As an SMB owner, you want to maximize the investments you’ve made in your business. You want to get more done in less time. And you want to ensure you’re communicating effectively with customers and employees. The right technology can help you do both. Here are three ways you can ensure you’re making the right technology decisions for your business.
1. Know that “free” often comes at a cost. The old saying is true: there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Saving money in any way possible is a top priority for most small business owners, but when it comes to choosing technology, it pays to think through the downsides of free solutions before they end up costing your business in the form of frustration and lost productivity. A free software program may have some of the features you need, but getting it to integrate with separate business applications can be a huge challenge.
“Free” also often means you won’t have access to tech support when something does go wrong, and you’ll be on your own to learn the ins and outs of the technology as well. If you want to learn how to use a solution, and get professional help integrating it with other applications and fixing issues when they arise, a sound alternative to free is to pay a reasonable monthly or annual subscription for cloud solutions.
2. Choose IT solutions that can multi-task. Small businesses often fall into the trap of implementing technology that addresses only one specific task. For example, maybe you need the ability to share large files with customers or partners outside your company, so you sign up for a file-sharing service. Free or not, choosing a one-trick pony for simple tasks like file sharing might actually cost you more in the long run. You’re likely missing out on collaboration tools and integration with your email and applications that would take file sharing to the next level. When choosing an application or service to accomplish a single task, think through related tasks and look for an offering that lets you do more.
3. Give yourself options. Smart business owners want plenty of options. This is especially true when it comes to how you and your employees communicate with one another. There was a time when email revolutionized how people communicate at work, but today, your employees should have plenty of options for communicating with one another from anywhere. Instead of having to reply to an email and wait for a response, they should be able to open an instant messaging window directly from an email and get an urgent answer right then and there.
They should be able to initiate voice calls and schedule web and video conferences right from their email inbox. The same can be said for customers. By providing a variety of options for customers to connect with your business, you can better understand their preferences and increase sales.
Cindy Bates is vice president of U.S. small and medium business at Microsoft, leading the company’s efforts to help SMBs realize their full potential through the use of technology.