People standing in an office

Small business, big growth

Modern technology, disruption and generational change are opportunities, not challenges. Here’s how SMEs can test, learn and fly high.

Keep current

One of the most damaging false economies SMEs can make is to assume that they’re saving money by delaying upgrades to their information technology.

After your product, there are three critical investments for most SMEs: your team’s technology; your website; and your digital marketing. Keep all of them modern and functioning at their best to retain happy and highly productive staff and engaged and satisfied customers.

The 2019 SME Agenda found that 47% of employees aged 18 to 44 believed that their small businesses needed more technology. Deloitte has predicted that by 2025, millennials will make up 75% of the workforce so it’s a given that SMEs will need innovative technology to attract and retain top talent.

A customer’s first experience with your business may be via your website. “We have a beautiful bricks and mortar store but went hard on our website four years ago,” says Corrie Perkin, owner of My Bookstore in Hawksburn, Melbourne. “It’s less for sales, although the numbers are increasing, but it’s an important marketing and resource tool. A lot of customers come into the shop for a book they saw on the website.”

There are plenty of plug-and-play website builders, such as Squarespace and Wix. Paying a developer to build a website can be expensive so do your research; business.gov.au is a solid place to start. Yellow, an Australian brand born out of the Yellow Pages, offers services such as a free digital check-up to ensure your website ranks high in search, is optimised for mobile and loads quickly. The Yellow Business Hub has a feast of free educational tips, videos, articles and case studies from digital content specialists.

Don’t create pay walls

Cash is no longer king and you’re leaving money on the table if you’re not ready to take any and every kind of payment.

A cash-only business may leave an unwanted impression on your customer. Research by the Australian Tax Office (ATO) found that half of the people surveyed thought of it as inconvenient and two-thirds wondered about the honesty of the operation. Tap- and-go payments cost nine cents less than a cash transaction and take 20 seconds versus 38 for handling cash. Electronic payments also improve record keeping and security and ensure tax obligations are met.

Woman using eftpos machine

“Busy small business owners and staff want a seamless experience to accept payments,” says Sam Edmond, digital marketing director at payments service provider Live eftpos, which focuses on SMEs and has more than 8000 Australian merchants using its systems. “We make it easy for business owners to get paid by integrating as many payment options into our device as possible. So our customers never lose a customer because they can’t accept a specific type of payment.”

Voice control machine

Embrace digital tools

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that digital transformation is too hard: it adds precision, uncovers opportunities and grows your bottom line.

If you use an entertainment streaming service, a navigation app or a voice-controlled digital  assistant – Siri, Alexa or Google Home – you’re already immersed in the world of artificial intelligence (AI). 

Data science is a heady mix of algorithms combining data with AI, machine learning, natural-language processing and voice recognition. Digital tools are already making your everyday life easier so every SME should focus on bringing these capabilities into their business – or risk being left behind.

The government’s Small Business Digital Taskforce last year found that while most SMEs blame not taking advantage of digital tools on a lack of time, businesses should realise that going digital can in fact save time, increase flexibility, reach new markets and protect their company. The taskforce prepared 11 case studies, including a hairdresser, plumber and pool-supplies company, who’d all grown their businesses by using digital tools. The report noted that an overwhelming amount of information and a lack of knowledge on where to look and who to trust had also delayed the uptake of digital tools in many small businesses.

Starting with a tool or service that’s widely used is a good way to test and learn. Deputy.com is a homegrown automated rostering app that’s a global hit, serving businesses as big as Amazon and as small as a local bistro. Its aim is to set humans free from the often nightmarish task of scheduling shifts, holidays and finding fill-ins; the algorithms crunch the numbers and notifications go directly to staff. The app has dozens of bells and whistles to suit all manner of staffing situations and is integrated with numerous payroll and performance-management systems.

By definition, ecommerce businesses know the power of digital. If that’s your game, ensure you’re exploring the latest AI tools. They can enhance personalisation so the right message is getting to the right person, fine-tune your marketing budget and track leads and convert them to sales. Smart chatbots let you provide instant customer service around the clock. When deploying something new, test it first to see if it’s right for your business – you should be able to control how assertively your tools behave. Most offer free trials with a no-obligation period so try a few before you dive in.

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