From the moment small business (SMB) owners decide to hang their first shingle, they’re faced with many important questions about how to define their company. A critical first question that must be answered at the start is “how can I create processes that employees can replicate to streamline the business and scale faster?”
This answer to this lies in turning to technology and new tools to simplify day-to-day work and open doors for your team to work on projects that move the needle. Here is my best advice for SMB owners on how and where to look for technology that can make the biggest impact and help businesses grow faster.
Move away from app-ifying
A common trap that SMB owners fall into early on is trying to “app-ify” their business. They understand that technology solutions and tools are useful in helping businesses scale, so they search for apps for every function of the business. And there are so many tools available. It’s easy to hear all the vendor pitches and think that you can solve for one specific function with this app, another with that app and keep going until you’ve got more tools than you’ll ever be able to use.
Where I see so many SMBs failing is when they start trying to incorporate all of these different tools before they’ve even thought about the process they want to create in the first place — and before they’ve even determined if they’re a product, project or relationship business.
When it comes time to start looking at technology to help you scale, you should be looking for a solution that allows you to have a single, clear vision of your business as a whole. And since most small businesses are in the relationship business, their efforts should go toward figuring out how they can drive the level of personalization that sets them apart.
Shop like a business
The biggest lure that leads business owners down the trap of app-ifying themselves is the temptation to shop for their business in the same way they would shop themselves as consumers.
One of the worst mistakes you can make as an SMB owner is to approach buying solutions like you would buying a product for your personal use. For example, in your everyday life, you might notice your laptop is running slowly. In this scenario, you’d probably do a little research, try some free options to reduce clutter and improve your machine’s performance and, eventually, shop around for the best solution. This is how we shop as consumers.
A small-business owner taking that approach for a business is shopping vertically — meaning, they’re looking to address a single pain point with a single solution. Vertical solutions are designed for larger companies that have endless resources to solve for individual processes or entire departments. There are very few SMBs that can get a lot of value out of optimizing for individual functions like finance or sales or marketing automation. The process maturity that those systems require far outstrips the challenges that you likely see as a small-business owner. So, SMBs can, and should, focus on doing more with less.
Instead, think horizontally
SMBs require a much more lightweight solution with less need for integration baked into it. Unlike larger companies that can afford to shop around for many tools to solve each problem that comes up, SMBs need to look for one-size-fits-all tools that allow them to look at their entire business in order to optimize those repeatable and scalable processes.
This means thinking in terms of suites vs. stacks. It’s easy to build and curate a stack when you have an operations manager or an IT team to help you implement them, integrate them and maximize their value. But SMBs do not yet have that luxury, so they need to think in terms of suites. This provides business owners the best of both worlds as they can leverage technology while only embracing it where it makes sense.
In many cases, this would include tools that support core business processes across many different teams at an organization (marketing, sales, customer success, and finance, for example). Examples of these tools include Asana for project management, Dropbox for file syncing across the cloud, or Xero for bookkeeping. CRMs also enable SMBs to solve multiple problems at once across the business.
We’re in an era where we’re seeing SMBs position themselves as something of a counter to the kind of mass-globalization that has happened over the last several years. Customers today want something authentic and you, as a business owner, want to be able to look them in the eye and say, “I made this.” This is an excellent opportunity for SMBs, and there are tools that can help them execute and maximize their advantage in that area. The key is to remember what you are — and, more importantly, what you are not — when it comes time to go shopping.