As well as the hard work and long hours their founders put in, most successful small businesses are united by a set of positive common denominators – like having a firm operational foundation, solid marketing strategy, exceptional customer service, a dynamic company culture, and the ability to adapt quickly to change.
By Gareth Hughes, sales manager at Seacom Western Cape
For any company to survive and thrive in tough economic times, these pillars need to be nurtured by innovative leaders with a trusted toolset to support and enable their efforts.
But how do you focus on so many areas when you have a lean team? Smart use of cloud-based software applications is certainly part of the answer. Investing in tools to streamline and support your operational and marketing strategies could solve many of your small business woes. And contrary to popular belief, this doesn’t have to be expensive.
These are just some of the budget-friendly, time-saving tools that are available online, which small businesses should be relying on to help grow their presence, reach, and ultimately their businesses.
Customised domain and email names
One of the first steps towards a corporate ‘coming of age’, is the official registration of a company’s domain name. The next step involves building a business presence with things like customised email accounts and business-based email service. This distinguishes an entity in the marketplace from all the other businesses with email addresses that end in @gmail.com or Hotmail.com.
There are many low-cost web hosting businesses clamouring for corporate clients, but you should choose someone with experience servicing small businesses. Find a hosted email solution that will ensure you look professional and give you access to your emails, calendar and tasks from anywhere. As a bonus, some solutions even offer guaranteed levels of uptime and added security features, like the ability to wipe your phone if it’s lost or stolen.
Microsoft 365 is a cloud-based small business solution comprising familiar products like Word, Excel and PowerPoint, as well as 1 TB of OneDrive cloud storage and security features to keep your data safe. Microsoft 365 is a natural choice for modern companies the world over that are looking for a productivity solution that offers established remote working capabilities across devices together with trusted cloud security.
The plans allow for the use of the Microsoft Office software over the life of the subscription, as well as cloud-based software as a service (SaaS) products for varying business environments. As with most modern cloud solutions, the plans include automatic software updates at no additional charge, as opposed to the traditionally costly range of software licenses and inevitable subsequent versions. If you don’t have the skills or capacity in your small business to implement the software, don’t let that stop you from reaping its productivity benefits. Look for a company that can offer implementation support.
Sage and Xero
When it comes to budgeting and tracking business income and expenses, a proper accounting tool will help you stay on top of things while eliminating the risk of human error. These tools are scalable solutions that give you access to expert accounting services, without having to pay for an expert accountant!
With an estimated customer base of a million users, Sage gives you the tools to manage all aspects of your business – from accounting to payroll and everything in-between. You can view and manage all of it within one cloud solution.
Another fantastic option is Xero. This programme is compatible with over 800 apps and has proven to be beneficial in maintaining the financial health of a wide range of businesses and industries. Whether you need to perform reconciliations, create invoices or process expense claims, you can do it all on the go with Xero. They’ll even give you a 30-day free trial, so you can test the waters.
Google Ads and Facebook for Business
It’s estimated that Google receives over 63 000 searches per second on any given day. With potential exposure like that, which business – big or small – wouldn’t be clamouring to be the top needle in the digital haystack? Google Ads promises to “get you in front of customers when they’re already searching for businesses like yours”; which is the equivalent of being registered as Able Ablutioners in the front of the telephone directory, back in the day. The ROI can be high, especially for small businesses, when you consider that their pricing model is results-based. So you only pay for outcomes, like clicks to the company’s website or calls to the business.
Similarly, with over 2.7 billion monthly active users worldwide, Facebook’s reach is staggering. Ten years after the advent of Facebook for Business, brands are considered to be conspicuous by their absence if they don’t have a Facebook page and relevant presence. Facebook for Business promises to help organisations engage their customers and keep them informed by offering “the latest news, advertising tips, best practices and case studies for using Facebook to meet your business goals.” Setting up a business page is free, and using Facebook Ads is highly affordable, as users can pre-determine their spend based on their available budget and the cost of each result. You can also target the exact market you want to reach, down to interests and geographical area.
Mailchimp is an all-in-one integrated marketing platform that caters specifically for small businesses. It’s a must-have for companies looking to start and maintain quality conversations with their customers via email marketing and newsletters. They have varying packages and price plans, offering companies financial flexibility based on their individual needs. The tool helps businesses segment mailing lists so that their messaging can be targeted and tailored according to the needs of their various customers. Customer behaviour can be tracked to see what kind of content has traction with their audience and what doesn’t.
Whether Mailchimp is used to help build lists or entire campaigns, its cost-effective offering is established, and their results are tangible. As a bonus, Mailchimp integrates comfortably with other small business services and products, like Freshbooks, Google Analytics, Facebook, WordPress and Magento.
The sustainability of small businesses, both now and in the future, will depend on integrating cloud-based products and toolsets like these that can grow with a company and accommodate its changing needs in a challenging environment. If you don’t have the digital skills in your business to implement some of these services, find someone who does.