The digital revolution and small businesses

Here Rich Wagner, CEO of APS financial, examines four aspects of the digital revolution that a new business must adopt to stay ahead of the curve.

The digital revolution has reached every aspect of our lives, from apps that track our sleep patterns to the fintech disruption – an amalgam which describes the transformation of financial services and the way payments, savings and banking is carried out.

One of the sectors which has the most to benefit from digital innovations is SMEs. Adopting digital in all aspects of your business is a norm now and it’s important that it forms part of any small business plan. Here, we examine four aspects of the digital revolution that a new business must adopt to stay ahead of the curve: banking, accounting, website and online profile.

Banking

It’s a familiar story: a start-up with drive and innovation approaches their bank for a business account but are told the waiting time is two weeks. Even then approval for an account isn’t guaranteed; credit checks, address and ID verification can hamper the ambitions of the most unique business proposition. However, the situation is improving. Online challenger banks and fintechs are pushing the traditional account opening methods and provide you with an account number and sort code online in minutes, allowing trading to start immediately. Most of these accounts are managed purely online, and without the burden of costly branch networks and legacy IT systems, these companies can be nimble and adapt their technology to meet the customer’s needs.

High street banks aren’t just lagging in terms of their IT systems, research conducted on behalf of digital banking disruptor Cashplus, discovered that the average cost for SMEs of running a business bank account is £462 per year. However, that figure rises to £1,000 a year once these small businesses have become established. With no branch networks, challenger banks and fintechs will frequently charge a flat fee helping start-ups manage their forecasting at a key time in their lifecycle.

The same research revealed that 50 per cent of first-time SME borrowers had been rejected by their bank. With smarter technology sitting behind their account management platforms, challenger banks and fintechs can provide instant decisions on finance enabling companies to move faster, appointments to explain your proposals with a bank manager are becoming a thing of the past.

Accounting

While accountancy has long moved on from ledger books and paper-based invoices, fintech developments are continuing to revolutionise accounting processes. Online, cloud-based accounting software such as Xero and KashFlow streamlines the whole accounting process making bill payment, invoicing, payroll and tax returns integrated and simple.

Accountants are still crucial for start-ups from the get-go and provide valuable feedback on your financial plans, advise you on VAT and take care of balancing the books enabling you to focus on your business.

Website

Research carried out in March 2017 revealed that 1.98 million UK SMEs do not have websites, costing them over £343 billion each year.

Introducing a website could equate to an average uplift in revenue of £173,769 per business.

Small-sized businesses stand to make the largest growth in revenue – £106 billion per year if they introduce a website.

Set against these staggering figures, the case for having a website is clear. With most decisions beginning with a Google search, registering your domain and creating a website adds a sense of credibility to a business and enables you to communicate with prospects, clients, suppliers and investors whilst also protecting your brand. Creating your own website does not need to be a complicated process, online providers such as Squarespace and Wix will provide you with a template and hosting with a set monthly fee.

Moving into digital payments doesn’t have to be the mountain you expect it to be. Third parties such as PayPal WorldPay can be integrated into your website in order to accept customer payments online, making it simple and fast for your customers to buy your products.

Online profile

Once your website has been established, making it easy to find for your customers is key. Terms like SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) and PPC (Pay Per Click) may seem confusing, but the main search engines are open about how to make your site feature highly in their results. Simple online tutorials can result in an effective online ad campaign within a budget you control and ends when your limits have been reached.

Facebook, Twitter Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, the choice can seem overwhelming. However, they remain excellent channels for reaching a wide audience. If you’re uncertain about where to start – start small, know your audience, competition and channels they are using and concentrate on one. Don’t just treat it as peripheral to your business, allocate time to creating good content and be consistent with your posts – a neglected Twitter feed won’t present you as a thought leader in your field. Online forums for your industry provide a platform for you to contribute and promote your ideas raising your profile amongst industry peers and competitors whilst also leading to additional learning for you.

Finally, digital changes are rapid and constant, keep learning by being involved and knowing the developments as they happen.

Rich Wagner is CEO of APS financial

Further reading on the digital revolution

Related Topics

Digital Transformation

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