From keeping in touch with friends and family in far flung places, to how we enjoy films and music or even how we deal with our bank, to some extent we’ve all gone digital.
We’re more connected and able to run our lives to fit our preferences like never before. Online sites and apps exist to take care of your finances, your shopping and even your dry cleaning at any hour of the day. And in terms of communication, we don’t need to wait for the morning paper or turn on the news to follow the latest breaking story – social media allows you to follow developments as they happen.
It’s no different for businesses. Smartphones have increased connectivity, social media has improved customer accessibility and big data is transforming analysis and planning. But stacked up against the opportunities of a digital, connected global marketplace is the challenge of keeping pace with new information in a working world that doesn’t switch off.
How does an entrepreneur or a small business find the time to embrace the digital world in a way that improves their focus?
Because however much they might aim to improve your efficiency, these apps and services are putting pressure on the one thing the digital world can’t create – time. After all, while there may only be 140 characters in a tweet, there are also around 6000 of them uploaded on average every second. And no matter what app they may have at their disposal, no one has time to read them all. So if we can’t create more time, then adapting to this constant stream of data is all about focus and how that information is filtered.
The best big businesses are no longer reactive to change, they are proactive in employing digital leads, social media strategists, or financial planning analysts. Traditionally slower to respond, thanks to corporate structure, layers of process and multiple stakeholders, they have the strength in numbers and ability to pull in expert advice to shape a response that works for them. They put their financial data in the cloud to ensure its security and accessibility. They have teams managing the company’s image on social media and how they connect with their customers. They invest in state of the art reporting software that filters large amounts of data into management information that can be quickly understood and interpreted to aid in decision making.
Without similar resources to call on, how can SMEs keep up?
Most SMEs are faced with two choices – keep in house or outsource.
In house may sound like the obvious answer, and instinctively, it’s an understandable one. An in house approach means maintaining control as well as knowing that there’s no time delay between you and your data.But when there’s also everything else that comes with running a business, how do you find the time and focus to turn social media recognition into sales, big data into meaningful analysis and financial information into profitable decisions without spending a significant amount on experienced staff?
So then onto the second option; outsourcing. Businesses need to focus their efforts on what they are good at. In other words, entrepreneurs and SME business owners need to spend their time making strategic decisions and avoiding the dangers of spreading themselves too thinly. And there are ways to outsource without compromising on control or the ability to respond quickly.
Digital agencies exist to help companies with online presence; cloud based software can ensure your data is secure; an outsourced finance function can ensure you have the information you need on a timely basis to make those important decisions.
And with a bit of time and focus to filter and interpret that data, SME business owners are able to make the most of their agile structure. Better quality real time management information opens up a whole host of opportunities from informed decision making. Picture the shop owner who tracks their sales by the hour for staffing decisions or the online retailer who uses analytics to match social media campaigns to sales.
It doesn’t stop with sales either, the data available can help companies to become operationally lean by understanding their cost base; it can help forecast the date their current cash balance will run out; or it can even help to motivate their employees with targets.
Those companies that have evolved with the digital world now have a far fuller understanding of their business than could even be imagined ten years ago, giving them an undeniable market edge. So don’t lose yourself in digital, find the help you need to use it wisely.
Matt Cannon is part of PwC’s My Financepartner, a cloud-enabled accounting and business support service that helps ambitious SMEs grow.