not overlooking these 4 ways.
1. Redesign Key Business Processes to Enable Out-of-the-Office Work
Gone are the days where the only way you could check your email was from your desktop. Now, mobile phones, tablets, netbooks and laptops let you check your email from anywhere in the world. But today you can do so much more remotely, beyond simply checking email. Here are some other less obvious ways you – and your staff – can be freed from your desktops.
- Arm your service reps with mobile devices with high-megapixel cameras built in. They can take pictures of broken parts or unusual repair conditions, and instantly email them back to the home office for a consultation or for someone to verify a part number and order it, saving an extra trip.
- Give sales reps portable printers. They can print off professional looking and customized sales materials, along with estimates. They can close more deals on the spot.
- Switch to online software apps so you can access important administrative functions from home or when traveling on business. Accounting, billing, payroll and virtually any other administrative process can be delivered as an online software app that you can access through a secure Internet connection. This allows you and key management to continue to run your business no matter where you are. You could even be overseeing issues from vacation or a long weekend with family. For business owners who haven't taken a vacation in years because of the fear of being away from the business, this may actually make your personal life better.
2. Make it Easy for Customers to Do Business With You With Their Mobile Devices
Microsoft Tag estimates that by 2014, there will be more people accessing the Internet through smartphones, than through desktop computers.That’s a substantial fact, both for you as a mobile phone user, and for your customers, who will be visiting your site on the go.
Is your site optimized for mobile? Sometimes websites don’t render well on mobile devices, so more and more companies are building mobile versions that make websites easier to navigate on tiny phone screens.
A simple way to do a mobile version is to have your Web designer create a mobile “template” that the user can switch to by clicking a link in the header or footer of your site. Or better yet, have the site automatically detect that a mobile browser is being used and display the mobile look and feel of your website. If you use common software platforms like WordPress for your website, there are free plugins that will provide a mobile-ready template.
Another option is a mobile app – either a third party’s or yours. People are searching for restaurants, stores, hotels and attractions through apps on their mobile phones like Yelp and Foursquare. If your business caters to consumers and you're not present on these apps, you can lose out on serious traffic and sales.
Or create your own downloadable app to allow consumers to search for information or conduct transactions from their mobile devices. An example of this is Traverse Traveler. Mealtickets & Unusual Ideas, a small business serving visitors to Traverse City, Michigan, created its own mobile app to make it easy for customers to get access to discount coupons and information using an iPhone.
3. Use Tablets To Make Sales Pitches to Clients and Prospects
Tablet computers such as the iPad have an assortment of applications that allow you to make impressive presentations that are interactive, visually appealing and shareable.
PowerPoint, of course, is the old standby for presentations. Roambi is an app that takes reports and data and turns them into interactive graphs on your iPad. Apple’s Keynote is more in line with a PowerPoint style presentation.
Simply sit next to your prospect and show the presentation right from your tablet PC. Or plug your iPad in to a projector to share the presentation with a crowd.
Here's something even simpler than a formal presentation if you happen to be in construction, landscaping, home remodeling, repair or a similar business. Provide “before and after” pictures on a tablet device, so that sales reps can show compelling proof of the value a certain service or product. I purchased a root pruning service on the spot, after being shown before-and-after photos on an iPad by the arborist. The pictures of actual projects helped convey the benefits of the service with far more impact than words alone.
4. Manage Projects More Effectively, and Save Money
A flood of web-based project management tools like Basecamp, Manymoon, and Podio are helping small businesses stay on top of projects, track time and meet deadlines. You can share access with your team and collaborate on documents. Sure beats sticky notes!
Many project management apps enable you to bring in independent contractors (not just employees) to participate.
Even better, many position you to invite clients to participate in the project management system. This is valuable because you can use the same project management app to not only communicate internally, but also to communicate with the client. It makes client communication effortless. The client simply needs to log in or sign up for email updates, to be notified of the latest activity on projects you are handling for them.
Best of all, many project management apps enable the client to add new projects. It’s an easy way to encourage clients to request more help from you. This can lead to a steady flow of new work for your business.
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See what's out there – and experiment. You could transform your business into one that is more efficient, with a lower cost base and higher customer satisfaction, than you ever imagined possible just by being creative with today’s technology.