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What can you do with tech?

iPhone or Android? Google or Bing? GMail or Hotmail, Office365 or your own home-grown thing? It doesn’t matter – what you use isn’t the point. HOW you use it, and how well, is what’s important.

Last week, we asked what can tech do for you. This week, the question is “what is tech good for , anyway?” Everybody talks about tech this, that and the other thing but, beyond the buzzwords and gibberish – is there any practical business value, or is tech just a thing for young people to take selfies and text their friends?

Actually, as with any tool set, the value of technology depends on how clearly you understand what you’re doing, and what you want to accomplish. The business case for any tool set basically comes down to answering a core set of questions:

  • What does your business do?
  • Who does it do it for?
  • How does it get things done?
  • How do you organize things?
  • What can be automated, streamlined or converted to a digital asset or process?

What does your business do?

“Business” is not just hustling customers for money – business is providing value for a particular market. Do you really understand who your market is, and what value you provide for them? Here at CommunIT Solutions, our market is primarily small business between 2 – 5 years old, with fewer than 20 total staff, that are making the move from a loose collection of “stuff” to a real, functional infrastructure. The value we provide is creating stable, flexible working environments that don’t cost a bundle, are simple enough to be managed “in-house”, and are design to grow with the company as it expands and matures.

By understanding “what we do”, we realize (actually, we’ve learned through a lot of trial, error and customer feedback) that nobody wants to hear a bunch of acronyms and sales pitches for expensive hardware and complicated programs. Our clients want to serve their customers well, save time and make more money – whatever we can do to help them do that, works. Everything else is wasting their time.

How does this relate to your company? Are you using email, text messaging and social media to stay in constant, timely communication with your clients? Does your website tell potential customers what you can do for them, or is it just an online brochure that looks like it’s stuck in the 1990s? Do you use electronic calendars and invites via email to manage your time efficiently, and keep everyone on the same page? Notice – I didn’t mention a single brand name here. It’s not about which tech you choose; it’s about which tool you use.

Who does it do it for?

In the work I do with entrepreneurs and small business owners and operators, I often ask the question “who is your target market?”  Very often I’ll hear the same wrong answer: “Everybody”. If your customer is everyone, then your customer is nobody at all.

It may seem like the clever answer to say “I’ll do business with anyone that has money”, but the truth is if you haven’t narrowed your focus to your true market, than you don’t know how to properly, well… market to them. If you find yourself asking the question “how do I use social media as a business tool?”, that reveals that you probably have no idea who your audience is, or what value message you have to offer them. In the 21st century, sales is not about hustling people to write the check; it’s about communicating that you have something of value that’s worth more than whatever price you’re charging for it.

Once you have a solid idea of who your market is, it should become easier to figure out what you can use tech to do. Do you provide a service to local customers in the real world? Adding an appointment app to your website that allows prospective clients to book time with you, add the appointment to both your calendar and theirs, and send out automatic reminders as the scheduled date and time approach, is just one example of how tech can help you serve the people you do – and hope to do – business with. Which platform you use to build your website isn’t even the important thing – how your website serves your business and your customers is what matters.

How does it get things done?

Are you still using programs that exist only on your PC or Mac desktop? Are your phone apps web based, so you can easily synchronize them across multiple devices, and access your information from anywhere? Does your app or program store your files and information in a standard format that can be accessed by other programs – or are you trapped and locked in, and stuck in the event that the program stops working, or is no longer supported by the company that provided it?

Even Microsoft Word files and Excel spreadsheets can be opened and edited by other programs – with varying degrees of success, to be sure, but you aren’t limited to using only those programs. And with a free account (formerly Hotmail), you can access version of Word, Excel and PowerPoint online, for FREE. Calendar events created in Google Calendar can send invitations that can be imported into the desktop version of Outlook and Mac Mail, other third party email tools and most web-based email services. Many useful tools such as task management and free-form outlining can be provided by web-based tools that have apps for both the iPhone and Android platform – and some even have desktop programs as well.

Many of these tools are free, at least for a small group of users or with a limited set of features compared to the paid version. Most will be more than enough to get you going if you aren’t using any tools at all. Check out my back catalog of blog posts for my two “Top Five Tech Tools” series, on tools you most likely aren’t using but should be, and tools you probably are using but could be using better.

How do you organize things?

Do you have folders on your hard drive named “New Folder”? Come one… tell the truth. Or any Word documents titled “Document (1)”??

We use the terms “file” and “folder” because the concept is that we are imitating the way we (used to) store things in a metal filing cabinet. However, if we’re honest with ourselves, the way we store things on our hard drives is more like stuffing them into a giant junk drawer. How often have you downloaded a file from the Internet several times… because you couldn’t remember what folder your downloads are saved in? Or ended up with multiple copies of the same document, because you just save them in any old folder, and then forget which folder that was.

Computers allow us to do anything we can, any way we want. What they DON’T do is impose any sort of method of organizing things. We’re free to be as disorganized online and on our hard drives are we are in real life. With the ability to store TERABYTES of data now, that can quickly and easily become frustratingly disorganized. It’s not just that we’re wasting space — we’re wasting TIME, the most valuable component of any Small Business effort.

Think about it: if you were filing physical documents in a filing cabinet, you wouldn’t just open up any old drawer, close your eyes and stuff it in, hoping you could somehow fish it out later. So why store your digital files that way? Come up with some kind of a system – any kind, really, as long as it’s one that you can readily understand, consistently use and easily manage.

Create folders by subject, customer, location, date, whatever makes sense. Name your documents based on the content within and the purpose the document was created, so you can remember what’s in them without even have to open the up and read the words inside. Someone who has never accessed your computer should be able to look at your folder structure and the files within, and make sense of what’s going on without you having to explain it to them. If not, you really need to get your act together. You’ll save lots of time and avoid headaches and frustration in the long run.

What can be automated, streamlined or converted to a digital asset or process?

While we can reproduce the things we do in the physical world online and on our computers, the distinct advantage of the digital age is that we can do things that can ONLY be done electronically.

Are you still writing down appointments on paper – on a wall calendar or a blotter on your desktop? I’m sure that may be “the way you’ve always done it”… but aren’t you tired of double-booking, running late and missing appointments entirely? With electronic calendars, your appointments are always up-to-date, can warn you of scheduling conflicts and can send you multiple reminders as the date of the appointment approaches. Try doing that with a wall calendar.

Please tell me you’re not still taking checks for payment, this far into the 21st Century. EVERYONE has some form of plastic, be it credit or debit card. And with a PayPal, Square, Stripe or Wave Accounting account, you can send digital invoices and get paid electronically, improving your cash flow and eliminating bounced checks or delays caused by “clearing days”, waiting for your money to arrive.

Here’s a simple trick, so easy you’ll be amazed if you aren’t already doing this. Ever have a great idea come to you, only to forget it within a few hours? If you have any type of smartphone, it has a built-in audio recorder app. Voice recording takes up very little space, and you can record for hours on the lowest-level budget phone with limited storage. Drag the audio app to your phone’s home screen, and get into the habit of recording a “note to self” when these brilliant ideas occur. In less than a month of doing this, you’ll be surprised at how many of the fleeting ideas you come up with are actually good ones – now that you can remember and recall them.

These are just a few brief examples literally “off the top of my head”. The computers, smartphones and online accounts you possess are for much more than just doing the old things in a new way. Invent entirely new ways of managing Your Small Business, harnessing your thoughts and ideas, coordinating your activity and pursuing your goals and dreams. The future is here, right now, and it is literally in your hands…