Getting the most from your IT system

Overhead view of a team working on a range of IT devices

Business technology can improve communication, collaboration and financial management. It can also help you reach more customers through effective and targeted marketing campaigns.

Better communication

Working together

Customer intelligence

Marketing

Track your finances

Get your business online

Getting help

1. Better communication

Technology can transform how you communicate within your company and with your customers. Email is a given, but have you considered these options?

Voice over IP (VoIP) allows you to make telephone calls through the internet

  • VoIP software converts telephone conversations into data which is sent across the internet.
  • You can use a VOIP service to call normal telephone numbers. Many VoIP services allow you to receive calls too.
  • VoIP is generally cheaper than using a traditional landline. The biggest savings are with international calls.
  • You can use VoIP software such as Skype with a webcam and microphone or headset to make calls from your PC, tablet or smartphone.
  • Alternatively, VoIP telephones work just like normal phones, except they route calls through the internet.
  • Many companies have switched to VoIP from traditional fixed-line phones.
  • VoIP offers excellent flexibility, because you can redirect calls to different places depending on where your people are.

Instant messaging (IM) and video conferencing let you stay in touch with colleagues

  • IM software lets you chat online with one or more people by typing messages in.
  • It is a good way for your staff to get answers from each other quickly.
  • Video conferencing transmits video between different locations. It means everyone in a meeting can see each other, even if they are located in different places.
  • Many business apps now include some form of instant messaging as standard, enabling colleagues to collaborate with one another while progressing project work or sales tasks.
  • IM and video-conferencing software such as Skype and Zoom is free. You can buy a subscription to access more features.
  • Integrated platforms such as Microsoft Teams require a subscription to use. They can be integrated with other software, including popular Microsoft Office packager.

Some companies use private chat services to keep employees connected

  • You can use a service such as Slack to create a private chatroom or message board for your business.
  • Your chatroom is a good place to share information and quickly answer questions other members of staff may have.
  • Because everyone in your team or business can see it, a private chatroom helps bring your people together.
  • Private chat can be particular helpful for remote teams, as it helps people in different locations to stay in contact.
  • You need to provide guidance on what is and isn’t acceptable to share on your channels.

2. Working together

A basic network of devices (PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones) with internet access will help your staff work together more effectively.

You can allow your employees to share access to files and folders on your network

  • Popular operating systems such as Microsoft Windows and macOS, allow you to seamlessly share files. If you have a network server, the files can be stored there, but it's now more common to store files on the cloud using a service such as Dropbox.
  • Rather than using email to update documents, changes and comments can be added to the master copy.
  • This ensures everyone is working to the latest iteration of a document.

Some tools allow you to plan, coordinate and track tasks and projects 

  • Online collaborative systems such as Monday, Asana, Trello, and Microsoft Teams store all relevant project documents, plans and files in one place.
  • Everyone involved in projects can log in and check their tasks, send messages and update their progress.
  • These tools typically track document revisions and make it easy to restore previous versions.
  • Company intranets often include features that enable collaboration.
  • Other popular web-based collaborative systems include Basecamp, Huddle and Teamwork. You’ll pay a monthly subscription for each user.

3. Customer intelligence

Business intelligence tools can transform your customer database into a highly valuable asset.

Forget the spreadsheet: a CRM will give you much more flexibility

  • A well-deployed CRM system will allow you to track every contact your business has with each of its customers.
  • CRM systems are an investment in your business, and they’re not massively expensive.
  • Popular CRM packages include Zoho, Capsule and Salesforce CRM.
  • Setting up a CRM system takes time. It is worth seeking expert help to ensure your chosen solution fits your needs.

Use your CRM system to identify what your customers are interested in and buy

  • Your CRM software should be able to select customers according to criteria that you specify. For example, people who have bought for you in the past three months.
  • Direct marketing campaigns targeted at specific types of customer can be more successful than blanket campaigns.

4. Marketing

Every business can use IT services to improve marketing and reach more customers.  

Send out email newsletters to people who sign up through your website

  • It's best to use a bulk mailing service. This will help you measure response and avoid spam filters.
  • MailChimp is popular and free for smaller businesses. Once you’ve created a template, it’s simple to send out a regular newsletter with your company’s branding on it.

