Some things in life are hard. Swimming the English Channel. Getting a PhD. Losing weight. Sitting through an entire episode of Duck Dynasty. Not many people can do these things. And I respect those that can.
Running a business, despite what many people might say, is not as hard as you think. The key is to keep things simple. I’ve learned this from hundreds of successful entrepreneurs. You sell your products or services for a price higher than what it cost to make. You do what you know and love and try not to pretend you’re something else. You never believe that past success guarantees future success. These are simple ideas. But they work. Every single time.
The same goes for technology. We live in a complex technological world. We are inundated with new technologies that promise to improve our companies, increase productivity and help us be more profitable. But really – it’s not the technologies. It’s how you harness them so that they simplify your business. For example:
1. Get an IT Healthcheck. Just the other week it was reported that a new malware is circulating the Internet and (for now) targeting companies in the UK. It installs a piece of “ransomware” called Cryptolocker on computers running the Windows operating system and is targeting small businesses. The ransom demands that the user pay two Bitcoins, a virtual currency, that would be worth £536 to release the decryption key. Awesome! Imagine how this is complicating the lives of so many small business owners. Things don’t have to be so complicated. Make sure you’re protected. Not sure? Then take a few minutes and go through this IT Healthcheck. It will go a long way towards simplifying your life.
2. Have a contact management system. A recent survey of more than 5,000 customer relationship management application software buyers conducted by Software Advice, an online buyer’s resource, found that 90% of these buyers were more interested in contact management than customer relationship management. There’s a reason for this. Most of us don’t need all that complexity. All we need is a simple database with all of the people and companies who interact with our company and a simple way to take notes, schedule follow-ups and record our interactions. Most of us don’t need sales force automation, lead management, big data or social CRM. Those are all buzzwords targeted at large or niche companies. We just want to make sure that someone is following up on a quote, or that a customer is not falling through the cracks, or that a reminder gets sent to a salesman. You can’t really buy a “contact management system” anymore because they’re all calling themselves CRM systems. Go ahead and get a CRM system – but only pay for the contact management features first if you can. In most cases they may be all that you all need for a while.
3. Slowly but surely move yourself to the cloud. Cloud based applications and services can still be more expensive over the long term and suffer from performance issues. But both issues are slowly getting better. The big Web Services brands like Amazon are bringing out products that make virtual desktop connections easier and less expensive. We can expect other companies providing application hosting services to follow suit. Online connectivity is also getting better thanks to 4G networks and improved bandwidth. As the infrastructure improves and the prices go down, moving our existing applications and databases to the cloud becomes an easier decision. And it will make your business much, much less complicated. You will no longer have to deal with servers, security, software updates, remote access and virus protection. Gradually, this is happening.
4. Create a one-page flash report. Accounting and business management software has become so complicated over the years. You are given dashboards and metrics and analysis where you can drill down to the most specific details. And this is good at times. And many business owners take advantage of these capabilities. But the smarter ones I know take one step back. They like to see the key data about their business every day on a single page. They ask their office managers to extract this information (open accounts receivable, cash on hand, backlog, month to date hours) and put it down on a single page report. It’s a pulse. A quick sanity check. And in almost every case the “flash report” has competitive numbers too. So if YTD sales are important to you then it’s useful knowing what YTD sales were this time last year. Or where your cash balance stands compared to year end. A one page flash report is a simple way to manage the finances of your business on a daily basis. Don’t ignore the details of course. But always keep your eyes on the big picture.
5. Pay your bills twice a month. The simplest thing to do is to pay all your bills online. But of course this takes a lot of up front time setting this up with your bankers and vendors. But in the long term the effort will pay off. In any case, whether you’re paying online or cutting manual checks, only do this twice a month. I prefer every other Tuesday. Or the 15th and the 30th. This takes away many headaches and will seriously help you better understand and plan out your future cash flow. Your vendors will ultimately adjust to your schedule. And your employees will finally understand that “no” means “no” until payment day so don’t go promising checks to people.
An IT health check. CRM systems. The Cloud. Business Management Software. Online payment systems. These are all great technologies that can simplify your business. But only if they’re used the right way. Don’t over-do it. Make sure the applications have been built with the small business in mind. If they were built specifically for the small business they are more likely to be easy-to-use and less likely to tie up valuable processor space with expensive bells and whistles you will never need.