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SMEs: time to go digital

September 26, 2019.

Large corporations have long since gone digital, doing away with paper and automating their processes as much as possible. But SMEs can also reap the benefits of technology to optimize their processes, increase profits and grow.

Optimizing is worth it

You are an entrepreneur for one reason: to offer a service, a product, or expertise. Companies optimize their processes to do more of what they are supposed to do, i.e. sell, and less of everything else that comes with it (accounting, HR, marketing, etc.).

The digital world offers perfect tools to simplify your life and that of your clients, give you more independence, make you more efficient, and provide you with client data to better serve them, among many others. For example, an on-line appointment tool supports appointment-booking in the middle of the night, when your employees are sleeping but your clients are working. And since you don’t have to do this in person over the phone, you can handle larger volumes more quickly. Or take this example, from the HR field: if you only have a handful of employees, you can manually track hours worked. If you have 50 employees or more, a digital system will save you many a headache.

But modern tools aren’t just for volume! Digital solutions can provide data on system usage: who is using it, how often, how many appointments are made by clients directly on your website, how many clients actually read your news bulletin, etc.

Project preparation stages

Define optimizable tasks

If a task is time-intensive, repetitive or expensive, it’s time to optimize it.

Here is a short list of tasks that can easily be automated:

  • Memberships/subscriptions
  • Answering the phone for frequently asked questions
  • Mass mailings (email or snailmail)
  • Appointments
  • Employee or client record queries
  • Accounting (invoice management, sales tracking, etc.)
  • Employee schedule tracking
  • Meetings organization
  • Gift and points cards management
  • Company equipment tracking
  • Etc.

Determine the cost of such tasks

You should calculate the cost of these tasks with a view of finding a more effective solution. In your calculation, factor in the following:

  • Material costs (ex.: printing, mailing, storing).
  • Labour costs (ex.: time, management, administration).
  • Time not spent on other, more lucrative tasks.

Example: you need to mail out 500 full-colour pamphlets per year. Your current cost is:

  • $150 in printing costs.
  • 4 hours at $15/h for one employee to print the labels and organize the mailing.
  • 3 hours of your time to create a mailing list, follow-up, get clients’ mailing address, etc.
  • $100 in postage costs.
  • Total: $310 + 3 hours of your time per mailing.

Look at existing solutions

If your problem is common, you probably don’t need a custom solution. Many off-the-shelf solutions can perform an ever-growing list of common tasks (and some of them are free!).

In this case, it’s a simple matter of comparing the cost of the digital solution with the cost of the manual labour (don’t forget your own time!).

In the pamphlet example, if you go for a web-based newsletter:

  • $10/month for a standard system like Mailchimp, Drift, etc.
  • 2 hours of your time for initial implementation (one-off).
  • 1 hour of your time per subsequent mailing.
  • Total: $120/year, plus 3 hours of your time for the first mailing and 1 hour for subsequent mailings

Calculate the adoption rate that will make the solution worthwhile

Some of your clients will continue calling to ask questions or make an appointment, won’t subscribe to the on-line newsletter, will insist on a paper bill, etc. Even so, digital solutions still provide a return on investment in the short or medium term, despite initially low adoption rates.

For example, if half of your clients sign up for your electronic newsletter (250 clients), and you want to continue sending the other 250 bulletins by snail mail, you’re spending $120 on digital advertising and around $155 on paper advertising, or $275 in total. That’s still less than sending all 500 by snail mail.

One of the advantages of a digital solution is that it can grow along with your company’s growth. Sending out 100 electronic pamphlets (or notices, or documents, or announcements, or anything else) is nothing for a computer; nor is 1,000 a problem, nor 15,000. However, mailing out 15,000 paper pamphlets will require going through a specialized company.

When does a custom solution make sense?

Ready-made solutions are usually very generic and probably won’t cater to company-specific needs. A bespoke solution might be for you if:

  • Off-the-shelf software doesn’t quite do what you need it to do.
  • Off-the-shelf software doesn’t meet your standards in terms of:
    • reliability,
    • security,
    • performance,
    • scalability.

You may have adopted several different ready-made solutions that each do their specific job – one for clients, one for employees, one for accounting, etc. – but perhaps you’d like to integrate your tools, centralize your data, and make your life easier? If so, it’s probably time to look at a custom solution. But you can still put your existing solutions to good use by having them “train their replacement”: what do you like about them? What features were not used? What would you like to improve?

Contact one or more software development companies to get an estimate, then figure out if the return on investment is worth it. Some companies specialize in certain types of projects (engineering, management systems, Web applications, etc.) or in certain fields (retail, health, legal, etc.), while others are generalists. In other words, you’ll find that there is a perfect match for you out there.

In short…

The tools you choose to manage your company must align with your needs and be able to grow with you. As demonstrated by countless case studies, good digital solutions can perform the tasks that require too much time or energy, letting you concentrate on your company’s core business. Off-the-shelf solutions can optimize many repetitive, generic or paper-based tasks. As your company grows, and outgrows ready-made solutions, it’s time to think about a custom solution.