This is how technology will grow your business
With online services being able to take on a huge range of tasks from book-keeping to customer service, things that used to require a staff and premises to have them work in, it’s no surprise that the level of self-employment in the UK has been rapidly rising since the early 2000s.
These same services are now giving businesses of all sizes the ability to start cheaply, grow quickly and change rapidly to make the most of market conditions.
Starting up is cheap
Cloud storage has completely eradicated the need for an expensive hardware buy before you start trading. Services like Dropbox and G Suite (formerly Google Apps) let you add users to your cloud storage for a few pounds a month, all locked down with enterprise-grade security and user permissions to make sure that people only see what they should see. G Suite also gives your business an email and office suite, meaning you no longer have to buy your own email server or even shell out for the Microsoft Office software (though they do now offer a similar monthly subscription themselves — Office365).
And even better, most of these services have a free tier, letting you get started with the services without any cost until you’re ready to expand.
Growing is instant
Basing your software and storage on cloud services means that you can grow your business in a couple of clicks. Need to add three more sales people? You can instantly connect them to your email, documents, CRM, everything they need to do their job. All it takes is a few clicks through your admin panel and you can add them to your monthly subscription.
The same is true for storage capacity or more advanced reporting features — move up to a higher plan when your business is ready. There’s no large upfront payments, just an increase in your monthly charges, making growth seamless.
This also gives you much more flexibility. If you need to temporarily increase your capacity for a project, you can do just that and then downgrade again when you’re finished.
Testing gets you perfection
Cloud services open up a whole realm of low-risk experimentation where expanding and retooling your workforce is instant, low cost and no commitment. Business ideas can be launched quickly and tested in the real world before any large financial commitment needs to be made.
The same strategy works for websites. At Onward Studios we regularly recommend building a landing page generator for our customers. This lets you create a lead capture page with wording customised to a specific advert or article, which can boost the click through rate by up to 40%. The modern web technologies underpinning our sites mean that creating a new landing page is as simple as filling in 4 boxes — it can be done in less than 30 seconds.
This kind of agility allows businesses to get new ideas up, running and out on the web in less time than it takes to have a meeting about it. And when you can react that quickly to changing events, you stay several steps ahead of your competitors, making the most of every opportunity.
Proof is power
Moving fast and implementing dozens of ideas is all well and good, but as a business you still need to know what actually works. Online analytics is now a mature and capable industry and whatever your scale and budget you’ll be able to find a service that lets you capture the data you need.
Whereas the early days of web analytics mostly just told you which pages on your site were most popular, now you can make out patterns of customer behaviour across any touchpoint. You can see if customers in the USA respond better to your hard or soft sell marketing page. You can see if people you send your email newsletter to are more likely to buy from you during the week or at the weekend. You can see if people who click on your advert on Google are more likely to become return customers than people who found you through LinkedIn. All of this data helps you find out your most valuable customer stories and invest in the ones most likely to be profitable.
The same technology can empower your sales team too. Many CRM and business email services now let you track when recipients open your messages or click on links in them. You can find out how long people read documents you send them and you can set up automated follow-up messages that get delivered right when you’re at the front of your customer’s mind.
Engaging with your customers is effortless
Customer service is one area of business that definitely requires a human touch, but with the right software supporting you, you can do far more with a smaller team than ever before.
It’s a basic tenant of customer relationship management — keep talking to keep your relationship healthy. With smart email templates that can automatically chase up with leads and customers, it’s easier than ever to keep on top of your check-ins and avoid anyone falling through the gaps.
Social media scheduling of your blogs and news, along with your organic posts, gives you an excellent way of staying in people’s minds without seeming pushy or salesy. And when the time is right, having a chat box on your website offers a natural, casual way to start a conversation.
The Robots are coming... to help you
Don’t be afraid. While Google’s artificial intelligence is starting to dream and Facebook’s is inventing its own language, neither are about to turn into SkyNet and destroy us. And the benefits of passing over some tasks to our software friends can be huge.
Automation allows us to tie together the services we use online so that we can avoid wasting time and making errors doing double entry of data. Imagine the time that can be saved by getting your web analytics to automatically create specific reports on aspects of website performance for the right people in your business. Have a list of your most successful blogs sent to all your contributors each week. Or have the best and worst performing adverts sent to your Head of Marketing. All without any need for human input.
And the opportunities for automation don’t stop with reporting. Most major online services now allow for API access so they can talk to other software. You can automatically capture customer enquiries, add them to your CRM and set them up with the correct account manager along with a task for them to get in touch.
There are countless possibilities, as unique as your business. Freeing your human employees from tasks of drudgery allows them to focus on what humans are good at: ideas and planning. Let the robots handle the data-crunching, your staff and your bottom-line will thank you for it.
3. Write a daily list
I’ve found that working straight from my Trello list tends to end with me getting distracted by my other tasks. So every morning I look at my task list and write down (using pen and paper like some sort of caveman) the three vital tasks that I MUST do that day.
This has been far more effective than I expected.
By physically writing down your tasks, you start your brain engaging with them, and you’re left with a distraction-free list of work to do. Only once those vital things have been done do you go back to the master list. Or take a nap. Whatever takes your fancy.
4. Kill the distractions
We can’t multitask.
Really, we can’t. Our brains just won’t work that way. And the nearest we can get — rapidly switching between several tasks — leaves none of them getting done well. In fact, studies have shown that after switching tasks it can take our brains up to 20 minutes to settle in to proper work again.
And we can only concentrate for about 25 minutes. Seriously, our brains are rubbish at focussing on lots of things at once AND at focussing on one thing for a long time.
So, we work with what we’ve got, using this variant of the Pomodoro technique:
NOTE: The original Pomodoro technique says to do four 25 minute sessions then take a long break, but I’ve found it easier to concentrate when I take my long breaks between tasks. Your mileage may vary.
There are some more great tips for motivating yourself at work in this article from Toptal: