The pandemic has affected all of us in many ways, with no country escaping the ravaging virus. Businesses have struggled and several thousand across the globe have closed permanently. People have lost jobs to the economic slowdown and family members to the illness. Social distancing rules meant to decrease the viral spread has affected older citizens, children, and those with mental health issues disproportionately.
In the business world, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) have been hit the hardest. They are essential to local economies but also the most vulnerable to any kind of shock – economic or otherwise. Larger corporations have the resources to power through the pandemic or utilize digital technologies like remote working. Small businesses often do not have this buffer. They also tend to employ vulnerable groups of people that are more likely to be affected by a crisis.
In a post-pandemic world, what can a small or medium business do to survive and even thrive? Experts and industry analysts are coming to similar conclusions. SMEs need to adopt digital technologies in order to develop resiliency and compete in the global economy. Digitalization is the name of the game going forward.
Many companies think digitalization is expensive, time-consuming, or too difficult for an SME to implement. It need not be. Digital transformation refers to integrating current and emerging technologies to enhance business processes. It is not a cosmetic or one-time effort either. Putting up a website or e-commerce site is not a digital transformation. It is more of a cultural change and should reflect across all aspects of the company.
Digitalization can pay off big time for SMEs if you do it right. It can help your organization:
Does it sound too good to be true or impossible for an SME to realize? Implementing digital technologies is not a guaranteed recipe for success. Without adequate planning, research, and access to the right tools, digitalization projects can fail. However, it also does not have to be a dream beyond the reach of small companies. Deploying small scale systems can also help you on the digitalization journey. Small steps can add up to big benefits.
SMEs should focus on 5 key areas when going digital. They are:
Communication and information technologies should be first on your list. That’s because it lays the groundwork for other digital systems. Without the basics, it will be hard to leverage more sophisticated tools. A digital communication strategy should include all business channels, including voice, email, video, messaging, texting, etc.
In spite of the proliferation of alternate communications channels (live chat, social media updates, etc.) customers still interact with a business through voice i.e, phone calls. But that doesn’t mean you should still use analog systems that have not adapted well to a digital economy. Switching to a hosted VoIP service is practically a no-brainer at this point. It is inexpensive, effective, and efficient.
A hosted VoIP service can help your business:
A hosted VoIP system can even help you build brand value, improve brand recognition, and retain customers. VoIP is the voice communication standard of the future and should be an integral part of every small business.
We’ve talked about how digital transformation is more than a cosmetic change. It is not sufficient if you just set up a website or a social media account. But these are essentials for every business to have, regardless of size or industry. A digital presence adds value in multiple ways for your business from providing information to customers all the way to better profitability.
Traditional forms of advertising such as commercials or billboard advertisements are often too expensive for SMEs to consider. Today’s media-savvy consumers are also wary of traditional marketing channels. However, a recommendation from their friends on a social media network or a video by a popular channel can do wonders for your brand.
Fortunately, digital marketing strategies are generally inexpensive and much more effective in comparison. Depending on the type of business, effective digital marketing channels include social media networks, search engines, video content providers, and word of mouth marketing. It is also easier for small and medium enterprises to embrace digital marketing tools.
If there is one thing that the pandemic has shown, it is that remote working is no longer a luxury that only large corporations can afford to implement. In fact, experts predict that many organizations will transition to a remote-only work environment over the next decade. Remote working has been the biggest reason for large corporations to have survived this year relatively unscathed. Unfortunately, small businesses do not have access to the necessary infrastructure or digital tools to enable remote working for their own employees.
There’s no better time to take a closer look at remote working and the tools which enable it. Allowing your employees to work from any location – even if it is just their home – at least part-time will help your business become more resilient. You can continue working through a pandemic, a natural disaster, or a man-made one. But what tools do you need to make this happen?
The transition to remote working requires many changes. You will need to consider your current physical infrastructure to support the transition. That might mean improving your data network in terms of speed, bandwidth, hardware, and software. You need to provide your employees with the right equipment to work from home as well. Depending on their job roles, they will need a computer or a laptop, mobile devices for phone calls, a headset and a microphone, a camera for video chats, and so on.
Remote working also requires robust collaboration, monitoring, and reporting tools. Your employees should be able to work on group projects and come together as a team even if they no longer work side-by-side in the office. Similarly, managers and supervisors need adequate tools to ensure their employees stay focused on their tasks and goals.
As a society, the volume of data we generate every day is staggering. Some business entity or the other is recording and storing every search, every click, and every online movement we make. Capturing this data has become very easy thanks to digital tools but storing, retrieving, and analyzing the data for actionable insights is much more difficult. What is the use of storing all this data if you cannot use it? Still, many SMEs collect this data in the hopes that it will be a valuable asset. The truth is that data is valuable only if you can use it when necessary.
Fortunately, there are many digital solutions that can help you manage the data as well as analyze it for useful insights. Many of these services have a free tier for small businesses or reduce rates for such clients. This allows you to try out the service or app and decide if it can add value. Some services focus on data storage, others on easy retrieval and search. Yet others offer powerful tools for data analysis.
Customer data is not the only information that you should store and manage efficiently. Any business generates data such as sensitive financial information, corporate records, employee records, and so on. This data is vital to the continued functioning and success of your business. What would happen if you suddenly lost access to this information? Would you still be able to function?
This is where business continuity and resiliency comes in. Business continuity refers to having a plan to deal with any crisis so that you can keep working with minimal disruption. Take the current pandemic as an example. Businesses that switched to remote working, re-invented their product or service, or otherwise adapted to current conditions are the ones that have seen success.
Once again, digital tools can help. A hosted VoIP service will allow your staff to keep working from any location. A remote workforce can handle minor disruptions much easier as nothing can really affect all your employees at once. Similarly, deploying the proper backup and data security systems can help you maintain access to crucial business data.
As you can readily observe, digitalization is not a short-term thing. It is a long process that will continue throughout the lifetime of your business. New innovations in technology will drive digital transformation continuously. So, take time, do your research, and take the plunge today!
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