A recent study found the average business spends the equivalent of more than a week per year on administrative tasks. But despite the fact that much of this time could be saved with software, just 45% of SMEs are using technology to manage their admin workload.
The head of research for the British Chamber of Commerce (BCC), David Bharier, recently discussed the importance of simplicity for SMEs. "Businesses aren’t abstract economic units – they're made up of people that need to process vast of amounts of information to make the right decisions, and this can have a high time or resource cost. Anything that can alleviate this pressure and allow them to focus on growth will be a benefit to their business."
For Andrew Stevens, Head of Small and Medium Business at Vodafone Business, there’s a golden opportunity for SMEs to claw back valuable time by investing in technology and automation.
“Time is the SME business leader’s most precious commodity” says Andrew. “Tasks like HR, finance & accounting and staff training are essential. But they can easily feel like a time-consuming burden compared to revenue-generating activities or providing strategic business direction and leadership.”
David Bharier, BCC, agreed, suggesting that taking the time now to implement cost-cutting procedures can yield big savings in the future and increase business efficiency.
Andrew recommends SMEs leaders start tackling their admin burden by looking at which tasks and processes take up the most time.
“Begin with an open mind and look at the admin processes you have today” recommends Andrew. “There will almost certainly be an emphasis on financials, invoicing, quotes, cashflow, HR and payroll. Look at which of these consume the most time, especially for the leadership team in your business, as this will start to highlight where investing in technology can deliver the biggest time-savings.”
“Look as well at how you manage your customer data” Andrew goes on. “Is it manually in spreadsheets, or in a CRM system? You might also want to consider how much time is consumed by the admin side of collaboration. Is it easy for people to access the latest versions of files and documents? How simply can teams work together on important projects like sales pitches and RFPs, especially when people are spread across several sites and/or working remotely.”
As Andrew points out, high quality and easy-to-use technology tools have never been more accessible to small and growing businesses.
“From accounting packages to CRM or file sharing, there’s no end of great options out there, with free trials so you can try-before-you-buy. Today’s tools are low cost and easy to set up, so businesses can expect to see a quick return on their investment, and a fast time to value in terms of automating their admin workload.
The more routine tasks you can take away with automation” says Andrew, “the more it shifts the ability of SME owners to focus on areas that that add value, and frees up their time to be more forward-focused."
On the other hand, the range of technology options in today’s market can sometimes feel overwhelming, and cause decision paralysis. Or it can lead businesses to invest in a product just to tick a box, but they never get round to implementing it.
“If SME leaders lack the time to do research into selecting the right technology tools to bring into the business, their investments may not yield the desired results in terms of automating admin and driving efficiencies” says Andrew.
“It’s not just tech that’s abundant, there’s lots of advice available too. There are plenty of places SMEs can get free guidance. And even if it’s just narrowing 10 options down to three, it can really save time to make the level of choice more manageable.”
In some cases, specialist guidance can be invaluable. “In areas like information security and data protection solutions, it’s really important to understand the challenges before investing, and SMEs will really benefit from doing their homework” Andrew believes.
With IT security, where your brand and your reputation are at stake, taking a rigorous look at how you’re protecting and preserving your customer data can feel like a burden in itself. But making sure your security software ticks all the right compliance boxes, and won’t compromise or corrupt your data during installation, is time well spent.
“In cases like these” says Andrew, “getting specialist advice can be incredibly valuable. An expert can help you understand the impact of regulations, the most pervasive security risks, and how to mitigate them. Then they can help you with training on how to deploy and use your product in ways that ease your admin burden and headaches.”
As well as taking advantage of local and central government resources (there’s a handy list at the end of this article) Andrew recommends talking to peers about their experiences, for example by taking part in webinars.
“SME business owners add the most value when they’re working on their business, not in their business”, Andrew concludes. “Too often, entrepreneurs get dragged into day-to-day details and find themselves trying to do too many jobs. Investing in new technology can feel like another admin mountain to climb, but it really will make a huge difference in freeing up time to lead your business. And it needn’t be a big deal if you take advantage of all the help and support that’s out there”.
Growth Hubs: local advice and support for businesses throughout the UK.
Enterprise Nation: specialist support for small businesses.
V-Hub: free and independent expert guidance for small businesses from Vodafone.
business.connected: Vodafone’s free tools and training resource for SMEs.
Vodafone Pulse Connect: the flexible all-in-one connectivity and productivity service tailored for small businesses.
Andrew Stevens is Head of UK Small & Medium Business at Vodafone, and leads a team providing insight, expertise, and SME-focused tech solutions for the UK’s growing network of small and medium businesses.
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