Growing businesses, by nature, have a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants mentality. You know you need to prioritize, but with so much on everyone's plates, you often have to focus on what needs doing right now. Technology, of course, is designed to alleviate some of these pains--but it's hard to know what you'll need in six days, let alone six months. Plus, with new technologies on the scene every day, who has time to evaluate them? And even when you know what you want, you don't always have time to get it up and running, or know whether it's going to work with your other tools and grow with your business.
But don't worry: Help is here. Make time to read these five critical things to keep in mind as you evaluate technologies for your new business.
1) Invest a little time now to save a lot of time later.If you're running an SMB, chances are you're busy. Like, really busy. So busy you don't have time to implement the very processes and systems that would save time over the long haul. Although you're not alone--68% of SMBs have never switched suppliers and 85% of SMBs still use Excel or email for sales and contact management. A proven solution will absolutely save you a ton of time in the long run, but there's no way around the fact that you need to take the time to set it up right. The good news? With today's cloud systems, you can often be up-and-running within a few hours.
2) Automation slays. While automation is an easy way for smaller teams to be more efficient, most don't take advantage; only 20% of SMBs use marketing automation, for example. Why? Because growing businesses often consider automation to be more of an enterprise thing. Without a dedicated IT team, it's just not possible... False! Today's tools are designed so that even the most technically-challenged people can set up workflows and automations to send email, drive approvals, and speed almost every aspect of their businesses--from marketing to sales to customer service and beyond. Look for a product that offers easy automation. If you can save time on repetitive tasks, you can free up your team to focus on bigger issues.
3) Connecting your business is vital. Today there are apps that can help you solve just about any problem, a year or two down the road you may find you have dozens of disconnected apps. That means information that can be useful to your business--or that you might need in a hurry--is siloed and hard to find. Beware of point solutions! Before you invest in new technologies, make sure you're looking at apps that can integrate with others or come in a platform solution that offers plug-and-play connectivity to new apps. Sharing your data is essential to providing the kind of experience that today's customers expect.
4) Artificial intelligence is a have-to-have. 90% of the world's data was created in the last two years alone. That's major. And the amount of data we produce is only going to balloon. Fortunately we're starting to see incredible artificial intelligence (AI) tools coming to the forefront--tools that can take business productivity and customer engagement to new levels. AI tools can help small companies discover patterns in their business and predict what will happen next, recommend best actions, and even automate many of those actions for them.Overwhelmed at the thought? Start small with reporting and analytics, and work your way up. AI is here to stay, and smaller companies will struggle to keep up with these trends if they haven't invested in a technology platform.
5) Long-term vision is king. With everything you've got going on, it's hard to think about what's on the horizon. So when SMBs buy technology, they often make decisions based on what they need now, rather than what they will need in the future. But the world is moving fast; be sure your products will scale for more users and easily integrate with other solutions so you won't outgrow your technology faster than you think. Just look at how mobile completely changed the game for businesses. Today 68% of U.S. adults have a smartphone, almost double the amount from 5 years ago. Companies that didn't jump on the mobile app bandwagon early enough have their work cut out for them.
Companies like Herschel Supply and Jet.com have successfully used technology to build strong relationships with customers and demonstrate that it doesn't need to take decades to achieve phenomenal levels of success. You can do it too. And then? Less flying by the seat of your pants, and more growing like a weed.