The scenario is one many business owners discuss with me when talking about early stage growth of their business: “I know where I’d like to be, I don’t know where to start?”, “there’s just not enough hours in the day”, “how do I keep a track of everything and deliver my products/ services on time to my customers”.
All too often we believe we have superpowers, fuelled by the good start to our business; securing those initial deals, cash flow improving within your first year, repeat customers …you can take on the world! Then the day-to-day practicalities of formalising your business practices starts to edge into your thoughts; customer management, staff management, formalising processes, evaluating your services and products. Suddenly your early business success starts to feel like a curse creating an overwhelming burden that keeps you awake at night as you endlessly flick through scenarios in your mind! There just isn’t enough time to do all this you think as you long for sleep.
Once your honeymoon period is over it is vitally important that you invest in yourself as YOU ARE THE BUSINESS. What you need are the right tools for the job, those that will help you formulate the most effective strategy for your business.
One impact of the recent pandemic is the re-energised digital revolution in tools and software to support businesses to improve efficiency, support non-office based working and lower overhead costs. There is now an abundance of cloud-based technology available in to assist all sizes of businesses to formalise and grow and most importantly, manage this process within the hours of the day available!
Let’s look at some of the software tools out there to help you manage the mayhem in your business.
1. CRM Software
With all the clients I have supported to start and grow a business over the last 16 years, one major piece of advice always remains consistent: Market Research and account management. Developing an effective insight of your customers is one of the main actions to help you to drive business growth. A Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system is one of the most essential and needed business tools. In our sector, when I reviewed some of our local competitors as we began to grow, I noticed there was an over reliance on spreadsheets, note taking and other basic manual customer reporting. To set us apart, make us a more attractive employer, provide data analysis, faster reporting and truly evaluate our strategies effectively, we invested both the time and budget in developing a CRM system that worked for us. A good CRM enables you to centrally track, evaluate, and analyse most of the operations related to customer management, enabling you to identify trends in sales, measuring relevant KPI’s and targets and most importantly, it allows you to manage clients more efficiently to maximise your sales.
Spending some time now to map out what you need from your CRM system can benefit your business in so many ways. You need to understand what your requirements are, do you prioritise Lead Management, Client interaction tracking, Sales Automation, Marketing Campaigns or Workflow Automation? What business process need to be integrated and what is the key data you need to track.
A well-designed system will allow you to target your clients for advertising campaigns, prioritise high-value customers, analyse & understand your customer’s demands and communicate with your customers through CRM tools. A badly designed system will cause friction in your processes and with your staff and can be costly in both in the time and money needed to fix it. With a gamut of cloud-based products on the market, there is a wide menu for you to choose from.
My best advice to you is to map out exactly what it is you want from a proposed CRM solution that links all of your operations together at the outset. If budget allows, bring in an external IT consultant to help you draw this plan out, it can be cheaper in the long run. Things start to become costly if you are forever changing your specification and want to “just add this and that” later down the line. Make sure your requirements jigsaw is complete before you commit to a product or service.
2. Effective Communication
Effective clear communication between a workforce and you as their leader should be embedded at the very core of any business.
The ability to communicate clearly your goals, priorities and capabilities both your internally and with contractors, suppliers and customers alike is vital if you wish to achieve the most effective working environment as well as supporting one of the key objectives all business owners desire from their staff; Loyalty!
Communication software and tools are now essential for better collaboration and communication between employees, managers, and external stakeholders.
No matter which type of business you operate, communication is an integral key to growth. The benefits of communication tools include anywhere / anytime conferences with clients and contractors, data transfer through flexible and inexpensive software and the ability to organize important meetings without delay.
Again, one of the business results of the Covid pandemic is of the widespread and development adoption of tools available to help you broaden your communications with employees and customers alike.
Whilst not much will ever beat the traditional face-to-face meeting to build initial rapport, time is a valuable asset so online meetings can give your staff and customers more time and convenience. There are multiple programmes that allow you to meet clients, deliver pitches and presentations or simply keep in touch with your teammates. I have found products such as Microsoft Teams or Zoom provide the basic functionality to help you keep in touch with your teammates whilst MS Teams provides a wider range of online tools including direct messaging, collaborative document editing, meeting scheduling and integration with Microsoft 365. However, ensure you have a clear a communication strategy shared amongst your team otherwise it can become overwhelming when you potentially also utilise emails, texts and phone calls as well. A good rule of thumb I have found is using Teams for catch-ups and meetings with traditional emails for intercompany memos. Whatever you choose to do, ensure you avoid duplication of efforts here.
3. Media Management
Whether you were an early adopter or a reluctant convert as a busy business owner you will no doubt be aware of the importance of social media and email for marketing and awareness.
Yet managing social media with the ever-expanding list of platforms such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc., is a daunting task.
Yet, many businesses don’t know they can automate their social media marketing too.
Managing social media manually and sending emails to potential customers is a time drain.
However, with the use of machine learning and artificial intelligence, you can effectively manage your social media.
There are range of social media management tools such as Sprout Social, SEMrush, Buffer, etc. The programme I have found most useful here is Hootsuite.
These management tools enable you to schedule social media posts across multiple platforms at set times and dates for a whole week or a month. Throughout the month you won’t have to worry about your social media as the scheduling tools keep on top of you posts. This technology has been something of a god send for our business over the years, allowing me to spend a couple of hours at the start of the week to can pre-programme my tweets, facebook and LinkedIn posts to go live to the minute I need them to. Yes, there is a running cost to your business for this, but you are again, really buying that most important commodity for you as a business owner; Time! One consideration you must allow for is that you will still need to be active on social media to respond to any comments. Sadly, Hootsuite can’t, so far, manage this for you.
The type of management tools you’ll require depends on the size of your business, your position in the market, business maturity, and your budget.
However, the above-mentioned tools are important for all types of businesses. Once you start using these tools, the scope of your business activity will be broadened allowing you to develop a robust base for future growth and development.
We live in an era of technology and automation and you will no doubt feel that adopting this is something that you have to do but it’s important before doing so you think about the most important objectives for you and your business. Map out your requirements as specifically as you can and then find the most suitable product for you and ensure that you are up to date with the features and benefits of the products you work with. The information and tools to unlock your business growth are there. Make sure you have the right tools for the job and ultimately….buy yourself back some time!