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10 Steps For All-Around Optimising Your Business

The secret to being a well-oiled business machine is meshing the best available online tools, with solid social media strategy and a top-notch team.

John Rampton

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Whether you have been running a small business storefront for years or you are just starting out but have no online presence, there are many ways you can get up to speed with how the modern online world works.

Thanks to available digital tools and platforms as well as companies behind those solutions, you have more help now than ever before to modernise your business without having to spend considerable resources to do so.

Here are 10 ways you can upgrade your business to leverage the growth opportunities available online:

1Use cloud-based software programmes

Having a cloud-based architecture for your business makes it much easier and cost-effective to move your business to the online world. Doing so will allow you to access certain aspects of your business from anywhere and any device, which is important in the online world where every store and website is always open.

By working behind the scenes to share information with your team and handle processes from anywhere, your business will appear to be working around the clock to serve customers.

Related: Small & Medium Businesses Should Be Saving Money For A Bad Day – Here’s how

2Leverage solutions that personalise the online experience

Moving to the online world can be overwhelming at first because your audience can become so much larger yet expect you to know each one of them personally. Thanks to software solutions, it’s easier to accomplish this and actually build stronger relationships with customers that you have regularly serviced in-person.

For example, if you are a restaurant and want to make each customer feel as though you are interacting with them directly, you can leverage online tools that offer a database that keeps track of what those customers have ordered, when they have eaten at your restaurant or have a future reservation, when they have an upcoming special occasion and more that you can then use to personalise future visits, including sharing special menus that include dishes they like or offering a coupon for a future birthday.

3Select tools that help you automate time-consuming processes

automate time-consuming processes

When your business can automate aspects of the operations that tend to be time-consuming like invoicing, billing, and payments, you will be able to focus on other business-building activities while it efficiently takes care of these tasks for you.

Automation is one of the most beneficial aspects of the online world and provides you with a way to focus on the human component of business like interacting with customers and enhancing those user experiences that bring them back for more.

While those time-consuming tasks are very important to the business, they do take you away from what makes you money.

Related: 8 Ways to Avoid Cash Flow Surprises That Could Kill Your Business

4Update your security systems for data

Even an offline business has significant data that it keeps on customers, including personal and financial information. In order to protect your business and customers from data theft, it’s important to upgrade your security systems and create a system that minimises the vulnerability level.

In then moving online, this need for security becomes even greater so it makes sense to understand where the vulnerabilities lie and then invest in the necessary security solutions, such as encryption and two-step verification processes.

5Create and actively develop a social presence

If you want to get to know your customers that are online every day and let them know you are available to chat, you need to develop a social presence on multiple platforms and regularly use them to interact and engage with your audience.

Setting up a Facebook page and Instagram account isn’t enough; you need to be on there daily answering questions and responding to feedback from your fans as well as providing useful content that brings them back for more. Like any relationship, your online social relationships need constant attention to flourish.

6Leverage Web APIs

pplication programming interfaces

The online environment puts you in touch with so many tools that can help you modernise how you work with your customers and run your business. Known as application programming interfaces (APIs), you can use these to fairly easily add specific applications to your business that increase functionality in every aspect of your organisation – marketing, sales, ecommerce, invoicing, payments, project management, collaboration, communication, security and more.

These APIs can be quickly found and added without having to start from scratch and needing the technical knowledge to add these operational patches to your business.

Related: This Software Is Making Ecommerce Companies Even Smarter

7Make the most of mobile demand

No customer will see you as modern if you don’t have some type of mobility to your business whether that is an app for them to tap into promotions or for you to drive more revenue through localisation strategies.

Mobile modernity also means the ability for your business to allow the team to work from their smartphones or tablets, if necessary, in order to maintain productivity.

On all fronts, having mobile functionality in your business means greater engagement from all stakeholders and illustrates your ability to work on the preferred devices.

8Deal with the data

Today’s businesses have such a wealth of intelligence at their disposal but are not sure how to truly harness it because they lack the understanding of how to do so or what type of analytics to leverage.

