Tuesday, 15 March 2022
Small businesses play a critical role in the UK economy, accounting for around 36% of turnover in the private sector. If you dream of an entrepreneurial life then the first step is to identify a gap in the market, finesse the big idea and write your business plan.
But before you start trading, it’s important that you ensure your business has the right tech for now and the future. This quick guide will help demystify the process and ensure your enterprise is set up to succeed in the digital economy.
When you’re starting a business, choosing the right technology is essential to getting things off the ground. Technology will help you reach customers, track sales leads, manage your books and more. It’s also great for simply keeping you organised — a challenge that often gets overlooked in the first few months of starting up.
The problem? There’s so much tech available that it can be hard to choose what’s best for you. You can lose days down the rabbit hole.
Naturally, you’ll want your tech to be easy to use and intuitive. It should serve your current needs and be flexible enough to grow with your business. And, crucially, it shouldn’t cost the earth. So let’s have a look at what you’re likely to need.
1. Get a reliable laptop and phone
If you’re going to be spending a lot of time online, make sure you have a good quality laptop or computer. You need something that’s dependable — the last thing you want is your laptop breaking at an important moment.
Look for fast processing speed and a decent amount of memory. Time is your most valuable asset when you’re running a small business, so don’t let sluggish tech hold you back.
The same goes for your phone. A decent smartphone should see you through your business day, but if you’re worried about receiving business calls in the evenings then think about getting a separate phone.
2. Set up your website
Your website is the window to your business. It’s not just a place to showcase your products and services — it’s also a vital part of building trust with your customers.
It’s normal to be apprehensive about building your own website, particularly if you aren’t tech savvy, but there are many great budget-friendly options for small business owners that make the process simple and quick, such as Wix and Yola.
3. Creating a visual identity for your business
Having a clear brand identity will make your business look more professional, cohesive and trustworthy in the eyes of your customers. It’s something you can create yourself too, using online tools:
Coolors - lets you create a colour palette. You can ‘lock’ colours you like, generate complementary colours and view different shades.
FontPair - pairs two fonts — one for headers, one for body copy — so you can see what looks good together.
Hatchful - by Shopify asks you to fill in your industry and preferred visual style (for example, bold, reliable or elegant) and produces a free logo. You can then edit the colours and font.
Use Canva to create branded images for your business. There are templates for everything from flyers to Instagram Stories, plus free photos, graphics and icons.
4. Record leads in a spreadsheet or CRM
Small business owners don’t necessarily need expensive technology to record leads at an early stage; something simple like a Google Sheets document will work just as well. List names, job titles, companies and sectors, plus whether the person is a warm or cold lead.
However, if you need something more robust, a customer relationship management (CRM) system will organise customer data, log conversations and forecast sales growth.
5. Keep on top of your accounts
Having a good grasp of your numbers will help you work out whether your business is profitable and, if so, how to keep it so. You can also track expenses, set aside money for tax and spot new opportunities for growth.
Accounting technology has come a long way in recent years, and there are plenty of tools designed to make the process simple for small business owners. Alternatively, the cheapest option is to create your own bookkeeping system using spreadsheets.
6. Schedule posts on social media
The accessibility, affordability and reach of social media makes it a valuable tool for small business owners. But, while it’s easy to create a profile on each platform, keeping track of different social accounts can become a full-time job in itself. It’s worth using a scheduling tool, which lets you write and schedule social posts in advance (examples include Hootsuite and Sprout).
7. Organise behind-the-scenes processes
Most people already have something that keeps them organised, whether it’s an online calendar or trusty notebook. And that’s fine — but there are some great tech tools that can help you take that to the next level.
Technology like cloud storage can give your small business an all-important added layer of security, while there are numerous apps to segment and prioritise your to-do list. Here are some of our picks:
Storing and sharing documents
Even if it’s just you in the business, cloud-based storage systems like Dropbox are preferred over hosting your own files. They allow you to save big files online, like images for products or presentations.
Mostly, these systems push you to create a process for keeping your business organised. Saving documents to your desktop might work for you right now, but it will be a nightmare to unpick if you grow your team in the future.
Creating to-do lists
To-do lists tend to get complicated when you’re running a business and, as a result, things can slip through the cracks. Having a centralised place for different tasks should give you a clear overview of everything you have on your plate. Evernote and Trello are useful tools for making lists and tracking notes.
8. Use communication apps to stay in touch
The majority of small businesses are started from home and, chances are, you won’t be in the same room with people you need to speak to regularly. Enter: communication apps.
These apps are essential if you want to maintain regular contact with a co-founder, supplier, freelancer or other small business owners in your area. Best of all, they aren’t restricted to desktops. These apps translate well to smartphones, meaning you can keep in touch when you’re away from your laptop.
All communication apps should let you do the basics — speak to people one-on-one or in groups — but additional features vary. Some lean more towards project management and collaboration, while others are built around file sharing.
Here are a few suggestions:
WhatsApp, Google Chat and Microsoft Teams are good for short, quick messages or updates. Slack is arguably the most popular communication app for teams, but solo business owners will still find it useful. It’s a good all-round tool for chatting, video conferencing and screen sharing remotely. Zoom and Google Meet are popular for video calls and easy to use. Zoom’s free plan has a 40-minute time limit per call, which should be enough time for most meetings.
This guide is an abridged version originally produced by Emma Jones, founder of Enterprise Nation, which has recently partnered with Mastercard to launch Strive UK, an initiative designed to help 650,000 British micro and small businesses thrive in the digital economy over the next few years. Find out more about how Strive UK can help you put your business ideas into action here.