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There are a lot of challenges that can inhibit a SME’s success; obvious ones, such as gaining new customers, managing increasing costs, or securing repeat business. As well as more unusual ones, such as gaining access to the skill pool, having the required experience and understanding to elevate an idea into an achievable business goal, or meeting customer requirements through new technology.
In order to overcome the challenges of being a small fish in a big pond, SMEs are turning to technology. As innovation continues to enable new ways of working, smaller businesses are being given the tools to match those normally reserved for larger enterprises. However, many find it hard to know how, or where, to integrate new technology into their existing setups.
SMEs are dealing with ever more complex processes and how these are managed is key to business growth. Many don’t realize the impact that relying on inefficient processes, which makes them slow to react and vulnerable to human error, can have on the bottom line. For example, the inability to access documents remotely or from a mobile device, fragmented information silos, or uncontrolled paper trails, are all very big problems in a world where people expect immediate access to information wherever they are. Facing such challenges, the options SMEs are turning to include digitization, the cloud and multi-channel communications, all of which, when managed correctly, can facilitate business growth.
Going digital is no longer a choice; it is a necessity for any business hoping to succeed. Even the public authorities are promoting this and the European Commission’s 2014-2020 Action Plan, explicitly recommends that European Member States "foster innovative business models and strengthen competency and skills, to promote digital inclusion for growth among Europe’s SMEs". It’s fair to say that today’s SMEs are operating in a world where digital technology is increasingly expected.Take communications, for example. While physical mail is still an important channel to communicate with customers, the last decade has undoubtedly seen a shift towards more digital channels. More and more customers are choosing to be reached via email, social media and everything in between, and it’s crucial that businesses have a well-managed, multi-channel communication strategy in place that considers their customers’ preferences. Failing to do this risks alienating a large number of customers and, subsequently, lost business.Aside from customer demand, digital communication offers SMEs very real business-growing benefits. One of the biggest is that it provides a much more direct route to the intended recipient. Unlike physical post, which often takes days, can get lost in transit and requires the action of a third party, digital communication can reach its destination instantly. The speed with which customer queries are resolved or invoices and contracts are sent can be the difference in securing repeat business and prompt payment, or losing sales to a competitor.
Going digital also increases the accuracy and reliability of communications. The processing, preparation and sending of documents can all by automated, removing the opportunity for human error which ensures the correct documents are being sent to the intended recipient. Moreover, removing manual processes also decreases the burden on employees, who are then able to spend their time on other vital business growing activities.
Another benefit is that it empowers SMEs to take back some control in their relationships with external parties. For example, when invoicing, SMEs are often left to the mercy of bigger enterprises which don’t always meet agreed payment terms. When businesses rely on unstable inefficient processes, they find it a challenge to track and, therefore, chase late invoices, lengthening the payment time further. When digital communication is used, SMEs are able to manage their side of the process more effectively, giving them more control.
Technology is playing an important role in helping SMEs overcome some of the traditional barriers to growth. The cloud, in particular, has the power to simplify the way SMEs run their business. While investing in the cloud may seem daunting to very small businesses, it provides very real benefits.It grants access to enterprise applications at a fraction of the price and mostly without the need for any costly and time consuming IT services. Additionally, it lifts geographical constraints and improves efficiency. For example, documents can be saved remotely and securely making them accessible from anywhere with an internet connection. By failing to adopt cloud base technology, SMEs will undoubtedly find themselves one step behind everyone else.
Faced with strong competition, small businesses face a long, hard battle to establish themselves, which is why it’s so important that they have the most efficient processes in place. Being "digital ready" is something all SMEs need to be thinking about – according to Gartner, all businesses will soon be digital businesses. By taking this step and implementing a multi-channel communication strategy that utilizes both physical and digital channels, SMEs will be in the best position possible to overcome the odds and grow.
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