Give great presentations

  • Presentation software such as PowerPoint enabes you to create engaging slideshows containing text, images, video and sound. Used properly, these can inject interest into a pitch to prospective customers.
  • When creating presentations, resist the temptation to cram lots of information into each slide. Focus on the key points.

Run online webinars and presentations

  • Demonstrate your expertise and explore your products in detail via online presentations.
  • You can use services like Google Hangouts, GoToWebinar and WebEx to plan and run online presentations.
  • Your online presentations can include audio, video, slides and more.
  • Modern online presentation software means that the people you’re presenting too can interact with you, providing a valuable two-way conversation.

Use a mail merge to contact customers personally by post

  • Most word processing packages have a mail merge function. This allows you to create a personalised letter, leaflet or flyer to send to customers.
  • For instance, you can add the customer's name, address, or a list of the products they've bought from you.
  • Direct mail can be expensive, but for some local businesses is still a highly effective channel for reaching customers.

Ensure consistency with templates and standard company branding

  • Business software can help ensure you use your company logo, colours and branding in a consistent way.
  • Office suites like Microsoft 365 allow you to create templates for common items.
    For instance, you can build letterhead, invoice and presentation templates so all your literature and marketing material has consistent branding and identity.

5. Track your finances

IT systems and software make it simple to control your cash flow, spot problems early, and identify inefficiencies.

You can track incomings and outgoings with one or more spreadsheets

  • You can set up separate spreadsheets for your cash flow, sales ledger, purchase ledger and wages.
  • If you keep these up to date, they provide an easy way to check the financial health of your business.

Cloud accounting software provides a powerful solution for businesses of all sizes

  • Modern cloud accounting platforms are designed to be used by people who aren't financial professionals.
  • They help you keep track of the health of your business.
  • You can also use cloud accounting software to generate invoices, send automated payment reminders, file tax returns and more.

Online banking can simplify your day-to-day cash management

  • Online banking can reduce overheads in your business. For instance, you can save paperwork by paying outstanding invoices by BACS transfer.

6. Get your business online

Whatever your business, a website is crucial. There are a few options to web design.

  • Building a website from scratch can be challenging, particularly if you have no background in coding or design.
  • It’s simpler and quicker to use a website template.
  • The easiest (and often cheapest) option is to use an online website builder, such as Wix or Squarespace. You can create professional-looking websites and the provider will manage the hosting too, all for a monthly fee. You’re limiting in how much you can customise these templates, and the integration with other software can be tricky.
  • An alternative is to purchase a Wordpress template and customise it yourself. The platform is relatively straightforward to use, but you will need to arrange and manage hosting through a web hosting provider.
  • If you have specific requirements or want a sophisticated website, then commission a web designer to build it for you.

Opening an online shop can enable you to reach new customers

  • This can be an inexpensive way to expand your business.

7. Getting help

Unless you are an expert, you are unlikely to get the best out of your IT system without help.

There are many places where you can go for advice

  • Most mainstream software providers offer knowledgebases, forums or online chat assistance that can help you navigate common issues users face.
  • Software publishers tend to offer additional support through their websites. Always try there first if you have a problem – you will often find helpful articles, training, videos, tutorials and more.
  • There is a wealth of information available on other websites and forums.
  • You can try searching YouTube for step-by-step instructional videos.
  • Try typing an explanation of the problem you are having into a search engine. The chances are that someone, somewhere, has experienced the same issue before, and someone will have provided an answer.

You can usually get help from the hardware or software company or your IT supplier

  • You may be able to call a support line for help.
  • For critical issues, considering calling out an engineer.

Get help early

  • You can reduce future support costs by using an expert to set up your system.
  • Many businesses find help essential for setting up more complex programs such as databases.
  • Look at professional support as an investment in your business rather than an unnecessary expense.

Simple ways to make the most of your IT

It should be a challenge to implement IT solutions that can benefit your business.

Search online to explore trends and gaps

  • For a new angle on something, search online. For instance, if you want new ways to market your business, search for marketing tips or find marketing blogs and publications.
  • This method is best used to spark thinking in new directions. Be wary of relying on unsubstantiated advice when making important decisions.

Encourage your staff to share how they use IT

  • Many businesses have a range of IT experience in-house, so use it.
  • If some of your employees are particularly IT literate, encourage them to help other members of staff.
  • Make sure everyone has enough time to get to grips with new software and procedures.

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