Technology, including computers, phones, and other gadgets, can truly be a tool that enhances your business. Technology can help in these ways:
- Improve efficiency
- Communicate effectively with customers, vendors, investors, and employees
- Track information
- Increase your marketing and sales potential
- Enable effective, ongoing research
However, technology can have a downside as well. Consider these potential technological pitfalls:
- Exorbitant expense of hardware and software
- Crashing systems
- Out-of-date software
- Software that doesn’t do what was promised
- Endless voicemail routing
- Spam email, corrupting viruses, and damage to your system from hackers
- Distraction of employees from productive tasks
- Need for specialized IT staff
How can you use technology appropriately to further your business interests? Review some of these suggestions.
Use the Internet to Extend Your Business
Computers connecting to each other from all around the world – what a few years ago sounded like sci-fi improbability is now an everyday occurrence we participate in without even thinking about it. This interconnectedness — the Internet — can have positive advantages for your business. You can use the Internet to:
- Establish your business “presence” for anyone who wishes to find goods and services similar to what you provide
- Communicate and interface with employees, customers, vendors, and suppliers
- Provide basic information and problem-solving strategies to customers, saving customer service representatives for more difficult issues to resolve
- Allow customers to order your products and services directly
- Work from several locations
- Serve as another medium for advertising or promoting your products or services
- Access search engines (such as Google or TECH-net) to perform research, identify existing products and services, explore competitors, access funding sources, seek grants, and more
Take Advantage of Hardware and Software for Business Functions
A range of electronic devices can help make your business grow. Many of these devices interact with each other. Here are some areas to consider:
- Personal computers are now powerful enough to perform most any administrative, research, or graphics function needed by your business. PCs can also be linked together — or tied into large centralized hard drives that store sensitive and critical information.
- Internal centralized storage devices can hold business data, including sales, accounting, accounts payable, word processing, balance sheets, marketing data, sales materials, training and product guides, and other information that needs to be accessed by people from various departments. These systems provide for efficient backup in case of a power outage or unexpected hardware failure and allow for information to be easily shared or updated from multiple locations.
- Phone systems – including cell phones – can provide customers, employees, vendors, and others with more flexibility in communicating with each other.
- Other external or peripheral devices can enhance your business, including ink-jet and laser printers, photo printers, drawing tablets for illustration and graphic design, label makers, optical readers, fax machines, scanners, production equipment, robotics, cameras, and more.
- Business management software can make almost any aspect of running a business proceed smoothly. Typical software includes word processing, spreadsheet, graphics production, data management, project management, accounting, customer management, product design, and more. A growing trend is for the software company to host the software on their own servers. You access the software via the Internet for a pre-determined fee. The advantage is that you are not responsible for maintaining or troubleshooting the software as it is upgraded.
Which Technology Solutions Are Right for You?
As great as it all seems, technology can be expensive and frustrating. Many new business owners end up purchasing complex systems and software that are inappropriate for them. Avoid the pitfalls of technology by following these steps:
- Get a “second opinion” before making a large technology purchase. Talk to more than one person before making your investment.
- Plan on how you intend secure your technology and data — that is, keep your system safe from outside hackers and spammers as well as from inside theft or sabotage.
- Set up business-wide guidelines on what is acceptable use of the business’s technology. For example, is it okay to send and receive email at the business for personal use? What about Internet “surfing” during work hours?
- Assess how much technology you really do need. Prioritize your “wish list” so that you know where to start. Perhaps it’s with a basic word processing system. Or maybe you could benefit greatly from a laptop loaded with presentations for customers.
- Check out your free resources. The Internet abounds with technology resources for small businesses. Learn how to do a Google or other search to identify sites that may be most helpful to you. Sign up for a few e-newsletters to stay informed about the role of technology in your business.