As you think about modernizing your business, do you find yourself wishing you lived in that perfect world where you could wave a magic technology wand and get it all done at once?
If so, you’re not alone. Many owners of small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) think about “going digital” in grandiose terms. The trouble is that giving your business a digital overhaul can disrupt operations and require a huge investment of cash and other resources. Not to mention the distressing ways that widespread change can influence team morale.
So put the magic-wand fantasy aside for a moment because here’s some good news: even with scant resources at your disposal, you can take steps today to start streamlining and updating your business.
Here are five tips to help you achieve more than you might think, with less time and money than you might expect:
1. Leave behind the IT mindset.
To modernize your business, you need a modern approach to budgeting and project management. That means moving past the outdated idea that digital solutions belong to the IT department’s responsibilities and budget.
Once upon a time, updating business operations meant buying a new computer system or new software. The process went like this: purchase, install, done. In today’s world, this approach no longer works for two reasons:
- Digital solutions are infiltrating every aspect of business, from accounting to customer service to strategic planning.
- Digital solutions require ongoing monitoring—they’re never “once and done.” (And don’t believe any vendor who tries to tell you that.)
Rather than buying computing equipment or applications that soon become a “legacy system” (aka IT dinosaur), the new reality calls for an evolutionary approach.
Instead of allocating an IT budget, consider your spend in each area of your business, including your accounting, customer service, talent management, and supply chain. Invest strategically in digital solutions that will save you time and money in specific domains. Then plough your cost savings right back into the business to fund ongoing improvement.
2. Be proactive about your digital future, not reactive.
Here are some signs that you might be in reactive mode:
- You find yourself making weekly, if not daily, decisions about new digital tools to buy.
- Employees regularly approach you with suggestions about “the perfect app” to lighten their workload.
- Your list of passwords for cloud-based platforms is longer than your household grocery list.
- Your IT team spend most of their time trying to figure out how to make your many apps play nicely together.
- Your monthly budget for digital solutions keeps swelling, but you’re not realizing the gains in efficiency or the cost savings you’d hoped for.
To get out of the reactive rut, put a pause button on digital purchasing until you’ve developed specific, realistic business cases that will deliver quick wins. Take a holistic view of our organization so you can see how the business cases fit together to generate maximum ROI. This will give you a digital roadmap—a step-by-step plan for making your business more efficient, profitable, and primed for growth.
Your digital roadmap will become a living document because your needs will continually change as your business grows and as new technologies emerge. As you revise the roadmap, you’ll take charge of your digital future and gain greater and greater clarity about your long-term vision for your business.
3. Take advantage of government funding.
Check out the more than 1,200 grant and loan programs provided through Canada’s federal and provincial governments. Many of these can be used to fund digital initiatives.
Here’s a sample list to give you an idea of the kinds of opportunities available:
- Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan, various funding options for businesses that must adopt digital solutions to cope with the pandemic
- The Canada Small Business Financing Program, a loan program sponsored by Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada
- Atlantic Innovation Fund, a loan program through ACOA (Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency)
- CanExport for Businesses (SMEs), up to 75% nonrepayable funding to support international marketing development
- AgriInnovate Program, federal funding to improve productivity in the agricultural sector
To explore more options, view the full list of government grants and financing programs at https://www.canada.ca/en/services/business/grants.html.
4. Make the most of the digital assets you already own.
During the pandemic, many of us have learned personal lessons about making the most with what we have at home instead of going out to the store to hunt for something new. Apply that learning to your business by leveraging the technology tools you’ve already bought before you start looking for other options.
Many businesses use only a fraction of the functionality their existing software applications provide. Here are a few examples of “hidden” functions you may be able to uncover and exploit:
- Software you use for managing one aspect of a workflow may be able to automatically share data with another application
- GSuite includes Google Forms, which enables you to replace paper-based forms with online forms in just minutes
- Microsoft Teams includes project management tools you can use with internal or external groups
- Hubspot integrates email marketing with a CRM (customer relationship management) system and an invoicing system
- Outlook’s signature function makes it easy to create email templates
- Outlook also includes other tools to help with collaboration, such as a team scheduling tool
5. Choose digital solutions with pay-as-you-grow pricing.
When you have ambitious business goals, it’s tempting to invest in full-featured digital solutions that will be robust enough for your long-term vision. But the future still lies ahead. You’re not there yet—so why buy a bus or transport truck when all you need right now is a hatchback?
The smartest approach is to choose digital solutions that can grow with you. Look for “freemium” pricing, monthly or yearly payment plans that start with a free plan and can scale up as your business develops.
As cliché as it sounds, any journey begins with a single step. Why should your digital journey be any different?
Rather than hoping to teleport your business into the digital future, shift your mindset and your strategy to focus on evolution, not revolution. You’ll soon find you can make immediate progress toward your long-term vision while keeping your existing business healthy and happy.