Technology plays a vital role in helping small firms prosper in the modern economy, creating efficiencies and providing new business opportunities.
Small businesses play a fundamental role in the economy – they help create wealth and develop innovations – but at any one time, few organisations are actually growing.
In conjunction with Cisco, First Voice hosted a roundtable event bringing together figures from the small business world to discuss what it’s like to be a small business looking to prosper in today’s increasingly digitised economy.
The conversation focused on how technology can improve productivity, people management and other factors that may equip a business for future prosperity. These are edited highlights:
What are the main challenges small businesses face when trying to work with new technologies?
Hema Marshall (Head of Small Business Sales, Cisco): The key challenges are knowing where to go and what’s available. Perceptions around price and the fact that tech changes daily are also a challenge. It’s almost like there are three stages: you get connected, get secure, then you have to make your work easier.
Adam Freeman (National Sales Manager, Glemnet): We struggle with processes for marketing. We’ve been so focused on revenue; we didn’t pay enough attention to getting the data correct in our CRM platform.
Seena Shah (Digital Marketing Consultant, Splash Creative London): Small businesses that refuse to innovate will fail. You don’t have a choice about learning or adopting these technologies, they’re essential for your survival.
Has digital technology changed the way a business looks to grow? Do small businesses have more opportunity in a digital economy?
HM: I think so. We did some work on the way businesses start and scale. It showed that businesses can now set up in a couple of weeks, get online and be ready to offer a service. Some of that has come because of the digital revolution, and the ability to connect with people quickly through the internet.
Has the emergence of digital technology changed the way you plan and set goals?
SS: I’m a marketer, so the idea of taking a long-term strategy and delivering bits along the way is a thing of the past. It feels like social media has new features every week – you’ve got to be first to use those to dominate. There is also an education element. Small businesses struggle with this, especially start-ups where there are no dedicated roles.
Julia Roberts (Pro Operator and Ei Operator, MWR Media): Goals are so much more measurable now. If I want to build clients in Scotland with online training, I can target them, measure the results and get instant feedback on the effectiveness. For a small business, that’s revolutionary.
In the digital age – with its lower start-up and experimentation costs – is it easier to manage risk?
HM: We’ve got different risks. Your website can suffer a breach or client details can be accessed. It’s not less risk; it’s different risk.
How important is it to have the latest IT infrastructure? Is it critical to the success of a business now?
HM: It’s not the latest technology; it’s technology that allows businesses to grow organically that will be sustainable and have longevity. If you’re buying software, you need to make sure it’s not just for two people so that if you grow to 50 the software is no longer fit for purpose. You want intelligent technology that can upgrade itself and allow you to have organic growth.
JR: That’s where subscription services can help. We use accounting software,
so when Making Tax Digital came along, I didn’t have to do anything. I didn’t change what I pay or buy anything new, it was just done. More and more you find the stuff you buy as a company is like this; it gives you similar protections and security. They do
the hard stuff.
Does anyone use automation to alleviate the burden of everyday tasks?
Penny Bailey (Managing Director, Bailey Solutions): We’ve automated our marketing in a big way. We use sequences. When someone takes a free trial, that starts a process where they will be contacted every week with an appropriate email. That’s an individual journey, not bulk marketing. Each person gets emails at an appropriate time. We’ve
automated all of that in our CRM system. That’s proved really effective.
SS: Based on behaviours, you can also score individuals for sales calls, so you don’t have to call everyone in a blanket approach. You can wait for them to meet specific criteria before you target them. It makes what you do more efficient.
Dav Kaur (Founder, Davina Connect): Automation helps us have a closer relationship with our clients. It really gives us a connection; they don’t know we’re automating, but it strengthens the relationship and encourages them to come back to us. Those personal messages make us human to our customers.