If you run your own business and somehow haven’t dragged yourself into the digital age yet, then I commend you for somehow keeping up. Computers have made everything a lot easier and more efficient, and as a result faster. Communications that might have taken a week back in the 1970s, can now be relayed in a matter of minutes through a series of emails and attachments. Everyone is online now. And that’s because computers can handle pretty much all aspects of your business.
This guide will show you just how much you can do from the comfort of your own desk. Most of this can even translate onto a smartphone! It’s time to do out with the filing cabinets and fax machines and phonebooks. All that stuff is taking up valuable office space. You have all the tools you need available at your disposal with the simple click of a mouse (or touchscreen).
There was a time when running a business meant loading up on books and making appointments with advisers in order to better educate oneself. Reading a guide such as this one would have meant a trip to the library. Now, any uncertain boss can easily read up on a topic on the train ride to meeting a client. Having lunch with someone who has come over from Taiwan and need to know their customs? What might have involved getting a book out the night before can now be done minutes before the actual meeting from a simple Google search.
Of course, such meetings no longer have to be done in person. All can be done via skype. Of course, phones have been around a while and still have their uses if you don’t want to have to reveal your face to a client (very useful when you deal with a complaint), but if you need someone to show you something or draw a diagram, a Skype call can be just like having the person in the room with you. Want to find out what a new office looks like? Get them to give you a tour on their iPad. Kind of lazy – but it can be done (and, yikes, I’ve seen it done!).
The computer has allowed us to reach out to the entire world from our fingertips. Social media has become increasingly more popular and every business should now have a Facebook and Twitter account. These platforms allow you to run ads, shout about promotions and make social connections. It is easier for people to make complaints and write negative reviews. However, responding to these complaints and reviews is also easier thanks to the power of the internet.
Your website should not only be a way of showing off your wares, but also your achievements. Every business can now boast references on their website for all to see, helping people to choose your service.
Blogging and vlogging has also become a popular new tool used by businesses. Share stories of your successes and advice to other businesses to further your professional image, whether it be a written post or a Youtube video. Newspapers and televisions used to be the only way to sell yourself in this way – now you can become your own journalist and presenter.
There are also various online communities that you can join that function the same way as trade fairs and business meetings, only you don’t have to travel and arrange to all meet somewhere at the same time. These can be great for easily building connections with people in a similar trade or with a similar interest.
As well as using the internet to advertise for clients, you can also use it to advertise for staff on job sites such as Indeed and Reed. Aptitude tests can be set up online. You can even do the interview over Skype.
Many employers also use social media to research their potential staff. Before the internet, an employer would only have a CV or application letter to go off. The internet exposes all of our true selves to the world (check your privacy setting before going to a job!).
Training and introductory details can also be set up online. Software can be downloaded to help with managing your employees’ hours, wages and taxes.
Speaking of taxes, this is the next big area that has been revolutionized via the invention of the computer and the internet. Complex mathematics has never been so easy thanks to digital calculators. And then there are all the tools that make payment and organization of money all that much easier.
Online banking has allowed many transactions to be carried out without having to trek to the bank. Services like PayPal have substituted cheques. Businesses can also download various software to make processes like invoicing and organizing employees wages all that much easier (check out Avaza and similar programs).
The need for filing people’s accounts is obsolete and a waste of paper, when all can be put on a database. Not only does this make it easier to locate, but also easier to edit and share. Doing it digitally also minimizes the amount of costly errors likely to occur.
Sure, you can do your accounting yourself with excel sheets, but Avaza and Freshbooks makes it so much easier! With FreshBooks, create professional-looking invoices complete with your own logo. When you’re ready to bill your client, simply send your invoice via email, download a PDF or print it with a single click. It’s so easy! Freshbooks is a must if you’re running a service based business. You can track time with Freshbooks, accept credit cards on your invoices, you can see when your invoice is viewed (!) and send recurring invoices to clients. I promise, with Freshbooks you’ll feel much more organized money-wise (automatic profit-loss reports!) and it’s only a small investment starting at $11.66 a month.
Another object that can removed from your desk is your diary. Most modern businesses will use a digital calendar that can be shared with everyone, making note of any important appointments or events. This can be viewed at any moment during the day on your phone or tablet, relinquishing the need to carry around a bulky book.
If you run a business with a rota, this too can be composed and shared online, to prevent staff from having to hike in on their day off just to check their hours.
Another revolutionary way that the internet has transformed our lives is through online shopping. Don’t waste the time going down the shop to buy masses of paper and printer ink. Order it all online (it may even work out cheaper).
Almost every product can be delivered to your door. The exception is the rare emergency occasion when you need some instantly. No teabags. That’s an emergency!
Should everything be done online?
Just because everything can be done online doesn’t necessarily mean everything should be done online. Continuously asking people to meet over skype and talking via email may come across to some people as impersonal and lazy. A better working relationship with someone can also be built up in person, as you’re able to give and receive information more quickly.
Certainly, organizational procedures should be done on a computer when they can be carried out more accurately and efficiently. However, even in these cases, printing off the occasional record to show someone can be warmer and friendlier than sending it via email.
Emails particularly are a problem, as they can come off cold. If meeting a new client in person is too inconvenient, you should at least consider phone call as this will give you a true idea of that person’s legitimacy (although you could argue a skype call achieves the same thing, if not more!). And unless you’re sending attachments or large pieces of information, don’t email colleagues and employees who happen to be sat only a few feet away in the same office.
Another thing to consider when doing all your work digitally is the possibility of a technical problem or a hack that could wipe your records clean. Having backup files is a useful way to deal with this, but printing off a few important documents can further serve as backup. Don’t feel the need to print off every employment file, otherwise, you might as well take back your filing cabinet. And some documents may be safer on the web locked with a password than in the desk of your drawer.
Just like home security, digital security is imperative when running a business that deals with large sums of money. Having your accountancy details hacked could have devastating effects. Installing anti-virus and anti-malware software should be your first call, as well as making sure your wi-fi network is locked with a password. Important monetary data that you are sharing online meanwhile should be encrypted. If you’re a big business, hiring digital security to ward off cybercriminals may be worthwhile.
Finally, there’s the issue of temporary inability to work digitally. A power cut may render you unable to use your computer or the internet. Most phones have 3G, which means we’re not entirely cut off like we once were once a power cut happens, however, you still may not be able to access certain programs and documents on your computer. Don’t allow all you contact details to be purely email addresses and Skype addresses. If you find yourself in an emergency without internet and you need to contact someone, you’ll wish you took a note of their phone number.
All in all, make use of computers and the internet, but don’t let your business be consumed by them.
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