This data can include everything from customer preferences and purchase histories to analytics that can reveal preferred time to receive communication from brands, the optimum time to post on social media, and how certain marketing tactics are working to drive more business.

Numerous data analytics tools can be incorporated to modernise your business and the decisions made in relation to all the data available.

9Add more channels for revenue growth

A business that is stuck in the past only sees one pathway to revenue while a modern online business understands that it is best to implement an omni-channel model that puts your products in front of customers that could be looking for what you offer on all channels, including online, mobile, and offline, or traditional, channels.

By offering numerous ways your customers can buy, you are acknowledging that modern businesses need to make themselves available everywhere to satisfy their target audiences.

10Hire talent with modern skill sets

You most likely are not going to have the time to learn all the necessary skills. That’s why you need to hire strategically with outsource and freelance digital savvy talent that you can bring on board to handle specific projects or processes that need to be modernised to reflect the online environment.

These new skills to add include everything from programming and data analytics to social media marketing, influencer marketing, and mobile marketing.

It can seem overwhelming to overhaul your traditional business to work in the modern online world, but having a strategy that includes these approaches can help revamp your company.

Make the most of what has been done already in terms of best practices, tools, and talent so you don’t waste time and money reinventing the wheel just to catch up.

Always be open to the idea that you will now most likely continuing to evolve your business because the modern online world is in constant flux as technology and other external factors continue to change this operating environment.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

John Rampton is an entrepreneur, investor, online marketing guru and startup enthusiast. He is founder of the online invoicing company Due. John is best known as an entrepreneur and connector. He was recently named #2 on Top 50 Online Influencers in the World by Entrepreneur Magazine and has been one of the Top 10 Most Influential PPC Experts in the World for the past three years. He currently advises several companies in the San Francisco Bay area.

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Innovation

A Short Cut For Corporates To Digital Innovation: Start-ups

Charlie Stewart, co-founder and CEO of Rogerwilco shares his advice for turning to start-ups for solutions.

Charlie Stewart

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If there is one anathema in corporate culture, it is failure. With profit to be made and share prices to increase, failure is simply not an option. And yet, when listening to stories about success in the digital space, failure is there to put one on the right path to success. The phrase ‘Fail fast, Fail often’ is often bandied about, and innovation can be seen as a constant process of iteration, test and failure, repeating this until a well refined service or product is on the table.

Many corporates are waking up to the uncomfortable fact that at a structural level, the type of innovation required to grow in today’s digital landscape, is out of their reach, at least when trying to come up with it internally. So what to do? Charlie Stewart, co-founder and CEO of Rogerwilco shares his advice for turning to start-ups for solutions.

1. The start-up solution

Corporates comfortable in the digital space – Apple, Alphabet, Facebook and Amazon – have been buying startups for years, and now companies are realising that when it comes to Blockchain, artificial intelligence and machine learning, they need to turn elsewhere. And they are. Matt Garratt, Vice President of Salesforce Ventures noted that of the roughly 1500 tech acquisitions Stateside in 2016, half of them were bought by non-tech companies, showing that buying a start-up is a quick way to acquire new technologies, skills or patents.

Related: Why Optimism Isn’t Enough – You Need To Also Accept The Brutal Facts

But purchasing a company with a fully developed product can be an expensive and often risky play. Instead we are beginning to see a trend where corporates are framing agile startups as solution providers, offering them seed funding to come up with answers to digital headaches.

In the US, defence contractor Lockheed Martin has turned its investment strategy around, focusing on young startups instead of more mature companies. In the region of $20 million was ploughed into startups in 2017, helping Lockheed Martin to get a slice of the pie in fast moving spaces such as cybersecurity, autonomous vehicles and nanotechnology.

2. Outsourcing the problem

For corporates turning to start-ups, there are two benefits. Firstly, by doing so companies are casting their net a bit wider, with not only more eyeballs on the problems but, importantly, without the restraints of the corporate boardroom. There is more out-of-the-box thinking involved, no internal politics to worry about and far less of a threat of somebody’s career being jeopardised.

