Why technology should be every business owner’s best friend

Here, Tim Campbell, the first Apprentice winner, offers his tips on how technology and a bit of self-discipline can help you reduce stress, take back control, and grow your business.

A positive thing to happen over the last ten years has been the falling price of technology

A positive thing to happen over the last ten years has been the falling price of technology

I’ve always wanted to be my own boss. The idea of having complete freedom to focus on the things I am really passionate about is something that really excites me. Like many budding entrepreneurs however, the reality of running my own business came as a bit of a shock at first. The sheer number of tasks I had on my plate each day was overwhelming and I made the mistake of taking on too much myself.

It didn’t take many late nights to figure out that things needed to change. So I took a step back, thought about why I started my business in the first place, and restructured my day-to-day so that I could spend more time focusing on the things that were really going to help my business grow.

As a mentor to small business owners through the Bright Ideas Trust, I see many business owners in the same position that I once found myself in. Here are my tips on how technology and a bit of self-discipline can help you reduce stress, take back control, and grow your business.

Be honest in how you really spend your time

One of the biggest mistakes any business owner can make is to confuse being busy with being productive. Whether it’s focusing on the wrong tasks, or simply spending too long on areas of your business that don’t add value, many businesses get caught in a trap being busy without making any real progress.

Sound familiar? Here’s what I want you to do. Keep a diary for a week. During that time, note down all the things you’re spending time on during your working day. At the end of the week, look back at all of the activities you’ve written down and map out where you are spending the most time. Then ask yourself whether the time you’re spending on these tasks is proportionate to the value they are bringing to your business.

There is technology out there that can help you automate, or streamline the processes which are costing you time away from your customers. Accounting packages like Kashflow or Xero are great when it comes to reducing admin, while apps like Skype for Business allow you to have a face to face meeting with a customer without leaving the office.

Pick the right time for the right job

Section out your day according to what’s going to bring the most value at that particular time. Look at naturally quiet periods during the day when customer activity is low and use these times to focus on other aspects of your business, such as marketing and social media.

Every day should be about marketing your business to new and existing customers. Unfortunately it’s often treated as a thing to squeeze in around the other tasks – so be disciplined. Have a plan about when these activities need to take place and then stick to it.

The same goes for email, which can become a constant distraction if left unmanaged. At the Bright Ideas Trust we have strict rules about when we check and respond to emails. I’ve known others who actually put the times they respond to emails onto their email signature, though I wouldn’t necessarily go that far myself.

Make sure your tech is up to date

How much time do you waste fixing your printer, rebooting your computer, or reinstalling your creaking accounting package? Don’t scrimp on the tools you need to do your job. It will end up costing you in time and wasted energy in the long term.

One really positive thing to happen over the last ten years has been the falling price of technology. Great technology is now readily accessible to every business owner. That goes for hardware, but it also goes for the software and tools smaller business owners can access to help them run almost any aspect of their business.

There are countless tools and services available today designed specifically to help small and independent retailers run almost any aspect of their business more smoothly and efficiently. Rather than having to invest big, most technology providers now offer their services direct to customers through the internet for a relatively low-cost, monthly subscription, meaning any investment can be spread out over time.

Know when to outsource

If you want your business to grow then you need to be spending as much time as possible doing the things you’re good at. A lot of businesses fail because the person in charge tries to do too much on their own. Successful business owners know what they are good at, and then select great partners to work with to help them handle the rest.

At the end of the day you need to make a cold, hard calculation. Is the time I am spending on this really worth it and could someone, or something else help me do it more quickly and cheaply in the long-term? The best thing I did was to hire a virtual PA, Jill. Not only does she help organise my life, she also screens me from distracting calls, enabling me to focus on the things that really matter.

Use your website as your ‘12th Man’

If you’ve gone to the trouble of creating a website then make sure it is working for you. A good FAQ section can help reduce inbound queries and customer service calls, leaving you with more time to focus on sales. Likewise, if you’re a bookings based business, adding the option for customers to make a reservation online can be a huge time-saver.

And if you’re not selling over the internet, then ask yourself why not. In an era when we look at our smartphones more than our significant others, you’d have to be mad not to grasp the opportunity to sell online. Adding an e-commerce channel to your business won’t mean you can put your feet up and relax – far from it in fact. But in today’s digitally driven society, having a solid strategy for reaching and selling to customers on the internet can be the difference between stress and success.

Tim Campbell, MBE is the founder of Bright Ideas Trust.

Further reading on small business technology

Nominations are now open for the British Small Business Awards 2017, the leading event celebrating the brightest stars in the SME sector. Click here to enter. Good luck! 

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