Top 5 Small Business Strategies that will Drive Success in 2018
Starting and scaling a business is a lot easier today than it was as recently as 10 years ago. Advancements in areas such as technology and infrastructure have paved the way for an easier execution of tasks which used to be highly complicated. For instance, creating a website can now be achieved by a non-technical person through platforms such as Wix. Accounting tasks can be undertaken by an unskilled person using Quickbooks. Marketing campaigns of all magnitudes can be easily conducted through social media platforms like Facebook.
Such advancements ultimately mean that the level of competition is intensifying every day. More people can start and grow their own ventures because it is relatively easier than it used to be. It also means that more strategic business plans are required in order to enhance the chances of survival in the dense environment.
A powerful approach which is yet to be fully exploited by small businesses is the automation of tedious and repetitive tasks. Companies often incur unnecessary expenses without knowing that they are avoidable. For example, a company operating on a tight budget does not need to employ people to do menial tasks such as book keeping and social media account management. The year is 2017 and there are tons of computer programs that can be used to automate such work.
Automating repetitive tasks frees up a lot of time and resources which can be refocused on other areas that require more cognitive effort. Such areas may include product development and customer acquisition. Avoiding unnecessary expenses is a fundamental practice that is imperative for success. A $20 expense that can be avoided each day from operations will result to $7,300 being saved at the end of the year.
Here are 5 small business strategies that can be combined with ‘automation’ in order to give companies a much needed advantage come 2018.
- Integrate a chat bot
Ever had a conversation with a chat bot? If not, well then, it is my pleasure to introduce you to Mitsuku.
Don’t be rude, go say hello. (Click ‘chat using flash’ if you’re on a computer)
Chat bots are artificially intelligent computer programs that have been designed to replicate human conversations. For instance, you may ask a chat bot ‘What is the weather going to be like today?’, and it will instantly generate a response using data that has been derived from the internet. ‘It looks like it is going to be a sunny day’. The entire conversation is in a chat format, very similar to a real chat between two people.
There are several platforms that allow chat bot integrations, including Facebook Messenger, Slack, iMessage etc. Rather than spending a lot of time and money responding to every individual query, or even worse, ignoring them, small businesses can start to streamline the process by using chat bots as the first line of communication with consumers.
While the concept might sound too complicated to even consider, there has actually been tremendous advancements in the development of tools that enable businesses create custom chat bots. For instance, Chattypeople enables a business to easily create Facebook chat bots without the need for any coding. MEOKAY on the other hand enables both developers and non-developers to create custom chat bots using conversational scenarios and advanced dialogues.
The greatest advantage of chat bots is that, being computer programs – they are available 24/7. A customer that leaves a query receives an instant response, regardless of the time of the day. They can also scan through massive databases to find information much quicker than a human would. If set up correctly, chat bots can be a massive boost to the customer experience while eliminating the costs associated with hiring personnel.
- Integrate online storefronts
Despite ecommerce being nothing new, the number of businesses that are yet to adopt it is staggering. Online storefronts can be an integral addition to any business. From a customer’s point of view, there is nothing as frustrating as being unable to buy products or services which you desperately seek. We are in 2017 for crying out loud, everything should be accessible at the click of a button. Integrating ecommerce is a small business strategy that can be adapted to help drive even further growth in 2018.
Most consumers tend to conduct online research before making a purchase; online storefronts enables companies to convert such people at the point of research. The easier it is to buy a product, the more the product will sell. Ecommerce can be added to most B2C businesses such as shoe shops, food delivery, consultation services, car hires, etc.
The online space gives companies further room to be creative and strategic in their customer acquisition. For example, a recent survey showed that 58 percent of consumers would be willing to add more items to their virtual shopping carts ‘in order to qualify for free shipping’.
- Use cloud computing
Cloud computing allows companies to conveniently access all their internal software and data remotely. Such may include things like files, applications, customer information, server performances, emails, databases, etc. Using a cloud service is comparable to renting a house versus buying one.
Instead of buying IT requirements and hiring people to install and maintain them, you simply rent the same requirements from a service provider and only pay for what you use. For example, website servers are usually a headache to maintain; a small business can instead rent the server space from a remote hosting provider.
The benefit of subscribing for such services is that all maintenance and performance related issues become the responsibility of the cloud service provider. The business will also no longer need to pay salaries to IT staff, worry about system upgrades or pay massive energy bills.
There are several types of cloud computing services that can cater for specific business needs. Salesforce enables businesses to conveniently collect information on all their customers, prospects, and leads at any time and using any device. Microsoft 365 enables users to create, edit and share Microsoft Office applications such as Word, PowerPoint and Excel from any devices with internet connectivity. There are numerous other examples of cloud services that can be leveraged to improve the operational efficiencies and reduce traditional costs.
- Reputation is king. Control your online environment
As per the Independent We Stand (IWS) research findings, 97 percent of internet users conduct online research on before making their purchase decisions. Such consumers will browse through several websites in order to uncover any useful information, and are likely to lose confidence if such information is unavailable. Why would anyone spend money on a business that has no credibility?
Two things are key; the establishment a strong online presence, and retaining as much control over it as much as possible. The internet is the first place that modern customers go looking for products/services and any negative remarks will definitely put them off.
While it may be impossible to control everything that gets published online, companies can to some extent control the content appearing on the first page of the Google search results. Social media accounts on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn often appear as top results whenever consumers search a company’s name. Creating several social accounts will help control the information that is displayed on first page of the Search Engine Results Page (SERP).
- Outsource some work
Repetitive types of work such as bookkeeping and customer support do not always necessitate hiring fulltime employees. A freelancer is a self-employed person who offers his or her skills and expertise to businesses as a short term contractor. Delegating work to freelancers can be more economical than hiring full time employees for the same job because businesses can avoid the burden of paying monthly salaries, taxes or insurance. Depending on the amount of work delegated to remote workers, a company might not even need to rent an office.
Many freelancers are highly qualified experts with years of experience. Small business can greatly benefit by having such experienced personnel on board. There are several outsourcing platforms that can be used to find such professionals, including Upwork, Freelancer and Guru.
Some tasks that can be outsourced include social media marketing, web development, graphic designing, accounting, customer support, HR consultation, IT, etc. Theoretically, remote freelancers can do everything that in-house employees can do, except maybe bring you coffee.