31 Mar The Digital Divide
Bridging the digital divide! How do we do that?
Is Your Small Business on the Wrong Side of the Digital Divide?
Published: Feb 10, 2021 by Rieva Lesonsky
“Has your small business crossed the digital divide yet? While there’s been a focus on enterprise businesses digitally transforming, not all small businesses kept pace.
Taking a slower evolutionary approach to going digital may have sufficed two or so years ago. But 2020 changed everything. According to Salesforce’s State of the Connected Customer report, 68 percent of customers surveyed say the coronavirus pandemic “raised their expectations for businesses’ digital capabilities,” and they EXPECT seamless digital experiences.
What does this digital divide mean for your small business? In short, you need to digitize now. The 2020 Small Business Digital Maturity Study from IDC and Cisco showed half of U.S. businesses are in stage 2 (out of 4), otherwise known as “digital observers” (companies whose digital efforts have started to cross the digital divide, but remain tactile and in bite-sized initiatives).
That’s not good enough to operate successfully in 2021. As Daniel-Zoe Jimenez, AVP, head digital transformation & SMB research at IDC, says, “The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the digital divide that was already present in the small business market, and it is forcing companies to accelerate their digitalization. Small businesses are realizing that digitalization is no longer an option, but a matter of survival.”
Start thinking digital-first. Once you digitize, you’ll have more time to focus on your growth strategies.
Crossing the Digital Divide: Working in the Cloud
No longer a mysterious technology reserved for hard-core geeks, cloud technology is an accepted, acclaimed, and superior tool for businesses of all sizes. Cloud-based solutions not only simplify operations, but they help companies save money, compete on a bigger scale, and secure critical data. For small businesses in particular, cloud-based solutions are essential if you want to operate efficiently, increase productivity, scale your operations, improve your profits and cross the digital divide. If you use the cloud proficiently, it can boost your small business to the next level.
There are numerous cloud-based applications on the market, addressing specific tasks and job functions. Here are three components of your business that can benefit from adopting cloud-based solutions.
1. Project Management
Running a small business takes teamwork, and productive teamwork takes exceptional organization and collaboration. Fortunately, there are many excellent project management tools available to help get your team on the same page, whether for specific projects or running your business remotely.
Using project management tools, you can:
Assign specific tasks and responsibilities to team members
Check progress on assigned projects
Budget and create timelines for projects
Make it easy for team members to communicate
Store and share files seamlessly
Collaborate on files
Access projects from anywhere
Most cloud-based project management solutions are subscription-based, and the costs vary, depending on the number of users and the specific tools you need. You can always start small with a free application such as Google Drive, but that offers limited storage and tools. Be sure to establish cybersecurity protocols as you cross the digital divide with your staff so company information is not inadvertently put at risk.
After a year of uncertainty, what consumers want more than anything is to be remembered and appreciated. That means businesses need to do all they can to give their customers a personalized customer experience. Personalization works, according to The Rise of Personalized Commerce study. Results showed 70% of companies using advanced personalization in their marketing helped them earn a 200% return on investment (ROI).
It’s relatively easy to provide your customers with personalized offers and experiences; you just need to look at the relevant data, which you’ve hopefully collected and stored in the cloud. Gather the following information:
The products/service offerings your customers browsed on your website
The products/services they’ve purchased (if any)
The actions they’ve taken on your social media channels
The coupons, promotions, and special offers they’ve responded to
Armed with this information, you can learn which marketing messages will likely resonate with specific customers and target them with the appropriate messaging.
You can also create customer loyalty programs using cloud-based solutions, making them easier for you to administer and for the customer to use.
When shopping for a cloud-based marketing application, don’t over complicate things. Your new tool should work with, or adapt to the systems you already have in place, to cross the digital divide smoothly.
For example, if you run a retail business, look for a solution that works with your inventory program. You also need a solution that’s easy for you and your team to use, with a user-friendly interface and minimal data input involved. Ask other business owners or your trade association for referrals and look for programs that offer free trials.
Like cloud-based project management and marketing, a cloud-based accounting system helps your small business by consolidating necessary tasks that would otherwise take hours to complete if you had to work on them separately. Online accounting enables you to access real-time data and allows for instant collaboration, whether with in-house personnel or your accountant. Also, the benefits multiply when you also use the add-on services available for cloud accounting platforms.
There are cloud-based accounting applications that let you tackle specific tasks, such as payroll, bookkeeping, and keeping track of expenses. The more accounting tasks you can digitize and put in the cloud, the more efficient your company will be as you cross the digital divide.
For example, a program like Bill.com helps you manage your payment processing, from creating and sending invoices to paying your bills. Using Bill.com, you can automate your invoicing, which the company says will help you get paid twice as fast. And since it’s cloud-based, you, your CFO, or your accountant can check on your receivables and payables at any time of the day, from anywhere there’s an internet connection.
The application also manages your accounts payable, making sure your payments are on-time and delivered securely. If you do business internationally, Bill.com can pay your vendors in a variety of currencies.
Other advantages of using a digital, cloud-based account like Bill.com include:
No more cutting paper checks. Today, most vendors prefer to be paid online. Using an automated system eliminates the chances of human error. And you’re saving money since you’re not printing and sending checks by mail.
Decreases fraud. Paper checks compromise your company’s security. Employees and criminals can no longer steal routing and account numbers. Electronic payments allow only authorized individuals to initiate payment via ACH, eChecks, credit cards, or wire transfer.
Automation. Cloud-based accounting systems automate time-intensive tasks such as manually entering customer and vendor information and remind clients about payment.
Collaboration. Accounting often involves multiple reviews and approvals. Having the information available and accessible in the cloud makes the process quicker and more secure.
You no longer have a choice—small businesses cannot afford not to embrace the cloud and cross the digital divide. Thinking digital-first will make your company more efficient. Especially during the coronavirus pandemic, when many companies are operating remotely, adopting digital processes ensures your financial transactions are secure.
You need to find a system with an easy learning curve that integrates with your other financial systems.”