The face of business is changing rapidly, and while many small businesses attempt to compete in the traditional market for customers, the Internet and the ever-growing availability of cloud-based services is changing the way people shop, interact, communicate and do business. However, for the ill-advised this can come with some major drawbacks.
In the last five years speed and accessibility of the Internet has bought about a subtle but significant difference in the way computers are used. Traditionally people used to buy a licence for software, wait for this CD to arrive, install it and then start using it, with a lot of the work being done on their computer by the software. Over time this changed as development companies sought increased benefits by utilising the internet and having the client accessing data over the Internet from them. This evolved even further when developers began to realise they could increase their sales and reduce the costs by offering complete solutions over the Internet through your internet browser. This became known as “software as a service” where software can be subscribe to and used at a fraction of the cost without any installation required. This also extended to hardware where you can get access to shared infrastructure without actually having to physically own a server for your business. Google Apps for Business is a typical example, where you can get enterprise grade email for $5 a month per user.
The significant change here was the change in pricing. The old mindset was a large upfront cost to purchase software or hardware, while the new mindset is now to offer subscription services for access to the software or infrastructure as very low prices. As a small business owner this is an important thing to consider. You can get access to new tools and resources within five minutes and have it set up within a couple of hours and be using it. When changing with the market and being ahead of the competition is the key to your survival, this ability to adapt quickly and find new ways of operating, or get new services up and running for your clients, becomes a key leverage point and advantage. This not only reduces your overheads but also increases your efficiency in the way you work and your speed to market.
What most small businesses don’t know is probably what is costing them the most money right now. Their typical day to day administration overhead can be significantly reduced, simplified, and in some cases completely removed, at a fraction of the cost than it takes to hire someone to do it on an ongoing basis. For example, maybe you hire someone to do your invoice filing, however it is possible to automate this through cloud-based services so that your invoices coming in through email are automatically filed for you without you having to do anything.
While the big advantage here is access to these services at low cost, it does come with a major disadvantage that is not so obvious. The ease of signing up and getting access to a new service at a small subscription fee means most small business owners will dive in and start using a service without thinking about the longer term implications of their choice. What subscription services rely on is entrenchment, that is, once you begin using the service it is hard for you to untangle yourself from it because your business is reliant upon.
The second biggest mistake is also a subtle one. Initially cloud-based services operated as silos, where one system could not talk to another and companies developing these services operated independent from one another. For example, you could get access to an online customer management database solution but it wouldn’t talk to your finance system. In the last two years this gap is quickly being bridged by integration solutions. The trap here for small businesses is knowing whether your wonderful new cloud-based software solution for your finance system will be adaptable enough to integrate with your other solutions. If this is not carefully throught though then you can be creating a problem by not having your business solutions talk to each other.
When running a business, it’s the stuff you don’t know that typically bites you and with cloud-based services changing the market so quickly, it’s hard to keep abreast of these technologies and use them to your advantage to grow as the market changes. Unfortunately, if you don’t begin to take advantage of these services to improve your business, and the way you approach sales and business operations, you could find yourself being outperformed by others taking advantage of these resources. Or you could find yourselves closing your shop doors, because someone found a way to do it cheaper over the internet.
GongOnline are your local small business web design specialists, and they can advise you on the best cloud based solutions to build flexibility and mobility into your business. Contact GongOnline on 800 33 441 to discuss your online marketing and communication needs.
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