We hear time and time again that the business landscape changes at an increasingly relenting pace. What once might have been looked at as five years of evolution now occurs in just one, and seasonal changes happen overnight.
The reasoning behind this? Technology, alongside the way in which the internet has levelled the playing field, provided access to unthought of tools for SMEs – establishing a highly adaptable set of workers.
Mark Robinson, market business developer at Canon, echoes that sentiment and believes today’s small business environment is vastly different to what it was five years ago. However, while the internet has opened doors for SMEs to new markets, this has forced each into an environment that has never been more competitive.
“Margins are tight, and if you don’t move fast enough, your competitor – who could be two doors or two continents away – will always be one step ahead of you,” he explained.
“SMEs need to rethink the way they work if they want to survive in this climate. However, this is often easier said than done. We recently surveyed more than one thousand SMEs and SoHos across Europe and found that a third in the UK said that they lacked skills with IT software and hardware.
“Many of them struggle to find and implement the right technology and – most importantly – governance processes, which enable them to become more agile and collaborative, drawing upon valuable resources outside the traditional office environment such as remote staff or freelancers.”
Governance processes include the financial and legal running of your business. From making sure that a company is covered from a liability point of view, to creating a streamlined system for handling accounting practices, they are the essential cogs that often get overlooked when lined up against innovation, personalities and success stories.
Independent retailer Juney Shoo, who is at the helm of a restaurant business in Glasgow, has avoided old-style manual tills and paper sales and stock logs. Instead, she and her team use a combination of fashionable hardware and online software.
The online accounting tool used, recommended by the company’s accountant, helps provide insight for strategic short and long-term decisions.
Using cloud-based information, the team compare weekly and annual sales to help keep track of items being sold well – thus informing on future buying decisions.
Another business to simplify the governance process and allow those at the helm to focus on other things is East London-based coffee shop Shoreditch Grind.
Co-founder David Abrahamovich, whose venture shifts from purveyor of coffee during the day to server of cocktails in the evening, commented: “Running your own business is much more complicated than you might think. Even setting up a coffee shop, there’s a lot of back-office aspects you need to think about – one of which is accounting.
“Working in previous businesses, I’ve often felt a bit disconnected from the finance side of things because there’s always been a finance director or controller that has created the reports. The process has also seemed very static.”
Now that Abrahamovich and Shoreditch Grind are dealing with that online and though the cloud, it provides a way for him to “bring them to life”.
“Running a business on paper or paying thousands of pounds a year for locally-installed software is archaic,” he said. “Every modern business is a technology business – it simply doesn’t make sense to have an accountant come in each week to sift through paper and then tell you two months later how the business is doing.”
The fact that the company’s iPad-based till system integrates with its accountancy software is brilliant, he added, because all the sales go straight into the system. Because it’s in the cloud, he can look at it whenever he likes and the accountants can look at it whenever they like.
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Returning to Canon’s Robinson, he believes a good way of tackling the so-called “status quo” that exists is to examine the internal processes that are slowing you down as a small business entrepreneur, and figure out how they could be streamlined with the variety of digital services each have at their fingertips.
“Take document management, for example: employees often simultaneously work on different versions of the same documents, causing unnecessary delays in verifying and approving them. A signed customer order which can’t be processed quickly has direct implications on an organisation’s revenue,” he added.
“These are pain points which can be easily addressed by office printers and scanners that are connected to cloud services such as Google Cloud Print, Dropbox or Evernote. They make it easy for employees to share, edit and print documents from any internet-connected device, no matter where they are based. In addition, dedicated mobile document management apps also help employees to drive business productivity on the go, for example by using their tablet to share information directly after a client visit, rather than having to wait until they are back in the office.”
Picking up on the theme of having digital services at their fingertips, the team at creative agency Blue Kangaroo Design had to adapt fast to make sure they were able to handle a big client.
The relatively modest ambition of the firm’s founders was blown out of the water when a successful pitch to Disney in the first year of trading turned into a major contract for the business.
Now a company of seven people, it has had to adapt constantly. Managing director Jason Knights said: “Being able to access our financial data at any time and from any device is a major plus. Having international clients, I tend to travel a lot. Rather than passing the time with a newspaper, I can log on and check on outstanding accounts or send out financial statements from the airport.”
Blue Kangaroo, which has projects ranging from the design of packaging, illustration and animated character development to the production of point-of-sale materials and other print work such as flyers, brochures and banners, has realised that while things like client budgets are often beyond influence and control, it can set up a system and use digital tools to keep on top of essential finance and accounting tasks.
He freely admits that the company’s success isn’t down to “cut-throat” financial expertise or strong business acumen, but creative output has been freed up in recent years by the employment of governance management technology – taking away the resource drain that went on before.
“Collaborative technology revolutionises the way employees interact with each other day-to-day. If business owners anchor the processes and the underlying technology in their wider business strategy, they can really make their business thrive,” Robinson concluded.
While we all know that larger companies of scale can employ cross-business technology platforms to free up the time of staff and provide greater insight into how a business is really performing, we have seen that smaller businesses can now easily access these kind of imperative tools. New affordable, flexible and easy technologies are at the fingertips of small business entrepreneurs, allowing each to compete on an unprecedented level.
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