One of the strongest trends in small business today is the emergence and adoption of technology.
If you’ve started or run a business in the last 10 years, there’s a good chance that you have turned to technology for help. You may have created a spreadsheet to track leads. You might use a desktop calendaring system to plan out your days. You might use a web-based to-do/task list to keep on track. There’s a good chance you’re now using a web-based email marketing system. Hopefully you have a website by now. If you sell products online you almost certainly have a shopping cart hooked into your website (which might be made up of a merchant account, PayPal, eBay and more).
But, is this new technology a friend or a foe?
As an entrepreneur growing a business, you’re bootstrapping it. You’re finding amazing technology tools (many of them free or are low cost) to grow your business – that’s the right thing to do. Each tool provides a new benefit to your business. Some automate your work while others allow you to organize information so you can easily find it later. Each tool makes your business run more smoothly and makes your life less chaotic. Or does it?
Growing your business is extremely exciting. There comes a point when the business you dreamed of for so long is starting to blossom and success seems so close you can taste it. But, that’s usually also when things start to go haywire. Suddenly, the technology you turned to during your startup phase is now a jumbled pile of incompatible systems. Your email program doesn’t work with your shopping cart and your spreadsheet of leads is definitely not in sync with your customer database. Trying to find all the information you know about one of your customers is nearly impossible and very time consuming.
Here’s a great example – I know of one man who sent out an offer for a 50% discount to his prospect list, hoping to get a big boost in sales at the end of the month. To his horror, he started getting phone calls from angry customers that had recently paid full price. Since his systems weren’t in sync, he could not ensure that his past customers were not also in his prospect list. This is a common problem called “Multiple System Chaos” – it can be crippling. Small businesses don’t have the resources to integrate all the systems they use and they don’t have the luxury of time to chase down the information they need.
So, what can you do to combat multiple system chaos? How do we stay sane when the very technology that houses our most important data is suddenly our enemy?
- Awareness. The first step is to know that this problem is coming. It usually hits most small business owners right in the face because they’re not expecting it. Be aware that growth brings complexity – this will help you avoid costly mistakes. Take stock of the systems you’re now using and those that you will need as you grow.
- Plan. Once you’re aware of the complexity that will come as you grow, you can start planning for the future. Planning will help you make well thought decisions about implementing technology before you have a problem on your hands.
- Integrations. Today, there are many technology integrations that allow your systems to talk to each other, saving you time and headaches. Make sure that you look for systems that can easily integrate with others. Social media tools are great examples of this – I can post a status update on Twitter and it will automatically update my Facebook as well because they integrate with each other. Find customer systems that do that same.
- All-In-One Solutions. If you’re a serious entrepreneur and want to grow quickly, you’ll want to consider an all-in-one system built for small businesses. There are several systems that include marketing automation, a customer database, a shopping cart and more. These types of systems can save you time and money in the long run. One of the recent developments in this area is the concept of “Email Marketing 2.0″. Most email marketing systems don’t include a customer database, they only allow you to maintain lists of email addresses. Email Marketing 2.0 is the marriage of email marketing with a customer database, allowing you to keep track of your customers and prospects, and send them timely, relevant emails.
If your appetite for growth is strong, you will run into multiple system chaos. By being aware of the problem and planning for the future, you’ll avoid nasty mistakes and turn technology into your friend again.