Technology has become an essential tool for small businesses, particularly in the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic. With the increased digitisation of the modern business landscape, it is crucial that business owners are equipped with the knowledge and tools to productively use technology in their business.
So, we turned to five small business owners to get their perspectives about the value of technology to growing businesses, including how they have integrated automation into their processes, and what they consider to be the main barriers that stop people from digitising.
Take a look at the conversation below, featuring Rudy Bandiera, co-founder of NetPropaganda, Hendrik Gottschalk, CEO of GetBaff, Carl Reader, author and small business champion, Barbara Labate, CEO of ReStore and Juan Merodio, CEO of the TEKDI Institute.
What do you think are the main barriers that stop people moving their business online?
Juan Merodio: The main barrier is knowledge. For me, I think that many business owners, due to a lack of knowledge, are scared of not properly digitising their business. As a result of this fear, they simply don’t build an online presence. This is often exacerbated by a lack of financial resources, since a lack of knowledge or expertise can be solved by hiring qualified professionals. However, not every business is able to afford such external support.
Hendrik Gottschalk: In my opinion, it's a mix of a lack of experience, a lack of courage to change, and an oversupply of options. Where and with what should I start? Who should I contact and what are the first steps? And the all-important question: Who is going to pay for all this?
I think most offline companies are also afraid of losing contact with their customers. What’s more, if they are then only available online, how are they supposed to compete with the big eCommerce sites? A lot of unanswered questions, which contribute to the uncertainty around moving a business online.
Has the pandemic led you to integrate more technology into your business processes?
Carl Reader: Yes it has! We came into the pandemic in a relatively good place compared to some businesses, and I would say we were 90% ready. We had inadvertently built most of the 'pandemic contingency planning' without realising.
We did run into a couple of issues. The first was a very practical point - some team members simply didn't have the tools to remote work! The second was that we had built our setup with the thought that people would only work remotely on occasion, rather than the whole business working remotely full time. This meant that we had to consider how we would manage the things that the office environment usually helps foster - building the culture, connecting teams and increasing transparency of communication.
Barbara Labate: Definitely. In my view, when you have a bigger volume of work every day, you need to incorporate more technology to help your staff and, in turn, your business. Particularly in eCommerce for grocery stores, the last year has been totally crazy. So, technology has been essential.
What advice would you give to those who are starting a business and know very little about the digital resources available?
Rudy Bandiera: I often get asked the question of "how can I start my business? Would you help me out?”. What I usually say is read. There are thousands of books that can help you build your own personal branding, do advertising activities, teach you how to do online advertising. You have to start learning for yourself.
Barbara: I agree. There are tonnes of videos on YouTube if you want to get basic knowledge on how to digitise your business. There are also courses, forums, webinars. It's not that difficult to get a general feeling of what is needed to build your business’ online presence.
Have you been able to automate any of your business processes? If so, how?
Carl: Yes we have, and it is a continual task that we work on in our business. For example, we now have a system which notifies the team when a new client comes on board. This is a process that replaces a manual task, and although it is not a time intensive task, it is one of hundreds - if not thousands – of small jobs that can be eliminated through technology.
As software becomes more open, we are continually reviewing our workflows and processes to look for ways to improve what we do and how we do it. While integrating automation into your business may seem complicated, we have found it is best to approach it with an open mind and a 'blank canvas'- in other words, how would I design this process - and then ask the right questions about how to get there.
Juan: We have also started to include automated processes into the Institute of Talent and Digital Professions (TEDKI). One example of automation that we have implemented is the generation and delivery of course certificates to our students. When a student has completed one of our courses, our system automatically generates his/her diploma with the date, student name and course title. This is then sent to them by email, with an automatically generated link that allows the student to add the certificate to their personal profile on LinkedIn.
If you could magically solve one of your daily tasks with a digital solution, which task you choose?
Hendrik: I would want a digital twin that could take all my phone calls during the day. I sometimes spend 5-6 hours a day on the phone. From customer meetings to internal calls to new customer acquisition. So, with a digital twin, I’d be able to save myself time and get on with other things in my day.
If any of the readers are developing this technology, I would be very keen to call!