Getting the right tools for the job will kick-start recovery

This is easier to say, and more difficult for small businesses – who may be struggling with cash flow or declining revenues as customer demand weakens – to put into practice. Yet there are simple areas of investment, including technology, which can ease the burden in the very short term as well as providing a great base for future growth. For small businesses, time is money, and productivity is vital to their business. Therefore technology that can boost productivity and cut the length of time it takes to execute simple processes – or even simply to get online and communicate with customers whenever and wherever – can make all the difference.

With Microsoft launching its new Windows 7 operating system, in line with SMB week it is aiming to really give business owners greater tools to help them recover. Plus, Interestingly Windows 7 is the first operating system that has no increased hardware requirement from the prior version so upgrades can be done for just the price of the software and not a whole new PC, even extending the life and performance of current hardware.
Microsoft’s small business expert, Robert Epstein, said: “Technology can play a central role in managing and streamlining processes, freeing up time and money for small businesses to focus on the really important job at hand: driving their business forward. IT can be used to simply automate processes and speed up the most basic yet most necessary operations.”
Robert Epstein gave us 7 tips for small businesses who believe technology could make a difference, but who aren’t 100% sure how:
Increase productivity and cut costs
Productivity has become the buzz word for businesses of all sizes over the past months. Small businesses need to concentrate on doing more with less. It’s about making the most of the people and capabilities you already have and investing in the necessary technology to drive further efficiencies.  84% of small businesses recognise the benefits of technology for productivity but their biggest problem is understanding the technical details and getting the most out of them. IT investment should be in technology that is simple to install and operate, so the broadest potential staff base will understand it and be able to use it.

Live online
Recent statistics show that 75% of 16-24 year olds couldn’t live their lives properly without the internet[1]. And the same is surely true of the business world. Equally, the notion of a fixed, physical office has decreased, with business being done in local coffee shops, areas with public wifi – and increasingly on the move, in wifi-enabled train carriages. Work is no longer a place we go but a thing we do. The computer has become our office – select your hardware and software carefully, considering products such as laptops running Microsoft’s new Windows 7 operating system, which helps your remote workers easily connect, access, and share all their work computer programs, files, and network resources,securely,  regardless of where they’re actually working from.

Invest for the future
Whilst cutting unnecessary costs will be an important part of any strategy this doesn’t mean all investments should be put on hold.  Investments to help plan for the long term are vital and will mean cost savings further down the line. ‘Cutting edge IT’ may conjure up images with large price tags attached. But on the flip side the latest technology can also have a very fast payback either by cutting direct costs (such as travel and telecoms) or helping deliver revenue (through better customer management or improved productivity). Technology such as Sharepoint (an integrated suite of server capabilities), is a prime cost cutting example, as it enables employees to work together more efficiently, much as Unified Communications allows employees to connect from any location – VoIP, Webmeetings/Video conferencing allow colleagues to share and collaborate remotely without losing productivity, decreasing the spend on unnecessary costs and time of travel to and from meetings.

Ensure staff can access the company network
If your firm already employs more than two people, you’re likely to already have a network where staff can save their work directly onto the system. However, in a virtual office environment, it is essential that all flexible workers save their work directly on to your system, rather than locally, such as on their laptop.  This reduces the security risk of losing data in transit and will limit your exposure to the provisions of the Data Protection Act.  The Windows 7 operating system offers users an ‘Offline Folders’feature, which helps you work offline with the ability to automatically synchronise between your PC and your work network, boosting productivity whilst preventing data loss.  Cut costs through your processes rather than head-count.  Staff are your best asset when things pick up so if you can hold onto your staff by cutting costs elsewhere you will be in a better position to face the upturn.

Take advantage of the digital world and free capabilities online
SMBs must make the most of the web and free / low-cost services available to help them compete.  Anyone with a mobile phone and internet connection can now start their own business – there is no longer the need for the large overheads involved in providing office space and expensive on-premise technology equipment.  Cloud computing (IT services provided across the internet) is proving to be a huge leveler for SMEs who can now have access to IT systems that had previously only been available to large enterprises with big budgets. With the right software, provided as a subscription serverice across the internet SMEs can leverage new capabilities and  operate at a much lower cost, work more efficiently and from any location at any time and without the need for large, upfront capital expenditure.

Focus on your customers
        In a time of due diligence, winning new business is harder. It is therefore more important
than ever to ensure customer loyalty by showing the value you add to your existing customers. Focus on retaining customers as well as keeping in touch with old contacts, as when they do come back to the market you want to be first on their list. Customer Relationships Marketing (CRM) systems can help manage your existing customers and focus on the right opportunities whilst also providing some of the best information to understand your business better.

Partner and collaborate online
It is essential for businesses to work together in tough times. We are seeing growing numbers of firms building communities online and joining forums with peers, with the intention of both accessing and providing business support to each other. Social networking sites are being used as a way of both marketing businesses and also engaging in rich conversations with customers, partners and prospects. More and more businesses are actively partnering to increase their capability and work together on bigger projects and tenders whilst maintaining their own flexibility and developing their specialisation.