When It Comes to Growth, Technology Matters
Small businesses pride themselves on “working lean” or “doing more with less” while delivering customer service at a level of attention larger companies can’t match. Smaller organizations certainly do have some built-in advantages over their larger competitors. But, at the end of the day, almost all small businesses want more revenue, more product offerings, more sales, more employees — they want growth.
However, consumer-level applications that most small businesses rely on from the beginning don’t always align with the goals and ambitions of business owners. Technologies like resource planning, accounting platforms, or websites are essential, but they will only take you so far. If you envision a bigger future, you need to start thinking bigger now.
Think Big to Get Big
In theory, the larger an organization is, the harder it is to maintain consistency and quality in terms of operations and product or service offerings. That’s why technology is mandatory in larger enterprises.
Customer relationship management (CRM) systems, for instance, share sales pipelines and customer interactions across the organization, while document management systems like SharePoint consolidate files and documents for collaboration. Online portals centralize communications and help provide a consistent internal employee experience, and tools like human resources information systems normalize human capital management.
These are all important technologies, but small businesses often have the mindset that these systems are exclusively for large enterprises, either unnecessary or irrelevant until they reach a certain size.
While it’s true investing thousands of dollars into a collaboration tool like SharePoint may seem like overkill or an unnecessary investment, these tools’ benefits aren’t exclusive to large organizations.
In fact, leveraging the right-sized technology can not only help day-to-day business activities, it can also help train your organization to think big concerning operational processes and governance, fostering your business’s growth. The result is what I refer to as the “micro-enterprise.”
A micro-enterprise is a small-to-medium-sized business practicing the same approach to technology as larger enterprises, but at a level suitable for the size of the organization. These businesses are reaping technology’s rewards and ready to grow, but they aren’t biting off more than they can chew.
Enterprise Technology That’s Smart for Any Company Size
A micro-enterprise mindset works for both B2B and B2C organizations. If you’re a B2B business owner, adopting that mindset might come naturally. Whether you have two salespeople or 10, sharing data about prospects, leads, and business development materials will be instrumental in growing your business, and technology like a CRM tool is at the heart of that.
Enterprise systems aren’t just for sales, either. Unifying your team’s operational aspects through technologies like document management, portals, and instant messaging can streamline consistency throughout your entire team.
B2C small businesses often assume they don’t need these systems, when in fact they need them the most. When a B2C organization sells products that aren’t human-capital-intensive, its goal usually aims for volume through sales and marketing. All three produce data. The more data a small business collects — while still maintaining business operations — the more insights it gathers relevant to growth and brand awareness.
Let’s take a closer look at the most common technologies small businesses should consider when adopting enterprise practices:
While larger organizations set up complex workflows and algorithms to manage their pipelines of leads, a simple CRM for storing your customer information and prospects in a centralized location goes a long way toward organizing your touchpoints with clients and customers. Your CRM will handle storing your customers’ information, letting you focus on actually interacting with them.
Email tends to be the default messaging tool for every organization, but using an instant messaging system such as Slack or Hipchat enables more real-time collaboration. The presence of a messaging application alone encourages frequent communication across the team.
#3. Document Management
The worst time to implement a tool for managing your businesses documents and assets is after you’ve grown so big that it’s mandatory. Implementing something when you’re smaller will put the right governance in place from the start. And you don’t have to commit to something expensive. Tools like Google Docs or Dropbox can meet fundamental needs easily and affordably, and you won’t have to play catch-up once you’ve grown.
#4. Online Portal
A centralized internal online presence helps synchronize your brand across the business and provides a communication hub to ensure your team has the right information readily available. Using a portal for simple tools like a message board, an events calendar, and internal documents (like corporate policies or the company handbook) offers the team more consolidation and organization. Plus, businesses can use their portals to promote the company’s goals for growth.
Again, this doesn’t have to be pricey or complex. If your company is using Google’s G Suite (formerly named Google Apps), you can create a simple portal using Google Sites, which integrates out of the box with the rest of your Google tools — email, documents, calendar, and more.
Begin With Growth in Mind
When deciding which solutions are right for your business, it’s important to think ahead. This means going with technology that is scalable. Growth won’t happen if you’re not planning for it, and having technology to manage your company’s operations already in place eliminates future growing pains once you start getting bigger.
Likewise, leveraging technology for your business processes generates useful data that you may not have had otherwise. Knowing which documents are accessed the most or the kinds of conversations employees have through instant messaging helps identify strengths and weaknesses within your business.
When you don’t use technology for critical aspects of your business, you increase your risk of losing information, either by human error (a lost laptop, for instance), employee turnover, or some other unknown event. Leveraging platforms in your processes helps ensure your client list doesn’t disappear when someone spills water on his or her computer.
Start Growing Now
Just because your small business isn’t ready for a huge overhaul doesn’t mean it should completely ignore these technologies. You may not need SharePoint or Salesforce, but you can still implement tools that will help you manage your documents or customers — without draining your budget or your energy.
It goes without saying that increased automation and collaboration typically lead to increased productivity across your organization. Your team can stay lean while worrying less about tedious tasks, giving you room to grow comfortably.
And it’s never too early to start implementing these tools. If you act now, you’ll be prepared for growth when it arrives.
Are you a small business owner utilizing enterprise-level technology to drive growth? Share your experience in the comments below.
Ted Novak is a partner and managing director at Clique Studios, where he helps build and introduce innovative solutions for the digital market. Based in Chicago, Clique Studios is an award-winning design and engineering company building digital experiences for high-growth organizations.Read Full Bio