Technology drives a break-neck pace of change, but it can also be incredibly overwhelming to many small and medium sized business. Among all of the hype, there are some simple, cheap technology solutions that could help kick start SME’s growth and streamline their workflow.
Technology such as cloud computing, automation or CRM systems may be viewed as inaccessible by many small businesses, but these simple solutions could free them up to focus on the most important aspects of their business.
SMEs understandably watch every pound spent, but there’s a whole range of products that can be hugely beneficial without breaking the bank. The five examples below cover simple, effective and cheap/free tech products that SMEs should investigate.
Essentially, cloud-based applications allow you to access resources from different devices, as they’re stored in a remotely accessible location, rather than on your computer’s physical hard drive.
Cloud computing is more accessible than ever and certainly doesn’t need to be complicated. Google Docs, for example, is a suite of free programmes (much like Microsoft Office). What’s particularly useful is that Google Docs allows multiple users to collaborate remotely and share files seamlessly. This can be particularly useful for small businesses if their members of staff are spread across different locations. Allowing staff to fill in their own time sheets, contribute to documents or carry out admin tasks can free up valuable time and take the pressure off one person who might have to collate information from multiple other members of staff.
Group messaging services
Those who’ve been around for a few years might remember the heyday of MSN messenger. Instant messaging services haven’t changed drastically since then, but new features can make them incredibly valuable for modern small businesses. Tools such as WhatsApp and Skype provide ways to keep the team connected regardless of their physical location via group chats or videoconferencing.
Applications such as Slack and Trello go even further, integrating workflow management as well, allowing you to communicate, track projects and share files seamlessly. They’re perfect for members of staff who might work remotely and are the perfect way of avoiding lengthy email chains. Messaging services are much more like a real conversation and can help you work smarter and stay connected.
CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management. CRM systems give you a way to track the data you collect about your customers. Information about your customers’ interests, buying habits and the current state of your relationship with them can provide vital information which allows you to provide the best experience possible. CRM software can track customer activity and suggest the best marketing strategy to build brand loyalty and drive sales. It notices important patterns by trawling through data that you simply wouldn’t have time to look at.
Hubspot is an example of free CRM software that provides a whole range of different features. It allows you to sort deals won and lost, appointments scheduled, and contracts sent over any time period. It’s an ideal way of identifying potential leads and targeting approaches at the right clients and customers.
Fully responsive websites
Gone are the days of internet browsing being confined to desktops. Nowadays customers are viewing your website on mobile phones, tablets and everything in between. Your website needs to be able to adapt to present your key messages front and centre regardless of the format. A fully-responsive website is therefore vital in catering to all kinds of uses. Businesses at the cutting edge of web technology are already implementing another powerful feature of smart phone design; the ability to allow users to embed their website onto their home screen, similar to an app.
Squarespace is a leading provider of website templates that are optimised for tablet and mobile browsing. The range of options is huge and you’re virtually guaranteed to find something that matches your taste. What’s more, Squarespace provides an easy way for you to populate your website with your desired information without investing time and money into expensive web development resources.
Automated invoicing and payroll
By automating activities such as invoicing customers and paying your staff, you not only free up a lot of time to focus on other aspects of your business, but also bring greater reliability and accuracy to the process. Invoicing software can track when payments are overdue and record when payments are made. Payroll software ensures your staff are paid on time, and that the relevant data is sent to the required authorities.
Brightpay is an example of a free, automated payroll system that’s fully HMRC recognised. There’s no limit on the number of employees you can add to the platform and it allows you to arrange weekly, fortnightly, four-weekly, monthly, quarterly or yearly payment schedules, ensuring its flexible enough to meet the needs of any small business.
Brian Harris is chief product officer at Currencies Direct.