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18 Feb Business Planning: Investing in Technology

If you are a professional entrepreneur, you know you can’t run a small business without proper business planning. Business planning is a crucial element to any small business success. A well-developed and organized business plan looks good to all stakeholders, and even lending institutions should a small business need financing and resources.

However, underneath the realm of “business planning” are many areas of small business management. One crucial area is technology. Small business operations and technology almost go hand-in-hand today. Small businesses cannot survive without it. Technology allows for businesses to communicate with clients and customers via email, phone calls, and social media. It also manages tasks and projects, expenses, documents, and all relative data. Technology is available in any form, for any device, and offers mobile flexibility, convenience, and provides solutions.

But just because technology runs our society, our lives, and our businesses, does that mean small businesses should jump on every new gadget that hits the market? Not necessarily. Investing in technology for small businesses is one thing, but investing in the right small business technology is another.

Small businesses don’t always have the financial resources to pour into the latest and greatest cloud-based software solution, the newest Smartphone, and the next tablet that promises to be the most powerful yet. Small businesses should do their homework and research to find which technology and solution would work best, and ask the right questions before investing and implementing it into their entities.

In addition, an investment in small business technology doesn’t just stop at the initial costs to purchase it; small businesses must then train staff; purchase licenses, if necessary; and pay for technology support and troubleshooting. At these rates, it is easy for small businesses to empty their resources into technology, and it’s not always necessary.

So what are the questions that small businesses should ask and consider before investing in technology? How do they know which are worth it and which aren’t? It starts with knowing what your small business goals are, how you plan to use it and what the benefits to your team and entity would be, and how it can make working easier, and maybe even save you money over the long-term. Some important questions to ask include:

Business Intelligence and Analytics. Cloud-based intelligence software is huge today. This allows for small business operators and users to customize and organize all internal and project-related data in one organized and comprehensive format, as well as charts, graphs, and other visual aids depicting relative business and project data. For example, these metrics and analytics could include annual revenue, sales data, project deadlines and status, or other costs and expenses.

The reason why this is “intelligent” is because not only is it one system that includes all data points, but it allows for small business operators and users to make better, more informed, and intelligent decisions. Gone are the days when users had to access multiple systems, generate reports, and then spend time analyzing in order to make an informed business decision. Now everything a user or operator needs is right at their fingertips.

Customer Data. One area that should be considered when investing in small business technology is customer data. How is it presented? How is it organized? And what do third-party providers do with it? Many third-party providers that provide technology services, or Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) may use or sell customer data as well as small business data and financial information. This is an obvious curveball to avoid.

Not only should customer data be confidential, but they may not enjoy being contacted by third-party providers or organizations, especially if the root of that is your small business. You are in business to help customers, and provide them with a superb product or service. Having their data and information sold with or without your knowledge may abuse their trust and confidence in your organization as well as your business’s ability to deliver.

Short-Term versus Long-Term Costs. As briefly mentioned above, part of business planning and investing in technological resources should also be tied to financial planning. Small businesses should take the time up front to determine how much implementing certain software or technology would cost, versus the training and support that it would require, versus how much time and money it would save over the long-term. Small businesses need to consider if certain technologies and software is worth the investment and how it would make a positive impact on operations. Despite popular belief, just because technology promises to make work easier and increase productivity doesn’t necessarily mean it always will. Small businesses should take the time and weigh the pros and cons as well as look at the short-term and long-term costs over time.

Investing in technology needs careful consideration and in-depth small business planning. In addition, for those small businesses who have a solid business plan put together, backing that up with the proper technology will only improve your reputation to stakeholders. All in all, technology should help keep businesses organized, increase productivity and even sales, and make things easier, not the other way around.

Josh Barnhouse