Getting a small business off the ground is no mean feat. With so much to think about, it's vital that the supporting business infrastructure is as strong as possible. This is especially true when it comes to technology. Like it or not, nearly every business today needs to be a digital business, and this means you need the right tools - both software and hardware. While small and medium-sized enterprises may not have the resources that their larger counterparts can access, there is a range of low-cost and free tools available that can be useful in helping you compete, provided you have the right networking and connectivity solutions available to support them. Here are a few of the key technology tools you need to grow your firm.
Lets start with something simple: setting up cloud storage. SurePayroll's recent survey showed that 85 per cent of small businesses use a cloud storage provider, with tools such as Google Drive, Dropbox and Apple iCloud among the most popular options. These tools can be extremely useful to small firms and they can be accessed from anywhere and allow documents to be collaborated on by multiple people in real time. Businesses can also use these tools to share larger documents with suppliers or customers – as long as they have a fast, reliable internet connection that can handle large uploads and download efficiently, of course.
These days an increasing amount of business is done away from a desktop PC, as we are increasingly able to access the same content on a tablet or smartphone. This means having access to effective tools that make moving between different devices as simple as possible is vital. If you're a retailer, for instance, a strong wireless connection allows you to take advantage of tools such as mobile POS to conclude a sale on the shop floor. If you're a hospitality company such as a restaurant or coffee shop, customers now expect you to provide fast, free WiFi. Away from the store or office, you're likely to have to keep up with activities wherever you are. Whether it's just checking emails on the move or more in-depth, business-critical processes, a good mobile network is therefore important – it's the difference between completing these tasks successfully and ending up frustrated.
Another popular technology tool is social media. If customers know they're able to get in touch through platforms such as Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, they're likely to have a much better impression of your business. Being active on these platforms makes it easier to reach people directly and appear more personal, improving your overall customer service. SurePayroll's recent study found 94 per cent of small firms use at least one social platform, but only one in ten use management tools to keep on top of this. And it's how you use social that can make the difference. Are you publicising special offers on Twitter? Responding to queries and complaints on Facebook? Whatever you do, you need to respond quickly and offer a personal touch.
Most of us agree it's far better to do business face-to-face than over the phone or email. Previously, options have been limited, with video communications blighted by time delays and poor-quality images. With the faster and more reliable connections available today this has all changed. The popularity of video tools is growing among businesses of all sizes - it cuts travel costs and helps you make better connections with existing and prospective employees, suppliers and customers. Whether you're using Skype, Facetime or a dedicated business tool, a professional, high-quality experience requires a fast, reliable connection. These are just a few of the key tools that small businesses need to take advantage of to be successful in a digital world. But one thing's for sure - whatever technology you use, it won't be truly effective unless it's supported by a fast, reliable internet connection.
Find out more about the connectivity solutions available from TalkTalk Business.
Neill Hughes, Head of Direct New Business and Small Business Service