Capturing small bits of otherwise spare moments in your day. Have you ever thought of that as a growth strategy?
Turns out, it can be. In fact, it’s one of the things we small business owners seem to be looking for.
That’s from a recent survey by Ink from Chase and The National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) — but I promise you, this article will not be your typical boring recitation of survey statistics. Stay with me, because there are some fascinating pointers in this.
One of them is this concept of “capturing small bits of time” and converting them to productive use, no matter where you happen to be. It used to be we thought of work-life balance as not letting work interfere with our personal lives.
That’s still the goal. But rather than achieving that by keeping work out of our personal lives, today it is more likely to mean finding time to squeeze in a little work that can be done quickly without it taking away from our time with family and friends. And in fact, it’s about letting you have MORE personal time. Because if you can squeeze in a bit of work here and there, you don’t have to drag yourself back to the office to do it. In the end, you spend less time at work. You spend more time on personal matters.
That insight was brought into sharp focus when I sat down recently for a discussion with Laura Miller, President of Ink from Chase. She articulated this concept of “capturing small bits of time” and how that can not only improve your quality of life, but ultimately help you grow your business.
The survey, conducted in July of 2014, focused in part on what business owners are doing to grow (see key findings in the image above – click for larger image).
Miller highlighted 5 pieces of advice from the survey about growing your business. Some of it dealt with technology and how to leverage it for growth. So let’s start there:
1. Focus on technology that uses innovative new ways to cut down the back-office workload.
“One thing we hear often from small business owners is, ‘Hey I didn’t get into this for the back office work,'” says Miller.
That’s where it pays to specifically look for technologies that help capture data and transact business electronically, without keying it in manually or handling paper.
There’s been tremendous innovation in the past 5 years. Newer technologies may surprise you with what they are able to do, especially when it comes to mobile phone technology.
Miller agrees, adding an example of the ability to take a picture of a receipt with your mobile phone, and capture the data on it, tag it to a specific job or client, and transfer the information electronically so you have it for your accounting and tax records. Not long ago, that capability didn’t exist — or at least was not widely available. Today, it is available to anyone with a smartphone. Companies like Ink from Chase are making that capability and much more possible through free apps like Jot.
2. Find technology that helps you capture and convert small bits of otherwise wasted time.
This is a new way of looking at work and how we get it done, Miller points out. It’s one that is not only adds to productivity but helps us balance the work-life challenges we may feel.
“One of the reasons we do surveys at Chase is to learn what is top of mind for small business owners. We’ve heard loud and clear from business owners that they are looking for strategies to balance family with work. That’s key to why they want to minimize their back-office time — because it pulls them away from family time and leaves them stuck at work.” Miller adds it’s especially an issue with women business owners, 54% of whom said they found it challenging to manage time or delegate work to better balance work and family.
One of the ways to cut down that away-from-family time is to convert small bits of time while you are out of the office into productive work activities. “Many owners tell us they would love to spend a few minutes handling small tasks such as in between the action at their child’s soccer game. This way they can be with family, yet still give attention to their work. They don’t want to have to choose one or the other — their business or their family.”
Being able to capture those bits of time, without the business owner having to go into the office or miss family time, is a key factor to look for when evaluating technology, Miller suggests.
3. Seek out technology specifically designed to make it easy to use remotely.
Mobile phone technology makes remote work possible in new ways. We’re always with our phones. In a way it’s like carrying a work tool in our pocket or bag.
But due to the small screen real estate, any mobile app or tool has to allow you to handle a task or transaction fast — and without a lot of manual input. A well designed app lets you do that.
So it’s not just that you can access one of your systems with your phone. That won’t help you if you still have to struggle for an hour to key in lots of information.
Instead, look at how quickly and easily that technology helps you complete the task remotely. Can you perform tasks without keying in lots of information, but through imaging, swiping or touching a few buttons? Is it easy and fast to get right to the transaction you need to handle then and there? Or do you have to wade through bulky software menus to get to the one thing you need?
Not all apps and tools are equal in usability.
4. Look for technology that touches customers.
One of the upshots of this survey is that the majority of business owners are optimistic and look to grow in the coming year. As the above graphic shows, 57% expect geographical expansion, while 61% expect to invest in marketing. One way to do that is through deploying customer-facing technology.
To organize your analysis around this point, Miller suggests breaking it down into two goals:
(1) Technology that helps you acquire new customers and
(2) Technology that helps you serve existing customers.
When it comes to new customers, is it reach, or is it efficiency/cost you are trying to improve on, or both?
Some technologies are focused on helping expand your reach and open up new channels (such as selling online) and new markets. Others make it easier, faster or less expensive to reach new customers. Often the tool can help solve both needs. This is partly where social media tools come into play. But this may include other kinds of tools such as CRM.
Don’t forget tools to maximize your revenue per customer — technology helping you serve existing customers better, faster, cheaper. Focus on whether it makes it easy for the customer, not just for you. Customers want easy. Look for technology that makes doing business with you as easy as possible — anything that reduces friction. This may involve deploying workflow systems and customer help ticket systems.
Also look toward self-help tools that enable customers to get the information they need, 24/7. Online knowledge-bases, live chat, and good phone support integrated with customer records lessen frustration. Look also at tools that increase loyalty, such as email newsletters and special offers for loyal customers, and other ongoing outreach.
Tools like these lead to happier customers. Happy customers lead to the three Rs: renewals, repeat business, and referrals.
5. The crucial element: tap into others for advice and strategies.
Finally, Miller adds one more key component for growth: tapping into your peers, vendors and others.
One of the most positive things about the survey, says Miller, is that business owners are not hesitant to ask others for solutions or advice. “I was encouraged to see how the majority of business owners look to others for input.” A whopping 89% say they are influenced by personal relationships in their businesses. And 67% are influenced by peers, and 51% are influenced by mentors.
“Small business is very personal. It’s about the people they support and serve. Personal relationships are strong influences in their businesses,” she added.
So, don’t hesitate to ask peers what strategies they are using to find capital to expand. Ask vendors what tools they can offer, or what suggestions they can make. Read about how others handle challenges of balancing work and life demands.
Not only can you learn practical advice and ideas you may not have thought of — but you can get moral support from others to keep you optimistic.
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This is a sponsored article on behalf of Ink from Chase. I received compensation for this article, however all opinions stated are my own.More in: Small Business Growth