This is a heavily edited update of an article called ‘Go Digital or Die’ written in January 2023, but so much has changed since then!
Adopting new technologies is no longer the sole domain of flashy startups and hi-tech software companies. It is a necessity for every business. Farmers, shop keepers, business consultants.. whoever you are, if you and your business do not dedicate time NOW to understanding the impact that technology – and in particular AI (Artificial Technology) – is having, it will very soon be too late. If you do not change through the adoption of technology, someone else will. And they will be able to do what you do, but they will be able to do it faster, better and cheaper.
When I first wrote about this in January 2023, I hadn’t heard of Chat GPT. Now that I have used it and several other AI tools, I am convinced that within a matter of one or two years, we are going to experience some crushing and devastating developments a result of people innovating in the ways in which they deploy these tools.
This is a warning you can no longer afford to ignore.
Only those businesses that take steps now to change will survive. I am not trying to be over dramatic for the sake of it, I honestly believe there will be some seriously dramatic changes in the ways in which thousands of small businesses operate over the next few years. Even one person businesses. So, if you want your business to survive, you need to get started immediately by working out how you can introduce technology to either do more with the same resources, or to do what you do now, but do it more efficiently.
I know that many small business owners struggle with the idea of introducing technology in to their businesses. ‘Automation processes’, ‘social media management’, ‘CRM’, may be unfamiliar to you but you can, and you must embrace them.
In this blog post, we will explore the reasons why micro businesses find adopting digital technologies challenging and provide a roadmap on how you can overcome the perceived hurdles.
The cost of purchasing and implementing digital technologies can be prohibitively expensive, or it used to be. The reality today is that there are lots of digital solutions that can be implemented for relatively small amounts of money. Often software is charged on a per-user basis, per month. So if you only have one or two users, the cost can be modest. The challenge most people face is having the skills to assess what software they actually need, and assess which solution is best suited to meet those needs.
2. Lack of Technical Expertise
Small companies don’t have an IT department to call and ask for advice, so if there is no one in the business with technical skills, it can seem easier just to keep doing things how you have always done them. There may be a concern that without the technical knowledge or skills you my not be able to effectively use or manage digital systems, so there is a fear that you could end up buying a system that no one really knows how to use properly and so you will fail to generate the benefits of any new technologies deployed. And if you take that view, you are probably right! But if you develop a good plan, get some help and support, and work at it, you will see incredible results. You know and understand how your business works better than anyone else, and technology can help you run it better.
3. Resistance to Change
Some business owners are resistant to change, especially when it comes to changing the way you have always done things. This can make it difficult for them to embrace new technologies and processes, and may well lead you to miss out on the benefits that digital technologies can bring. But introducing technology does not have to mean compromising on the quality of the products or services you provide, you may well be able to increase the quality of your work if you can spend less time on repetitive administrative tasks.
4. Complexity of Technology
The perceived complexity of digital technologies can be a barrier to adoption for businesses. Many small business owners find it challenging to understand new systems. Big systems may well not be suitable for your business, and the great news is that there are some brilliant software solutions available designed specifically for pretty much every niche business type. And of course there will be some time required to learn a new system, but if a system is selected well, and has been designed for your kind of business it should quickly feel intuitive, so the time to adopt it into every day working practices should be quick and painless, and immediately start to deliver results.
5. Data Security Concerns
With the increasing use of digital technologies, there is a natural concern about data security. Adopting digital technologies means that customer information, financial information, and other sensitive data could be vulnerable to theft or hacking. This is a natural concern, and one that should be taken seriously, but with the use of sensible practice and procedures these risks can be managed.
The route to overcoming these challenges for small business owners is laid out below. It will be different for everyone, and no small business owner is likely to be able to do everything all at once. But there are many benefits, including:
- Increased Efficiency: Digital technologies can automate routine tasks and streamline processes, reducing the amount of time and effort required to complete them. This can result in increased efficiency and productivity for small businesses.
