A few weeks ago, I was in San Francisco and had the occasion to have a look at the technology of a local home accessories retailer. The business was doing quite well with multiple retail locations, a warehouse, nice website and a growing base of loyal customers.
There was a problem. The business' server was several years old, had almost no hard disk space left and a minimal amount of memory. Because of these deteriorating server conditions, his employees' access to files was slow, among other problems.
This business is no different than many other businesses, run by very busy owners.
When you first start your business, you buy brand new computers, servers, software and other things to get your business up and running. But as your business grows you get caught up in the day to day operations of survival (and hopefully growth) and you may neglect the upkeep of your technology.
When you get up in the morning, what's on your mind for the next 10, 12, 16 hours is juggling cash flow, prioritizing bills, managing employees, thinking about inventory, screaming at suppliers, selling to prospective customers and so many other things involved in running a business. This list doesn't even include sneaking a few minutes to attend the local chamber of commerce meeting, reading the morning business newspaper, scanning online headlines, taking a five second phone call from your kids and trying to wolf down some sushi and Diet Coke.
It's great that your business is growing, but as your business grows don't purchase technology as a knee jerk reaction to that growth. Don't wait for your server's hard disk to fail in order to take the time to setup a backup solution. Why lose out to competitors three times in a row, because you couldn't access critical files while away from the office?
Here are five things you can do:
1. Retain the services of a technology consultant. It surprises me, but so many of you still don't have a technology consultant. You have some guy fix your computer from time to time, or get your tech savvy admin person to help out, but this is a strategy for disaster, not growth. Build a relationship with this consultant and make them a key part of your team.
2. Develop an annual technology road map to budget and plan what technology needs to be upgraded or newly purchased over the next 12 months. Keep in mind, some technology is critical (like backup, faster server and desktop computers, security, and high speed Internet access). Other technology is not crucial but can increase comfort and efficiency such as -- a better mouse, LCD vs. CRT monitors, more comfortable keyboards.
3. Force yourself to systematically read up on technology. You don't have to be a geek, but there are many magazines and websites which cover technology for business. Invest time to attend local technology events for businesses. These events are often put on my local technology consultants, vendors and business organizations.
4. Designate a technology coordinator. Find out which member of your staff is technically adept and see if they would like to serve as a technology coordinator or liaison for your business. This person would be responsible for keeping up with technology, working with your technology consultant, and being the eyes and ears for your business' technology needs. It can't hurt to give this person an incentive such as time off to attend meetings, access to the latest technology before other employees, and maybe a quarterly bonus!
5. Speak to your peers and competitors about their technology. This can help you better understand your technology strengths and weaknesses. By asking questions you can avoid mistakes they've gone through and leverage successes they've already achieved.
Technology is complex. It's not easy. However, it's not as hard as you think it is and it can definitely boost revenue and help grow your business. If you only think about technology when there's a problem, you're not strategically using technology.
Ramon Ray is an author, speaker, technology writer and former small business technology consultant. He publishes Smallbiztechnology.com, a website that helps small and medium-sized businesses strategically use technology as a tool to grow their businesses.