Embracing rapid digital transformation can help small businesses stay relevant, retain customers and clients, and increase referrals.
While your digital renaissance doesn’t have to be monumental, you do need to pay some attention to it—or others will beat you to the sale. Learn why you’ll want to embrace small business digital transformation, what to automate in your business operations, and how to move forward.
What is digital transformation?
Digital transformation involves using technology to transform business processes, products, services, and business models, often overwhelming the competition with giant leaps in efficiency.
Similarly, small business digital transformation is much more than using new tools. It's about improving the whole business—including the people and processes that support it.
If you think digital transformation ended with Google and Amazon, think again. The digital shakeout is still underway. In fact, an IBM study found that 60 percent of organizations accelerated their investments in digital technologies during the COVID-19 global pandemic and more than half (55%) course-corrected their organizational strategies in 2020.
For many small businesses, adopting and implementing new technologies such as the cloud, machine learning, and artificial intelligence (AI) will be central to achieving growth.
Why digital transformation is easier for small businesses
Fortunately, small businesses don’t tend to have as much invested in legacy, non-digital systems as large companies do. They can usually implement new strategies more quickly, and training their employees in those new systems is less of an undertaking.
It’s no coincidence that Netflix was once the proverbial David to Blockbuster’s Goliath. What started with a small, powerful idea—renting movies through a website and delivering them through the mail—snowballed into one of the most powerful digital transformations on the planet.
Increased customer expectations in a digital world
Today’s digital technologies have shifted customer expectations—companies need to embrace those technologies to keep customers happy. Prioritizing the digital business experience and keeping up with the latest technology demonstrates a commitment to customer satisfaction.
The new generations of app-native and digital-aware customers expect personalized eCommerce experiences. By performing data analytics, small businesses can use valuable information about customer wants and needs to tailor customer-centric experiences.
Accessible via any device
Mobile technology helps attract and retain customers. Building a responsive, mobile-first website or app gives customers the mobile experience they’re looking for.
Keeping them informed
Companies build brand loyalty by remaining consistent in their messaging. Newer technology, such as email autoresponders, can help companies deliver regular, consistent messaging to keep customers informed.
Being readily available
Customers who can contact a business at any time feel appreciated and welcomed. Technology such as social media, SMS, and chatbots gives customers instant access 24 hours per day.
Digital tools enable remote work
Mobile technology has also changed the way we communicate and work. Digital tools make it easier for employees to work remotely while still meeting business objectives. Employees can now access their work from anywhere, anytime, and on any device.
Technology also helps streamline workflows by empowering employees to share information online and work on tasks simultaneously.
Leverage automation to save time and money
Here are a few ways automation can help small businesses save time and money.
Automated billing: An automated billing system saves time and money by streamlining the billing processes. The best automated billing systems integrate with your ERP, CRM, and other enterprise systems, so you can enter that data once and keep all your systems up to date.
For example, an automated billing system can:
- Generate and send invoices
- Contact customers if an invoice is due or in default
- Track and accept payments through multiple digital payment options
- Report on company financials
Automatic welcome emails: A customer relationship management (CRM) platform can automatically send a welcome email followed by your latest blog posts when someone signs up for your newsletter or follows your social media accounts.
Social media: Automate your posts to promote your business and grow your social presence. Automating posts helps you spend less time managing your social media presence and more time focusing on other areas of your business.
Scheduled emails: Scheduled email campaigns can be used for customer appreciation, product launches, promotions, and more. Create a list of customers who purchased from your business in the past (using a CRM), and send out an email at the end of their purchase cycle to bring them back.
Chatbots: Virtual chatbots can answer basic questions for customers in real time. By letting automated chatbots handle simple, initial inquiries, your customers can get an instant response to many of their most common questions, even in the middle of the night. That keeps them moving forward in your customer journey instead of jumping away to your competitors.
Alternate product delivery options: In today’s digital environment, contactless service is the new norm. The healthcare industry, for example, now uses virtual meetings for some appointments. The restaurant industry uses technology to coordinate curbside pickup. Offering new, creative options for product and service delivery can keep you a step ahead.
Multiple payment methods: Customers also want contactless payment options. A recent Visa survey showed that 63 percent of consumers would switch to a new business that gave them this option.
Cloud technology is the future of digital transformation
The cloud provides the agility, scalability, and flexibility necessary for small business digital transformation, giving your company access to today’s advanced digital technologies without the need for expensive overhead and digital maintenance.
- Staff savings: You don’t have to staff and manage a team of in-house specialists to install and update software, manage email and file servers, or run backups. Cloud computing is convenient and cost-effective. You pay a small monthly fee for the service, and the cloud vendor handles all server maintenance tasks.
- Security: Cloud computing is inherently more secure than traditional on-premise IT. The cloud vendor manages all security updates and monitors the servers for viruses or malware.
- Cost savings: You don’t have to buy hardware, software, and services from multiple vendors. Instead, you pay a small monthly fee for all of these things from one vendor.
- Efficiency: With cloud computing, you can access your data from anywhere at any time. This means your employees can work from anywhere and not have to worry about losing their work.
- Newer technology: Cloud computing lets you take advantage of the latest technology without having to worry about maintaining your own IT infrastructure.
- Flexibility: Using the cloud gives you the flexibility to grow your business cost-effectively. You can instantly add more users to your systems as your business grows. If you own a seasonal business, you can remove employee users during your off-season and add them back during the busy season. That way, you aren’t paying for extra users when they aren’t using the system.
How to start your small business digital transformation
Small business digital transformation is a process, not a destination. Each step is important, but there are a few key areas to focus on:
Business goals and objectives
- What do you want your business to look like in the future?
- What will your offerings be, and how will you deliver them?
- How will you measure success?
Digital business strategy
- How will digital tools help you compete in the marketplace?
- What resources do you need to make that happen?
- What innovations can you put into place to provide a unique customer experience?
- What tools and processes do you need to achieve your goals?
- Who should own those tools and processes, and how should they work together?
- Who do you need to involve in the transformation process?
Finally, develop a roadmap to implement those tools and make them work together to achieve your goals.
A digital transformation strategy helps to recover from disruption
Small business digital transformation is not a one-time event. It’s a continuous process that requires constant attention and effort. If you’re recovering from a digital disruption in your industry or hoping to start one of your own, the future promises an exciting opportunity for those who embrace innovation and unique customer experiences.
Whether you’re a small business looking to pivot and grow or a midsize-to-large business with dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of customers, visit our solutions pages to learn more about how BILL can support your digital transformation efforts, saving you time and money.
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