- Improved Customer Service: Digital technologies can enable small businesses to provide more personalised and responsive customer service, leading to increased customer satisfaction and loyalty.
- Expanded Reach: Digital technologies can help small businesses reach a wider audience and expand their customer base, both domestically and internationally.
- Lower Costs: Digital technologies can help small businesses reduce their operating costs by reducing the need for manual labor, minimising errors, and streamlining processes.
- Enhanced Data Collection and Analysis: Digital technologies can help small businesses collect, store, and analyse data more effectively, providing valuable insights into their operations and customers.
- Better Collaboration: Digital technologies can improve collaboration among employees and enable remote work, allowing small businesses to access a wider pool of talent and remain competitive.
- Increased Sales: Digital technologies can help small businesses reach more customers, provide more personalised experiences, and increase sales.
- Improved Cash Flow: Digital technologies can automate payment processes, reducing the time it takes to receive payments and improving cash flow for small businesses.
- Increased Agility: Digital technologies can allow small businesses to quickly respond to changes in the market, increasing their agility and competitiveness.
- Improved Access to Capital: Digital technologies can help small businesses access new sources of capital, such as crowdfunding or online lending platforms, enabling them to grow and expand.
The specific benefits and the magnitude of the impact will vary depending on the specific digital technologies adopted, the nature of your business, and other factors. However, the adoption of digital technologies is generally seen as a positive and necessary step for small businesses looking to improve their competitiveness, productivity, and profitability.
So what can you do?
1. Invest in Training: To overcome a lack of technical expertise, invest in training and education. This can be for you or your team, but dedicate some time to improving digital skills. Some councils offers programmes of advice and training, often for free or at very low cost.
2. Seek informal advice: Maybe you are part of a networking group, or a professional body, or have friends who also run small businesses. Talk to them all. Ask them what systems they use, how they find using them, and whether they would recommend them.
3. Work with a Technology Company: Finding a good technology company that specialises in helping small businesses adopt digital technologies can be a brilliant way to accelerate the adoption of solutions for your business. It will not suit everyone to do this, because obviously there is a cost to using their services, but the right company will provide the technical expertise and support that your small businesses needs to get up and running with new systems and software quickly.
4. Take a Step-by-Step Approach: Too much too quickly can be overwhelming. Take a step-by-step approach. This can help you to methodically and effectively adopt new systems and processes without feeling overwhelmed.
5. Prioritise Data Security: Data security is really important, and so you do need to understand what data you plan to gather, store and process. This will require some time understanding the issues, but don’t panic! There is a lot of help out there to make this manageable. You can learn a great deal form the UK Government’s National Cyber Security Centre. The provide free online training, find out more here https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/cyberessentials/overview
6. Embrace Experimentation: Be willing to try new technologies and processes. Usually you can get free trials with systems and you do not have to connect them to anything until you are ready. This will help you to develop new skills and find new ways to improve productivity and profitability.
7. Stay Up-to-Date: Stay up-to-date with technology developments and digital trends. It is easy to subscribe to a few newsletters or blogs. Local digital marketing companies can be good for this, as it LinkedIn. This will help to inspire ideas and to keep skills and knowledge current.
Other businesses are adopting digital tech every day. And once a business starts along this journey, they continue to adapt, modify and improve the ways in which they operate. If you do not adapt, you will eventually suffer the consequences and your business will no longer be viable. This is not just me saying this to sound dramatic, there is a wealth of evidence, and unless you have been living in a cave you know it is true. So do something about it. Start by making a commitment to yourself, that you will adopt more digital and technology solution in 2023. Next search for some local support. Join a networking group for small businesses. Talk to people you know and trust about their use of technology. Then look at your business and think about the areas which could be made more efficient if they were supported by a technology system or software.
By understanding the challenges and taking steps to overcome them, you can fully embrace digital technologies and reap the benefits that they offer.