Small business owners look to technology to help them achieve their goals and grow their business. They expect it to help them speed up the way they work, make operations more efficient, reduce costs and generally enable them to do more things better. Technology should and really does help achieve these things. However, on the flipside it can also be confusing, expensive, restrictive and require ongoing maintenance.
It’s a vexing problem for the small business owner or entrepreneur. They may not be an IT expert and may not want to be. This year’s DNA of an Entrepreneur survey revealed that Britain’s entrepreneurs are planning to spend much more on innovation over the coming year but, from the constantly evolving technology smorgasbord, how do they decide what to pick and what to leave?
Moving with the times
Small businesses want to move with the times. They know that if they stick their head in the sand and ignore technology they stand to miss out on opportunities to grow, and run the risk of losing customers.
Customers expect to engage and interact with businesses online, on mobile; they shop on their phones and tablets and share their purchasing experiences through social media. It’s essential for businesses they are to survive. They are under pressure to understand technology, to embrace it and make it a part of how they interact with customers and how they conduct their business.
Then there is the impact technology has on how the business works within its own organisation. Having a mobile workforce – one that can work flexibly and remotely – benefits employer and employee alike. In fact, over half of the nation’s small businesses work remotely at least once a week, according to a YouGov study. Technology makes this possible and can help reduce operating costs and improve productivity as a result.
Technology moves on apace
There are compelling reasons to get on board and stay current with technology. But where does the average small business start? The world of technology moves on apace and keeping up with it can be a full-time job in itself. There are so many options available that you’d be forgiven for believing you need to be an IT expert just to take the first step.
Technology should save your business money in the long-run but getting started with it can be expensive. You’re worried about making that commitment knowing that technology changes all the time and that keeping it up to date can be arduous and costly.
Once you’ve made a commitment you could find yourself trapped into a solution that restricts your options further down the line. As you look to grow, you want your technology solution to evolve with you.
Businesses need to keep in mind a number of downsides that may come with the technology they’re looking to invest in. These include the often heavy costs incurred from investing in hardware and licenses and the maintenance and support time and cost involved in keeping the technology current and working optimally.
A long-term solution can be found in the cloud
For many businesses a versatile, cost-effective solution that can deliver long-term benefits is found in the cloud. Freeing businesses from the binds of licenses and software upgrades, it is a flexible technology that helps businesses grow. It can also give small businesses access to technologies and applications that previously only larger firms had the expertise and budgets to enjoy.
When it all began, the cloud was mainly about data storage. It was a way of freeing up computing power and storing data elsewhere without constantly buying additional servers.
Now the cloud provides access to business applications covering a wide range of business needs – accounting, customer relationship management, communications and so forth.
The benefits of cloud computing
With cloud computing, traditional systems, solutions and communications services are hosted online. This keeps your business agile, able to take up, and pay for, solutions only when they’re needed, relinquishing them when they’re not, when things have moved on or when your business has outgrown them. The benefits of cloud technology include:
Pay as you go
Services hosted in the cloud – software as a service – can be used on a pay as you go basis, which can save small businesses the arduous cost of hardware maintenance, IT support and software licenses. Instead of being tied in to hefty set-up costs and onerous contracts, small businesses can use the services they need on a solutions basis.
Flexible, professional communications
The same YouGov study found that nearly two thirds of Britons see businesses who have a mobile number as their main point of contact (excluding those that are inherently mobile, such as plumbers and electricians) – as opposed to a ‘landline’ number – as unprofessional.
Yet a fixed landline can be costly to install, call charges can be high – particularly to international numbers – and small business owners who are regularly out of the office want to take their number with them.
A voice over IP (VoIP) solution, made possible through cloud technology, can provide a more professional image against a mobile number alone.
Offsite storage as a back-up is a necessity for all businesses. No business can afford to lose its data and, from an operational perspective, cloud-based storage also gives employees remote access to the information they need.
Through cloud technology services, your people and your organisation can be connected to the information, applications and services it needs.
Whether they’re working from home, in client premises or on the move, your workforce can take the functionality they enjoy in the office with them. This includes communications services that keep your team connected to colleagues, customers and suppliers.
For small businesses, investment in technology is a big step. As it generally involves a significant outlay business owners understandably want peace of mind that the solution they choose is going to be flexible enough to grow with them, isn’t going to tie them down with expensive and lengthy contracts and won’t require high levels of maintenance and support.
Cloud-based services give small businesses the flexibility and agility they need and provide a range of applications to help them grow and develop.
About the author
This guide has been written for ByteStart by Simon Burckhardt, MD of Vonage UK, a leading provider of communications services allowing people to make phone calls over the internet dedicated to helping small businesses succeed.
More on cloud computing and technology
For more help on understanding how cloud technology can help your business, read these other ByteStart guides;
- A Beginner’s guide to cloud computing for small and start-up businesses
- How to choose the best online accounting software for your business
- How switching from spreadsheets to cloud accounting can help small business owners
- Should you prepare your small business to take payments through Apple Pay?
- A Survival guide to mobile commerce
And these will help you to grow your business;
- The 3 issues you’ll need to overcome if you want your start-up to reach £1m turnover
- Barriers to growth – how to identify them and how to overcome them
- How finding a great mentor could help you to grow, and your business to flourish
- How you can build your business in 90 minutes a day
- How to motivate employees and create a loyal workforce on a budget
- The way to get paid – 12-Step Action Plan to stop customers from paying you late
- A Guide to ‘Alternative Finance’ – the new funding options for startups and small businesses