Secondly, if a start-up comes up with a solution, investing in the fledgling company can be cheaper than purchasing one with an established solution. If a buy-out is on the cards, it is less risky too since the due diligence process has been worked through and cultural challenges have been ironed out.

But not all start-ups actually want a buy-out. Some rather prefer access to market and skills transfer, especially around the commercial side of business. Yes, they do need investment, so companies can provide them with a proof of concept to take their idea forward, or potentially a more structured form of investment in their business. 

3. Cape Town: the start-up hub of Africa

Locally, Cape Town can be seen as the tech start-up hub of Africa, and is certainly a good place for corporates to start sniffing around for that digital innovation golden ticket. Events such as last year’s AfricArena conference proved that Cape Town can be a fruitful hunting ground. 80 start-ups from across Africa attended the inaugural event, and were tasked to find solutions to problems provided by corporates beforehand. Air France, for example, was looking for innovative mobile solutions, the City of Cape Town wanted to see how technology can be used to improve the tourism industry, while RCS asked for a loyalty programme to match a new credit programme.

Related: 7 Ingredients Of Small Business Success Online

By all accounts the event was a major success, connecting start-ups with corporates and investors, both attending the event and dialing in. The winner of Air France’s challenge, mobile payment solution provider WeCashUp, received multiple offers of investment and the project has moved on to the proof-of-concept phase.

4. The start-up lifeboat

Many companies need to face up to the fact that the current corporate structure they are working within does not allow for the type of innovation required to adapt to, never mind thrive, in a digital world. South African companies were perhaps sheltered from the digital tsunami that has eviscerated the analogue business world, but the wave has hit our shores. If it is innovation that is needed, it is time to turn to agile startups, far better adapted to a sink-or-swim digital environment, to come up with the solutions.

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Innovation

How Amazon Is Keeping It Lean

Amazon spends a lot of money, but it’s also surprisingly lean. Here’s why even successful companies that are scaling quickly should be doing their best to save money where they can.

GG van Rooyen

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Amazon makes an astonishing amount of money. For instance, its third quarter earnings for 2017 was $43,7 billion. But the margin for an e-commerce site like Amazon is notoriously small. Not only do customers demand low prices, but the costs associated with fulfilling these orders are very high. Because of this, the company’s profit during the same period was only $347 million.

On top of this, Amazon also spends a tremendous amount of money on growth and expansion. Its third quarter revenue of $43,7 billion represented growth of 34%, but its profit dipped 40% from $575 million to $347 million. Yet, despite this drop in profitability, Amazon’s share price increased by 7%. Why is this? Investors know how and why Amazon spends money.

Since its inception, the company has focused on three things:

  1. Low prices
  2. Customer service
  3. Long-term success.

And it hasn’t been afraid of spending money in pursuit of this. It took Amazon six years to turn its first profit, and even after that it was rarely profitable. Only since 2015 has the company become consistently profitable.

Related: Why You Should Scrap Writing That Business Plan And Become a Lean Start-Up

This is not because the business model doesn’t work — Amazon would make a fortune if it squirrelled away every cent it earned — but because it is sacrificing immediate profits for long-term success. The only reason its profitability took such as dip in the third quarter of 2017 was because the amount of money the company was investing in growth had quadrupled year on year.

Yes, Amazon spends a lot of money, but here’s the interesting thing

The company is also exceptionally frugal. The important thing to focus on is the nature of Amazon’s spending. It will spend millions (even billions) to improve a fulfilment centre, and it will even slash its profit margin to offer customers better prices, but it won’t waste money on things that don’t improve the company in the eyes of the customer.

Frugality is even one of Amazon’s core ‘Leadership Principles’. “Accomplish more with less. Constraints breed resourcefulness, self-sufficiency and invention. There are no extra points for growing headcount, budget size, or fixed expense,” the company document states.

When it comes to day-to-day operations, few large organisations run as lean as Amazon. While Google builds funky offices and gives away free food, Amazon does the opposite.

“Bezos enforced strict frugality in Amazon’s daily operations; he made employees pay for parking and required all executives to fly coach,” wrote author Brad Stone in a book on Amazon called The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon.

As the years have passed and Amazon has become more financially secure, things haven’t changed much when it comes to frugality

“Evidence of the company’s constitutional frugality is everywhere,” Stone writes about the current state of the company. “Conference room tables are a collection of blonde-wood door-desks shoved together side by side. The vending machines take credit cards, and food in the company cafeterias is not subsidised. When a new hire joins the company, he gets a backpack with a power adapter, a laptop dock, and some orientation materials. When someone resigns, he is asked to hand in all that equipment — including the backpack. The company is constantly searching for ways to reduce costs and pass on those savings to customers in the form of lower prices.”

Related: How You Can Keep Your Start-Up Expenses Lean (For Better Business Survival)

It’s impossible to scale without spending money, but it’s important to pay close attention to exactly what money is being spent on. Scaling means more people, bigger offices and better equipment, but everything you spend money on should result in a better customer experience. Don’t be afraid to spend money on things that will improve the company, but don’t waste money on things customers will never know or care about. Even if you’re scaling quickly and making money, you should be treating expenses like a lean start-up. Don’t accept an expense without questioning its usefulness. That’s just good basic business practice.

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Innovation

R&D: Compulsory Homework For Your Business

Why Research & Development are critical to your company’s future.

Greg Morris

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It’s one thing to develop a technology that everybody wants. It’s a completely different thing launching it, if the legislation or environment aren’t encouraging. Often, the result is companies who have grand ideas and little influence, and this is why it’s essential that you carry out in-depth Research and Development (R&D).

Defining market research

Market research is the gathering and analysis of information, so that organisations can better understand the market, environment, and demand for a new product.

The purpose of this data is to:

  1. Understand and advise on existing and upcoming business plans
  2. Develop new products and innovations
  3. Forecast new developments that could disrupt the industry.

This kind of insight helps business leaders to be educated on factors that can impact their businesses, ensuring robust, up-to-date bases for their decision-making.

Related: Alan Knott-Craig’s Answers On Selling Internationally And Researching Your Idea

The reason you need R&D

The success of a new product depends heavily on its impact on people’s needs. If it doesn’t add sufficient value, it’s not worth the investment. Because of this, your innovations must be in line with the legislative, economic, political, technological, environmental, and social requirements of the people you hope to sell them to.

How R&D has evolved

R&D ensures that your organisation stays viable and sustainable. You can approach it through organic growth, innovation, or a mix of the two.

However, in this new era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the Internet of Things, we’re seeing some significant changes to R&D spending. Because these days, people aren’t alone in their connection to the Internet – machines are there too.

In the future, the success of a product is likely to be determined by its ability to connect to the Internet; without that, it will become obsolete. Smart devices will also create new challenges for organisations, as they’ll require entirely new skills and approaches to business, if they are to grow and evolve.

Innovating through R&D

Innovation is not just supported by R&D; it’s also enhanced by it. It’s also affected by:

  1. Understanding consumer needs
  2. Your ability to innovate sustainably
  3. R&D partnerships that allow you to collaborate with others, so you can share the risks and costs of innovation, and speed up the various processes.

An open approach to R&D

One approach to R&D collaboration is through open innovation, where an organisation partners with another party. An initiative like this works well for technological advances, globalisation, and changes to comms technology.

A closed approach to R&D

The more traditional closed approach to R&D is where one company funds and contains the R&D initiatives. And it can be successful too, as long as the initiating company has well-defined and measurable input, throughput, and output.

Related: 3 Ways You Can Innovate And Improve As A Franchisee

R&D in an investment company

Sometimes the subsidiaries in a holding company experience poor communication, resulting in divided direction and unhealthy competition. Because R&D can be expensive and resource-heavy, an organisation-wide strategy must be implemented.

Then, when all stakeholders understand the potential ROI and the operational process involved in R&D, healthy competition and an educated understanding of customer needs can be maintained. This is, of course, the ‘win-win’.

R&D is essential to making relevant, strategic, and educated business decisions. And in our global economy, it’s a competitive advantage you can’t afford not to have.

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