Technology is more affordable, accessible and powerful than ever before, making it possible for every small to medium business owner (SME) to use tools that were once only accessible by larger businesses. Now more than ever before, technology is within the reach of businesses of all shapes, sizes, ages, industries and origins.
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Today, you can quite literally pack all the computing power needed to run your operation in your pocket. Businesses can be transformed by only a few key investments in new technology. Making the right choices are the key to maximising your investment, and getting the best results for your bottom line this financial year.
1. Get online to be found
No business should be without a website; not these days when it's so simple and affordable to create one. It's not only the key to being found online, where 50 per cent of your customers are searching prior to making a purchase, it offers incredible competitive advantages in levelling the playing field. It will help put you on an equal footing with your competitors no matter where they are based.
According to MYOB's latest Business Monitor, an independent study of 1000+ SMEs, only 38 per cent of Australian businesses currently operate a business website. Those who do were 60 per cent more likely to see a revenue increase in the last year, reporting benefits such as increased customer leads, better sales conversation, and being more competitive in their market.
One barrier we've found to having a commercial website is a misconception that it's a costly exercise. It's not. Businesses can use a simple web-builder tool to create a modern e-commerce site that ranks well in searches. Even at its simplest, a website enables a business to be a part of the game in attracting consumers.
2. Head for the cloud to reap financial rewards
Online technology has the power to truly transform local business. The SMEs we surveyed most recently who used cloud computing were an incredible 106 per cent more likely to increased annual revenue than those who didn't use cloud. In only nine months, this margin had increased from 53 per cent. Yes, really!
Cloud technology covers a variety of business applications, from file sharing and online storage with tools like DropBox and Evernote, to easy online accounting software such as MYOB LiveAccounts.
For business owners, a cloud accounting solution is not just invaluable in understanding and managing the business finances. It can be the driver for better work/life balance and in better utilising employees' time. It empowers them to manage the business from anywhere the internet is available: on the road, in the office or at home.
Such solutions also have handy features like bank feeds - where business bank transactions are automatically fed into the accounting system and coded. This reduction in admin can make a big difference to productivity.
3. Be more mobile to boost efficiency
Around 50 per cent of Australian business owners use either a smartphone or tablet in their business. For the other half, using a mobile device could be the key to increasing their output.
For small business owners in particular, smart mobile technology — combined with cloud apps — offers real freedom, enabling them to take the office with them, wherever they go. They can break down work tasks into smaller steps, progressing them further faster.
Using mobile technology also enables more businesses to employ high-quality, remote-working employees, further increasing their productivity potential.
4. Prioritise data security to protect your business
There can be few greater risks to a business than losing vital information. Additional hard disk storage is readily and cheaply available now, meaning data back-up and off-site storage is easily achieved.
With the business information held in the cloud in a secure third party server, the business always has a secure data backup. Data essential for operating the business is still available if something goes wrong with the office computer. Think about what you would do if your office was flooded, affected by fire or raided by thieves. Is your important business information safe and accessible no matter what?
The growth of online technology means there is a wide range of new back-up options available for business, from dedicated storage apps to in-product systems. Back-up to the cloud offers a fantastic standard of security, stability and access – particularly for situations where the business owner isn't in the office, or unable to access the premises.
5. Get social to build your customer base
Social media has evolved into a powerful tool for business. There are many new online applications available to help business operators manage their social media presence, understand what customers are saying about them and start or respond quickly to lead-generating conversations.
One in five business owners in Australia use social media. Those who embrace it are building closer relationships with customers, suppliers, partners and others. Those who aren't have the opportunity at their fingertips, ready to be capitalised.
Social media is also providing the platform for new business management tools, with apps like Work.com allowing businesses to use social principles to communicate and collaborate with staff, track goals and share successes.
Technology is really changing the way we do business. Business owners are able to be more mobile and enjoy greater productivity, while engaging more with customers and collaborating more effectively with employers and advisors, all in real-time.
As business owners start the new financial year, I encourage them to ask themselves: "what can technology do for my business?" Then, seek the advice and support they need to get started. Sometimes this is, ironically, as easy as researching online.
James Scollay is the general manager for MYOB's business division.