SMEs that embrace technology grow faster than those that haven’t, so what’s holding them back? Business owners share their success stories.
There are countless ways for small businesses to try to spur growth through the use of technology, from the tried-and-trusted creation of a web presence, to the more recent trend of building a chatbot.
A 2016 International Data Corporation report showed that SMEs that had embraced technology were growing faster than those that hadn't – and 39pc of the 3,210 businesses surveyed said that active participation in the digital economy would be essential to future survival. A Barclays Business survey also found that better technology is now considered to be the most important contributor to business growth among SMEs, ousting customer demand from the top spot.
The difficulty, however, is not in finding technology that can help, but choosing the right hardware and software for the most effective growth.
Web apps and widgets
For Edward Currer, creative director at events branding firm, Vinyl Impression, web apps (applications that only run on desktop) and web widgets (applications that provide information to visitors on websites) are key to driving growth and sales.
We’re able to automatically create design templates for clients on the fly
Edward Currer, Vinyl Impression
"The big one is Google's G Suite," he says. "We use Gmail and all the supporting apps – Google Calendar, Sheets, Docs, Drive and more, for £6.60 per person per month."
Quotes are produced on spreadsheets, templates are produced in the drawing app, and because G Suite runs online, everything is continually backed up and available on any computer with an internet connection – and instantly shareable.
"We’re able to automatically create design templates for clients on the fly and ensure that the designs we receive can go straight to print, saving time and money," adds Mr Currer. "This has allowed us to speed up the whole process by a few days, which is vital time in such a fast-paced print industry."
The company is also introducing embedded apps (an app permanently embedded in a device) on its e-commerce website, allowing clients to customise and personalise designs even before the order is submitted. The customer journey is sped up dramatically and they will pay more for this type of customisation, he says.
The strength behind the app is that it will produce a print-ready file that can be automatically sent straight to the printer. It’s full workflow automation at its best, explains Mr Currer.
Increased automation and more efficient workflows have seen Vinyl Impressions grow from a one-man, part-time operation, to a team of 14 staff and seven contractors in fewer than five years.
"It has been the saving grace in the recruitment team," explains talent acquisition manager, Alex Balfe. "It allows us to work on numerous vacancies at once, easily tracking the process of each one, alerting us to any outstanding tasks, and collecting data from each recruitment campaign."
We rely heavily on software to keep our processes streamlined
Alex Balfe, Pod Point
Feedback from the interviewers’ scorecards, which needs to be relayed to the candidate, is among the data sets that Greenhouse can handle. It’s essential information that can be hard to track during the recruitment process.
"This data has been important and has given us visibility on things such as the best job boards for candidate quality, job post-conversion rate and which departments fill roles quicker than others," adds Mr Balfe. The information is used to make future recruitment campaigns more targeted and effective, and increase the quality of candidates.
The team at Pod Point also uses a variety of software solutions, including project planning package, Trello, to cut down on unnecessary admin and emails. In the case of recruitment, for example, every team member can view the process as it happens, with no need for email updates or approvals at every stage.
"We rely heavily on software to keep our processes streamlined," says Mr Balfe. "It has meant that we can do the work of a much larger team in a shorter time frame and with fewer overheads."
Getting ahead in the cloud
Mash Public Relations is using online software platforms to help increase efficiency, automate processes and drive growth.
"One year ago, we mobilised the entire team, as we left our fixed office base and moved into a co-working space," says managing director, Stu Campbell-Carran. "We rid ourselves of all the clutter, including wires, desktop computers and paper. We invested in hardware and software to ensure that the team had the tools needed to improve efficiencies and for the business to grow."
Changes included providing MacBook Airs for the entire team and migrating the company servers to the Box.com for Business platform, which offers bank-level encryption and security, and multiple backups in numerous geographical locations.
The cloud revolutionised the business, with all of the company's software, apps and data being on there, says Mr Campbell-Carran. This means that his team can work anywhere in the world – on all company devices, from phones to computers – and still perform at their best, he adds.
Team morale is up, thanks to flexible and remote working patterns, and apps such as FaceTime, Skype and WhatsApp are used frequently for internal and client-facing communication, cutting down the volume of emails. Switching to Apple hardware has also reduced IT support costs, says Mr Campbell-Carran.
"We’ve adopted SmartSheet for workflow and we use this for client reporting too, which saves a huge amount of admin time across all account teams," he explains. "This is often an area that agencies simply revert to using boring old Excel spreadsheets."
The web-based software works in real-time across mobile devices and computers, which means more instant reporting and task management. Mr Campbell-Carran reports that client retention and satisfaction is higher as a result.