Business technology offers improved communication, better collaboration, more effective marketing and comprehensive financial management.
1. Easier 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 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 like 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.
- IM software such as Skype is often free.
- 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.
Some companies use private chat services to keep employees connected
- You can use a service like Atlassian or Slack to create a private chatroom for your business.
- Your chatroom is a good place to share information and answer quick questions.
- 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.
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
- Operating systems like Microsoft Windows and macOS, allow you to 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 via services such as Dropbox.
- Sharing a single copy of a file means everyone has access to the latest version.
- Rather than using email to update documents, changes and comments can be added to the master copy.
Some tools will allow you to plan, coordinate and track tasks and projects
- An online collaboration package puts 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 roll back to a previous version.
- Company intranets often include collaboration features.
- Alternatively, you can subscribe to a web-based collaboration package. These are a form of cloud computing. You access them online, through a normal browser. Web-based packages include Basecamp, Huddle and Teamwork.
3. Customer intelligence
With clever use of some simple tools, your customer database can become one of your most valuable business assets.
Forget the spreadsheet: a CRM will give you much more flexibility
- A good CRM system will allow you to track every contact your business has with each of its customers and doesn't have to cost a fortune.
- 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 in the past three months.
- Direct marketing campaigns targeted at specific types of customer can be more successful than blanket campaigns.
Even a basic IT system opens up new marketing opportunities for your business.
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.
Give great presentations
- Presentation software allows you to create 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.
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.
Ensure consistency with templates and standard company branding
- Your IT system can help ensure you use your company logo, colours and branding in a consistent way.
- Office suites like Microsoft Office 365 allow you to create templates for common items.
For instance, you can build a letterhead, invoice and presentation template so all your literature and marketing material has a consistent identity.
5. Track your finances
Your IT system makes it easier to stay on top of 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 friendlier, more powerful option
- Modern cloud accounting services 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
How you build your website will depend on your needs and level of skill
- Building a website from scratch can be tricky if you do not have experience of writing website code.
- Instead, it may be better to base your site on a template. Web design software often includes templates to get you started, or you can purchase a template-based package from a web hosting company.
- If you want an advanced website, 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 to look to help yourself
- Most mainstream software platforms offer knowledgebases, forums or online chat assistance.
- Software publishers tend to offer additional support through their websites. Always try there if you have a problem - you may find helpful articles, training, videos, tutorials and more.
- There is a wealth of information available on other websites and forums.
- 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.
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.
Simple ways to make the most of your IT
It can be easier than you think to use IT in your business more effectively.
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.
- 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.
- Find out about developing your IT capabilities through BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT.