Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman’s declared that “while productivity isn’t everything, in the long run, it is almost everything”.
Poor productivity is seen as being one of the biggest (perhaps the biggest) economic challenge facing the UK. The UK lags behind G7 productivity by 16 per cent, according to Close Brothers. Britain’s poor productivity record has been highlighted by government figures showing the biggest gap with other leading western economies since modern records began in the early 1990s.
Small business has a vital role to play in boosting Britain’s productivity. SMEs make up 99.9 per cent of UK businesses and have a combined turnover of £1.8 trillion. Increasing their productivity could make a huge difference to the UK’s economic output.
In fact, British small businesses understand about how technology could boost their productivity. Nearly half of UK SMEs say new technology would increase overall productivity (46 per cent), improve staff efficiency (50 per cent) and help upskill staff (43 per cent).
However only 45 per cent of UK SMEs have invested in new technology recently, and three out of four have no plans to invest in up-to-date tech.
Yet there are so many easy wins as to how technology can improve your business’s productivity — and profitability.
“My advice to small businesses is this – don’t be afraid to invest in new technologies. The right technology can turn an SME from a niche player into a major threat,” says Conrad Ford, CEO and founder of SME finance comparison website Funding Options.
Here are five simple ways how tech can improve productivity:
Digitise you customer relationship management (CRM)
Modern businesses need CRM to flourish – even to survive. At the heart of virtually all businesses lies a desire for growth. Business leaders know there are two fundamental ways to achieve it: increasing revenues and reducing costs. Whether this is accomplished by winning new customers, finding new ways to deliver more value to existing customers, or improving efficiency and productivity, it’s crucial to have good visibility of what’s happening in the business – and effective control over the key ways to improve performance. CRM gives businesses that visibility and control.
A digitised CRM system allows you to track the entire customer journey, including interactions with a customer across all channels, and across all departments. Every time they come into contact with your brand, or even show a flicker of interest, you’ll know about it. This real-time, comprehensive view of your engagement with a customer allows your team to be more efficient and helps them focus on delivering great service.
Digital CRM puts customer satisfaction first, making the life of (potential) customers much easier. Digital CRM helps your company become more customer-centric.
Improved communication and collaboration, automation of everyday tasks, and better reporting capabilities will all be invaluable to upping your productivity, but potentially the biggest boon is centralisation; having all your information will be in one place.
Another productivity boost comes from the availability of mobile and cloud-based CRM, which enables and reinforces collaboration throughout the entire business around the customer. Information is accessible anytime, anywhere from any device, for optimal business operations. CRM gives businesses agility and efficiency across marketing, sales and customer service.
Mark Hill, CIO of specialist CRM recruitment agency Mason Frank International, says: “A CRM platform is the beating heart of any customer-focused organisation. Good customer relationships should be at the core of your business model, and to build those relationships, your CRM has to be given the focus it deserves.
“It sounds so basic, but you can’t undervalue that. Think about much time you and your teams spend digging around for information from disparate sources. Think about all those times you could’ve provided exceptional service if you’d just had a full picture of the customer and their journey with your company. Digitising all your data, putting it in an accessible, unified system, making it searchable, and being able to share that information quickly and easily makes a massive difference.”
Do your bookkeeping online
Online accounting platforms offer an entire suite of tools for managing company accounts, from invoicing, payments to expenses and payroll.
Small businesses are getting ready to file all their VAT returns online from April onwards under the UK government’s Making Tax Digital (MTD) initiative. With the deadline looming for MTD when it comes to VAT, and eventually accounts, your business is going to adopt an online accounting package.
There is a wide array of online accounts platforms such as Sage, Xero, QuickBooks, FreeAgent and many more. Each platform will have the tools for effectively managing accounts, however not all of the solutions on the market have been finalised for Making Tax Digital.
Furthermore, MTD has the power to catalyse an immediate annual £6.9 billion net gain in productivity for the UK economy, or £46 billion over five years, according to online bookkeeping system Intuit Quickbooks.
Quickbooks argues that by filing VAT returns online, companies will have better overview of cash flow in real time and manage human resources better, freeing time for more productive activities such as sales, marketing and training.
