Automated robot overlords? Or fast, efficient solutions for Britain’s small businesses?

robot workers

Everybody knows the rumors that in twenty years’ time, robots will have taken over most of our jobs (and the world). It’s an idea touted by mainstream media that leaves most people fearful for the future. However, this blanket notion of a world in which human sensitivity becomes obsolete, is vastly misleading. It ignores the ways in which software and automation can actually be an enabler and even create new jobs (over 3.5 million to be precise) and solutions, particularly for small businesses.

In today’s climate, success is often about finding a gap in the market and filling it with the right good or service that takes full advantage of the technologies available. For example, if your business carries out repetitive processes, like manually processing your invoices, there are a myriad of websites and mobile apps that provide relatively affordable accounting software. And, even the larger firms like KPMG have small business offerings. Here are some tips from my business journey others might want to consider:

Don’t be afraid to digitally sell yourself

We are bombarded on a daily basis with adverts and companies trying to sell us things. Instead of fighting these channels, you can actually use them to your advantage and experience a significant pay-off. Nowadays we can market our products all over social media. But with the growth of sites like LinkedIn, AngelList and BranchOut, professional networking has taken itself online and building digital connections with your business circle can further your opportunities. When I first started out, I used online ad services to sell my programming services in London, and that’s how I landed my first job.

Ditch paper for software

Part of the major challenge to starting a business is realising the inefficiencies and finding accurate ways to alleviate them. My advice to anyone would be not to build up anxiety over everyday nuisances, and instead, find instant ways to relieve pressure with long term impact.

I started out printing packing sheets to sell baby bibs and marking orders by hand to be shipped by companies like eBay and Amazon. I quickly realised this was a time consuming process so I wrote a piece of software that became our fulfillment solution to distribute products. If there’s a process or task you’re doing by hand – chances are, someone’s created an electronic or automated tool that can save you time and improve efficiency.

Be prepared to write your own future

One of the downsides to getting your business off the ground is funding. On our first day of operation we received 700 orders and only myself and my co-founder to process them. We were overwhelmed and without the right funds to buy robust IT capabilities.

I learnt quickly the benefits of running an early stage company, is flexibility. Since the day Despatch.Cloud launched, we’ve evolved from the same code that I wrote when we first started out – and it still supports processing 20 to 1,000 products on a daily basis.

Adapting to demand

As a small business, it is difficult to predict when you’ll need more staff. For example, due to the nature of our business, we are often bursting with demand during busier periods like Christmas and Summer and quieter in other months. To meet this higher demand you would typically need to hire more people, which means added salaries and a larger payroll.

This challenge is one a lot of SMEs may not account for when they begin to grow. I discovered that our cloud model lets us keep staff numbers low, because we train fewer people how to use the software and ultimately, allow us to adapt our workforce to increase productivity during busier periods. The amount this saves on employing more people is hugely impactful for a business of our size – and has produced profits elsewhere that we can reinvest in the business.

All in the name

Our adoption of software even played a part in the naming of our company. We originally called ourselves Order Collection System (OCS), but friends told me we needed a snappier name. As cloud technology is at the heart of our business, upon reflection, it felt only natural that ‘cloud’ became part of our brand. So we adopted the domain name and was born.

In the early days, your business’ name needs to reflect the product or service you provide. Even the most successful startups, like Deliveroo and Netflix are names that pack a punch and indicate to customers what the business provides. However, it’s also important for a name to fit with your long-term business goals. The .cloud domain is modern, gives us a strong online identity and provides a global feel as we aim to expand internationally.

Embrace technology don’t be afraid of it

So rather than seeing technology as a threat, embrace it. The ability to automate key business processes and integrate cloud technology can not only define your business, but can lie at the heart of its success. What’s more, going digital can enable you to maintain strong branding and keep hiring costs low. So while we might have something to lose (read: fear) from the workforce bots of the future taking over, in fact, we should focus on how much we have to gain from the power such technology can unlock.

Matthew Dunne, co-founder of Despatch Cloud, a cloud-based shipping management software company for SMEs.