Small and medium-sized businesses across the United States are increasingly relying on new technology solutions to strengthen their product development, marketing and customer engagement activities.
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Technology adoption is often the best way to drive relative advantage over competitors, even among small businesses. This is especially true with regard to computer and Internet technologies. Your business might be basically “technology enabled” but you may be missing out on new, fast-evolving technologies that could grow your business, regardless of its size.
Strategy 1: Use the Internet to Finance Your Business
With the passage of the JOBS Act in 2012 and the development of crowdfunding, selling small amounts of equity to many investors over the Internet has become a real option. The JOBS Act legislation allows for a wider pool of small investors with fewer restrictions than under previous security laws. While the JOBS Act awaits implementation, hybrid models, such as Mosaic Inc., are working within existing securities laws to enable the public to invest directly in clean energy projects. Recently, a high-end blended scotch company (SIA) was financed through Kickstarter.com.
Once regulations are issued, crowdfunding will evolve from a fad to an accepted method of funding companies, ventures and product development. Companies that can inspire small investors with a vision of how their products or services are authentic game changers for consumers or society as a whole will be able to take advantage of this trend.
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Strategy 2: Embrace Social Media and Expand Your Sales
Social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are the most obvious social media vehicles for business. Adopting an effective social media strategy can rapidly enhance a company’s branding and visibility, helping you interact with your audience around a direct message or offer, and drive traffic to your website — as long as its content and design make it worth driving traffic to!
Companies need a social media strategy and focus, not just to supplement current sales efforts but as the primary vehicle for all sales activity. Print advertising is losing ground to the Internet and social media is an effective method of marketing over the Internet at a very low cost.
The first step is to identify the online platforms and communities where your potential customers spend time. The next step is to create a strategy to engage with their interests and offer them useful, compelling content and interaction they can’t get elsewhere.
Strategy 3: Adopt New Technologies to Streamline Your Business
By now, most private businesses have adopted technology — they use financial systems from QuickBooks to Oracle and have created user-friendly websites, online catalogs, and call centers, and they have streamlined inventory management. But there are other evolving uses of technology that large businesses are adopting and which are adaptable to small businesses:
Real-time, on-demand video (especially on tablets) for marketing and product promotion. Online customer relationship management (CRM) and customer care to “re-personalize” their customers’ experience. Tablet-based systems for employees to provide instant, one-to-one responses to customers needs. Subscription-based software as a service (SaaS), which provides all kinds of services on a “pay by the drink” basis, which minimizes up-front investment.
Strategy 4: Take Your Business into the Cloud
The “cloud” — delivering hardware and software services via a network — represents the most significant technology paradigm shift for private companies. The cloud offers incredibly cheap storage and a range of shrink-wrapped solutions that can reduce a small business’s capital investment in technology.
We’re already seeing the benefits, with tablet computers being used to take and fulfill orders, manage automated systems, and so forth.
Strategy 5: Spend the Money to Create a Mobile App
It is not an overstatement to say that the world is going mobile. Mobile applications on smartphones do more than download music or provide maps and directions. Your customers are using their cell phones to do business all the time. Well-designed apps can get your name in front of your customer every time they use their cell phone.
A lot of apps are really just low-value “junior websites” that might get used once a year and are poorly suited to the limited real estate of a phone screen. High-value apps are the ones people will use every day. For example, an app that links them to coupons, sales, or help with services you offer, or provides them real-time information valuable to how they run their business. Think special offers for your products and services or just news that they can use.
By folding these five key technology-based strategies into your business system and your conversations with the market, you will be able to generate increased sales and reduce your costs. Your competitors may well be moving ahead in these areas right now. Can you afford to wait?
Michael Evans is Managing Director for the Newport Board Group, a partnership of board directors and senior executive leaders with deep knowledge of business strategy, operations, and capital markets. Previous to Newport, Michael L. Evans had been with Ernst & Young since 1977 and served as a partner since 1984. During his 34 years with the firm, he served as a tax, audit and consulting services partner, specializing in real estate companies and publicly traded entities.