SARA MURRAY: How to use IT to drive growth

The Confused.com founder on why staying ahead of the technology curve is crucial to small business' survival.

by MT Staff
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013
I was pleased to read research by the Epson Business Council, which said half of British small businesses believe that IT’s an integral part of how they drive growth.

Coming from a technology background, I can’t stress how important this is to make time for: the rate of technological change is happening at such a pace that business models are literally collapsing – just look at Kodak, ousted by digital photography. What was surprising from the research, though, was to find that despite our enthusiasm, British small businesses are lagging way behind their European peers.

With limited resources and often too much choice, working out what to do about IT can be a minefield for businesses. When do you shake off the old adage, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’?

Dispel myths about technology.
You may be a small business, but your technology doesn’t have to reflect that. In the past many of the benefits of new technology have only been available to large organisations with vast resources. Now many new technologies are available to micro businesses in far more manageable forms – whether that’s cutting your costs with cloud computing or presenting a professional edge with modern projection and presentation technology.

Seek out free advice
If the jargon becomes too much, try forums: many small business owners in the UK are incredibly active on them, and will gladly volunteer advice. Lots of small business websites have good networking facilities where you can post questions on all business related queries on everything including accounting and finance, business technology, sales and marketing and business growth.

Don’t underestimate the power of good IT support
Many start-ups understandably don’t have a dedicated IT manager. But someone needs to make sure the company’s technology can withstand growth.  Pick a provider based on a recommendation – on the proviso that they can supply and support turnkey technology for your business. Bring them into strategic conversations about your business processes and don’t just think of them as a resource to fix your laptop.

Think differently about IT
According to Epson’s research, the average British small business manager spends half an hour a day on IT. There seems to be a feeling that the aspirations of small business aren’t being matched by intelligent use of technology – which brings you back to thinking about whether your technology is really suited to the purposes you’re putting it. Is there a better way to file purchase orders? To model revenues? To plan for change? To find and recruit new staff?

Research the cloud
Cloud Computing can cut a considerable amount out of your budget. Cloud services are usually very secure (always research your provider, though) and provide flexibility and often the possibility of creating new workflows, business processes and even business models.

Understand the technology lifecycle
Deciding when to replace you technology is difficult, especially when budgets are tight. Two years is usually appropriate, but some technologies may need to be replaced more often – and others can cope with being depreciated for a third year. To decide when it needs replacing, work out whether that technology is restricting you. To take a simple example; a new inkjet printer with half the running costs of your battered old laser could pay for itself in months.

Are your employees an untapped resource?
Most people born after 1980 use services delivered over the web, albeit often as consumers rather than in a business context – and those born after 1990 never knew any different. The point is, your staff might be valuable assets for technology innovation thanks to their experiences growing up with the web.

Think about what your technology says about you
First impressions count. The right technology used in the right way can help close a deal with customers. Whether it’s delivering a slick front-desk image or presenting a crisp and clear presentation on a new projector, the right equipment can go a long way to creating a positive image for the business.  

- Sara Murray, entrepreneur and founder of Confused.com and personal emergency response service buddi.co.uk, is one of the entrepreneurs who spoke at the 2011 Epson Business Council – follow the discussion on these and other small business issues at the Epson Business Blog.

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