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Small tech: The two big rules

In the first of a series of articles on hi-tech for small and medium enterprises (SMEs), GAVIN MOFFAT advises on how to choose from the wealth of technology available to SMEs. Ultimately, he says, there are only two rules for buying technology.

As a small to medium sized business, your technology budget is precious. You can’t afford to squander money on solutions that don’t deliver real business benefit – and in the middle of protracted downturn, you’re probably more careful than ever about how you spend your money.

Yet there is a wealth of solutions that could enhance your business. So how does one go about choosing them? By remembering that technology is only truly useful to your business if:

1. it allows you to increase your revenues: or

2. It allows you to decrease your costs.

The worth of any technology to your business should be benchmarked against those goals.

No longer should you be seduced into buying a solution just because it’s new or to keep up with the Joneses – any solution you acquire must be measured against a clear business objective.

Smaller businesses should probably take care not to buy into technologies too early in the hype cycle, but wait for them to offer tangible benefit. At the same time, you shouldn’t be left behind by technologies that could make a difference for your business. Keeping that in mind, what are the trends to watch?

One element of your business that you should certainly be looking at is your online presence. According to the latest statistics from World Wide Worx, more than 12% of South Africans are now online (some 6 million) and the number of connected people can be expected to double over the next five years.

Falling data costs (a Gigabyte of ADSL data costs far less than it did just a year ago) means that your customers will do more online in the year to come, and that you can do more online as well.

You don’t necessarily need to be setting up a major e-commerce portal – that depends on the business you’re in – but you should be looking at what people are saying about your business, using social networking tools like Twitter and Facebook and customer service sites like HelloPeter.

It’s an easy way to keep tabs on what your customers are saying and to respond to them, and the only cost is a little time.

In addition, you should also try to set up a web site if you don’t already have one and, if you do, ensure that it’s up to date. Thanks to innovations like Google AdWords, the online world also offers you some economical options for advertising.

Another important technology for the year ahead is mobile communications. Smartphones are finally at a point where they are easy to use and offer decent battery life. What’s more, data costs have fallen to a point where they are affordable. There is no reason for your managers and salespeople not to have e-mail and calendar access wherever they go: this is a big potential money-saver, since your employees can all use your time more efficiently.

They don’t need to come to the office to check email between appointments, for example. Receiving an e-mail in a timely manner while you’re away from the office could sometimes spell the difference between closing a deal or not. It’s the sort of technology that is ideal for an SME – cheap and practical.

The world of technology is constantly changing and evolving, but the basic business principles remain the same. Choose technologies that are simple, affordable and have provable business benefits, and you’ll reap a real return on investment from them without breaking the bank.

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