Furthermore, once SMEs feel comfortable with digitising VAT returns, they will embrace the full potential of digital and embrace other changes such as digital marketing and machine learning, adding another $11 billion worth of productivity to the UK economy.
“Once SMEs feel comfortable with digitising VAT returns, they will embrace other changes such as digital marketing and machine learning”
Matthew Porter, director of Nottingham-based digital marketing agency Kumo, says: “Our agency has utilised a cloud-based accounts platform since our incorporation, initially to purely manage invoicing. As the company grew, our entire accounts have migrated to the solution to reduce the amount of time wasted on manual processes such as tracking payments and storing physical copies of incoming and outgoing receipts. Our automated invoicing feeds in to a payment capture system and bank account integration, that in turn utilises AI or machine learning to aid in consolidating them. This has made the largest gains in time reduction, removing multiple manual processes.”
Monitor workflow using a digital platform
Many of us have to juggle complex projects involving multiple stakeholders on complicated timelines with many moving parts and deadlines.
Work management software enables you to keep track of project elements, deadlines and, most importantly, how much time/money has been spent on each step, so you know how to plan resources and manage clients.
It’s a digital platform that allows you to plan, track, organise and review both projects and with the goal of improving productivity.
Popular work management platforms include Basecamp, Trello and Workfront.
Every workflow management platform allows you to:
- Manage tasks and priorities and track your team’s work to stay within budgets and deadlines
- Communicate centrally
- Collaborate effectively
- Share and store files
- Manage your time more effectively
David Turner, senior director at Netsuite, says: “For smaller companies there’s a huge benefit to workflow management systems. When you’re a few people in the same office, it’s easy to know what’s going on but very quickly if you scale, you need to get consistency of process. Even very small companies are dispersed around the world, and that’s where workflow software and managing process is invaluable really. Workflow’s number-one role is about productivity and about consistency, which gives you traceability and compliance.”
Share documents easily in the cloud
Storing documents in the cloud, whether it’s for word processing, spreadsheets, slideshow presentations or sharing contacts is a huge productivity enabler. Being able to work on the same document in real time is a productivity boon. No more worrying about working on outdated versions of a document or worse losing it if your ageing PC crashes … keeping everything in the cloud means all your data is offsite, which can be crucial if your office suffers a power cut or if there’s some other disaster.
Also, file sizes are getting larger, which means it becomes increasingly difficult to email them.
Most small companies lead the choice of cloud-storage platforms up to the individual, whether it’s Dropbox or Google Drive or WeTransfer. Again, this can lead to clashes and out-of-date versions of documents being shared. Far better to spend money on a multiple-user licence, even when you are a small company. Having a single provider gives you consistency, compliance, visibility and recoverability.
Lindsay Hughes, head of SMB at IT supplier Stone Group, says: “Sharing documents in the cloud is perhaps the strongest tool we have in our arsenal for improving productivity within a business. The ability to instantly edit a document at the same time as a work colleague or customer who is in a different country, is much faster than the laborious process of emailing files backwards and forwards.”
Automate your marketing
Automated marketing amplifies what you’re already doing in marketing. It automates all the digital channels that you push messages out through. A decade ago, this meant scheduling emails. Today, automated marketing systems have become more sophisticated and broader, handling online marketing campaigns, whether it’s through Twitter or email or online advertising.
Marketing automation strengthens customer relationships, scales marketing campaigns and makes it easy to integrate lead generation efforts into the sales cycle.
Automating your marketing enables you to:
- Do something more creative with time saved
- More than pays for itself when implemented properly
- Harnesses hard-won marketing leads to sales
- Measure your campaign’s success
When your marketing team has three or four people, it makes sense to automate and personalise your marketing activity.
David Turner, senior director at Netsuite, says: “It’s a numbers game, pushing out huge number of messages through social media or email channels. To manage that effectively, you need to have automation.”
John Cheney, CEO of CRM solution Workbooks, adds: “When marketing automation is integrated with the CRM platform, marketers can quickly and easily profile and target customers, gather business intelligence and run email campaigns and events.”
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