Welcome to a new year! Over the past few years, the Green Geek has been providing lots of advice on many different types of technology. Most of the time, the Green Geek articles were written in response to people asking specific questions. However, over the New Year’s break, the Geek got to speak to quite a few nursery owners and retailers who all shared a common problem: how do you choose and set up all of the technology you need to run a small business?
After a lot of discussion, we decided that the Green Geek had to turn over a new leaf! This year, we are going to work our way through every aspect of modernising a small business using state-of-the-art technology, but on a shoestring budget.
This will not be a theoretical series. We will be focusing on very hands-on, actionable advice, and where required, will produce videos to show you exactly how to set up your technology.
That said, we need to define some of our goals for what technology can do for a small business. I have identified five important goals that will guide all our future technology decisions.
Cash flow friendly: Of course we want our business to have a healthy cash flow! This means, we need to spend as little money on technology as possible. More importantly, it means spending as little money on technology upfront. Our goal is to get rid of those big lump-sum payments. In addition, any technology we deploy should assist in closing the gap between sales and payment. Ideally, you should get paid at the time of sale, or even before! Cash flow should be baked into not only decisions about how you buy technology, but also how technology can help you sell. Finally, technology should also enable you to minimise wastage and the requirement for stock on hand, which can have a huge impact on cash flow.
Support smart decision-making: We want our business to be smart. This means we’re going to need to know a lot about our customers, our finances, our sales figures and forecasts, our profit margins, seasonal sales and growing patterns, and so on. Of course, this means that we going to need some pretty smart software that can present information in a wide variety of ways. We also want to be able to do this in a way that does not require you to put in huge amounts of time building spreadsheets and importing and exporting information. You want the answers. The technology should give them.
Support a lean business model: We also want our business to be lean. This means our technology should enable us to run our business with the smallest possible headcount. Our goal should be to automate as much of the day to day business operations as possible, and let you focus on the exceptions… and growing your business, of course! It also means that rather than hiring full-time staff, you should be able to use technology to effectively work with remote contractors and virtual assistants.
Encourage growth: Sure you can be a small business that looks just like everybody else’s. It will make some money. However, when you find ways to differentiate your services and offering from the competition, your business is far more likely to grow. Technology should support you in setting your business apart from others. Perhaps this will be through smart marketing and social media, or perhaps by customising products to suit special needs, or perhaps some entirely new idea that you come up with. We should look for ways where technology can assist with differentiating and growing your business.
Enable work-life balance: We also want our business to provide us with a comfortable lifestyle. Let’s face it, running a small business is more than a full-time job. It takes over your life. Trust me, I know. I’m involved in three of them, each of which has a different level of technology. Our goal should be to enable you to run your business from any location, at any time. It does not mean that you won’t have a physical presence in your business (not really feasible for most of the nursery industry) but it does mean you can keep your finger on the pulse of the business, even if you are at home, on holiday or out seeing clients.
Your Homework: Take Stock
Yes. each month I’ll will be giving you homework. I did say this was to be a hands-on series of articles!
Armed with the above five goals, you can begin to take a look at your organisation’s existing technology and ask yourself how it helps achieve these goals. More importantly, ask yourself where is the technology not supporting these goals.
A good example would be your existing phone system. I’ve seen many retailers that have fixed line telephones in the shop and that is the only number ever given out. Well, that’s just fine and dandy if you expect your clients to always call you within office hours, but what about outside of office hours? If these customers can’t get the answer they want quickly you can be damn sure that they’ll look elsewhere (probably on the Internet, or with one of your competitors down the road). In this sense, most fixed line phone systems are not encouraging growth, or enabling your work-life balance. A solution to this would be to replace the fixed line phone systems with unlimited smart phone plans (which can actually be cheaper than fixed line plans!) Back this up with an Internet-based phone answering service, and you end up with a phone system that not only encourages your business growth and supports your lifestyle, but may even be better for your cash flow.
We’ll delve into these sorts of issues in great detail as we work through this series. But for now, take a look at the technology that you have, and think about where it meets the above five goals, and where it does not.
Next month, we are going to start at the very beginning: we are going to take a look at what sort of computing devices you need to run your business.