By Mike Spalding
Whether you run a one-man, home-based business or a large corporation, either social, charitable or profitable – one thing is for sure: utilizing the right technology is a sure way to improve your business!
In fact, it has really gotten to the point where businesses who fail to utilize technology simply can’t compete. So if you are running a business of your own, how can you be sure that you are making the most of the technology available?
Well to get you started, here are a few simple tools that every business should at least consider utilizing.
An Email Client
Email certainly isn’t a new thing, but it’s about the most popular way to communicate online, and in spite of the popularity of other platforms (Facebook, for instance) email certainly isn’t going anywhere.
A surprising number of people still use webmail (where you have to go to a website and log on to see your emails), but for business use this simply isn’t efficient enough. If you don’t already use an email client, download one now. Thunderbird by Mozilla is free and easy to set up.
The main advantages of using an email client include the ability to quickly set up folders and filters to sort your email, you can also have multiple email accounts without having to log in and out all the time and you will see any incoming emails right away.
You can also integrate an address book and move emails between accounts as well as having your emails automatically synchronise on the cloud so that your inbox looks the same on any PC you might use (assuming you use IMAP settings).
Bookkeeping can get complicated for the smallest of businesses and whilst you can certainly use a simple solution like Excel to keep your finances in order you might be causing yourself more headaches down the line.
There are plenty of simple accounting packages available both online or to download, but investing in the right finance software can be the best thing you ever do for your business.
Amongst other things, finance software will help take the headache out of your book keeping. It will allow you to easily keep your finances up to date and give you important information like how much you are spending on different things and how profitable your business is.
Best of all, though, it saves you from having to think about these things; which frees up your time and mental space to worry about actually managing and running your business.
Customer Relationship Management
If you have customers, your business can benefit from CRM software. Unfortunately, many business owners and managers assume that this is the sort of thing that is only helpful for big businesses – they’re wrong.
Using a CRM package (eg. Microsoft Dynamics) you can get a lot of powerful information that can help you to improve your customer service and make your marketing more efficient.
Typical uses might include:
- Integrating marketing and sales channels so that you can apply a cost (time or money) to each channel and see how much revenue it actually generates – even taking into account repeat purchases X months down the line.
- Managing customer communications so that you know what communication you (or any member of staff) have had with the customer. You might set up alerts to remind you to follow up or send out promotional material a certain time after the last communication.
- Integrating your website sales process and finance software in order to manage your business operations from one place – easily comparing actual costs to assumed margins and advertising costs.
VoIP & Messenger Software
Programs like Skype can be very useful if you need to make calls to your clients; they can save you money compared to regular phone calls as well as adding additional functionality (such as multiple phone lines) for a lower cost.
Even if you don’t make a lot of phone calls, being able to add an additional landline number to your website might make your business feel more trustworthy and using messaging features can be a nice way to communicate more effectively with your clients.
Order Processing Software
For any business that sells products or services via a website, the online ordering process is essential, but the back end fulfillment process can often be clunky and inefficient. Whilst you are small this may not be a problem, but what about when you want to grow your business and maybe even sell your inventory via multiple sales channels?
The specific solution to these sorts of problems will depend on how your ordering and fulfillment process works, what your inventory limitations are and which channels you want to use (eBay or Amazon for instance).
But one thing is for sure, using an appropriately integrated order processing package will make the process more efficient and more scalable.