Growth, traction, and expansion are always “top of the mind” among startup founders. However, small-business owners only have so much time and can quickly become overwhelmed by their efforts to grow a company. This can diminish founders' ability to focus on core tasks, like building and iterating their product, app, or service.
One solution to address the limitations of a small team is to outsource and find the right tools. Thousands of startups all over the world are already outsourcing administrative tasks like accounting, human resources, and even customer service. Now, businesses can even pay third parties to do essential services, including developing, deploying, and maintaining core business applications and collecting, managing, and analyzing big data.
A global outsourcing survey by Deloitte determined that 53 percent of businesses are outsourcing IT functions, while 69 percent are outsourcing their technology needs to cloud providers. Meanwhile, companies have also warmed up to outsourcing their needs on a “business process as a service” model, with 66 percent of surveyed companies saying they task other companies to accomplish certain processes.
Outsourcing is not exactly new, but today’s cloud-oriented environment has introduced innovative ways to execute certain business or technological processes that will not break the bank for a small business. Here are a few concepts, best practices, and resources.
Automation plays a key role in the success of a business, as it usually allows for more time and resources to be dedicated to other areas. A variety of tasks can be automated, and various tools exist to make it happen.
One business process that can be automated at least somewhat effectively is social-media marketing, which can be a cumbersome activity for understaffed companies. Seventy percent of businesses are now managing their own marketing campaigns, but not all of them are capable or adept at doing this on their own, especially with an ever-changing social-media environment.
To address this, social marketing platforms such as $99 Social and Real Time Outsource offer affordable plans that cover daily posts to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other accounts. The content is specifically crafted for your business or industry, and can be targeted to promote products or services. These companies also provide social-profile optimization to improve visibility to the intended audience.
Scripted and NewsCred are examples of Web content solutions for businesses that may not be able to produce the content required to promote or sustain their business. The offerings include blog posts, white papers, website copy, product descriptions, articles, and local content. These services are an excellent option for startups that have the technical know-how to develop their product, but need help in building descriptive marketing copy.
Not all companies can afford to maintain an in-house customer service team. Likewise, not all small businesses can afford to outsource their customer service divisions to an offshore team. A good solution is a cloud-based help desk, which enables customers to find useful information themselves, and then chat directly with customer service staff for additional information.
Salesforce has its own help desk application called Service Cloud, which personalizes the experience for each customer. It also has multi-channel support, which enables different departments to respond as necessary. Zopim is another popular help desk cloud app. Both platforms can help improve engagement with customers, as well as outreach to prospective customers who may be browsing through your company's products and services.
Big Data and Analytics
Small-business owners can use cloud-based tools to collect data about their processes to determine existing or potential roadblocks to efficiency and productivity. Without good tools in place, data can be skewed, presenting a different picture of the overall business. With information on task durations, conversion rates, customer churn, or average revenue per user, for example, you can see how well your campaigns are working, see how effective your landing pages are at capturing leads, which pages are most popular, and other factors.
Simply measuring the business with data isn't enough. To determine where the business is doing well and where improvements can be made, it's important to analyze the data you've collected.
InsightSquared is an example of a big data platform aimed at small businesses. The app creates actionable reports out of your data. With such information, a small business can focus on making data-driven decisions, particularly in making adjustments to marketing campaigns, production, or other aspects of the business.
Many small startup teams are too busy raising funds or actually running the company to market it effectively, analyze data, or provide extensive customer service. I know successful founders who feel that devoting time to marketing and some of these other areas distracts and maybe even detracts from their ability to build a viable product, at least at first. Outsourcing these marketing, automation, and customer outreach services will get around that, enabling a business to focus on facilitating growth and establishing sustainability.