Talking About Technology: IT is the friend of an expanding business

You’re working hard to grow your business, and technology should help you reach your goals. Ideally, that’s the case. But often the growth of small to mid-size businesses (and even large ones) is hindered by technological choices that business owners make. When companies gear up for growth, business owners must consider many issues, including technology.

A “pre-expansion” technology checklist might include issues like these:

• Are current tech operations, including order management, customer service, record-keeping, and inventory control, running smoothly and ready to handle increased demand?

•Can service levels be maintained while reaching for new business?

• Do employees have the necessary technological skills to support your growth strategy?

• Will you need to hire new staff or provide additional technology training?

You’ll be better able to answer these questions if you’ve done some prep work. For instance, having an information technology manager in place proves invaluable in preparing for growth, developing growth systems and strategies, and planning for additional technology and staffing costs.

This professional advice helps businesses keep on track and avoid mistakes like “technology driving the company, rather than the company driving technology.”

Costly roadblocks to growth, like needless expenditures, lack of trained staff and inability to process new orders or generate more invoices, are avoided.

Also, there is a need for documentation of tech processes and consideration of short- and long-term business plans before implementing new technology systems. These are important regarding expansion. With existing processes and plans in place, you can evaluate, update, and make changes easily. Without them, you’ll back-track or start from scratch.

Further considerations

There are four more important areas with regard to technology getting in the way of business growth:

• Global marketing: Internet use is important whether you’re growing your business domestically or internationally. With e-commerce increasing, not being Internet-savvy is a deterrent to growth.

Internet advertising is far-reaching and less expensive. It’s a quick, easy way to let a wider audience know about products or services. And it solves the problem of time-zone differences, enabling the sending and receiving of e-mail whenever it’s convenient—not just during business hours. Ignoring these opportunities hinders expansion.

• Web site issues: Everyone knows that a company Web site is good for business. It informs customers and gives them an easy way to order items or contact you. It also offers opportunities to collect valuable feedback via blogs. But to set up a Web site and sit back is a mistake and another growth deterrent.

A stagnant site deters growth because content and design are time-sensitive. There are always new tools to make sites look and perform better. Businesses should regularly update content and use new technologies to make sites more appealing.

Ignoring Web site statistics also hinders growth. Reports of visitor traffic are available from your Internet service provider. Monitoring statistics, e.g., conversions of visitors to customers, lets you customize marketing and design toward frequent visitors or find weak areas based on less frequent visitors. Statistics are growth road maps—ignoring them is to drive in circles.

• Security planning: In this era of identity theft, security fraud and data loss from stolen laptops, expansion plans can evaporate if you don’t have information security. Clients, especially financial and health-care clients, are pressuring companies to protect private information. If companies cannot, they lose new clients and damage their reputations. And, if companies don’t protect their own information, they’ll lose it to hackers and unethical competitors.

Expanding businesses can’t afford to ignore security. They must have security policies, track their activity, and make sure they’re understood and disseminated at all levels. They must be updated regarding new technology, new regulatory mandates, corporate growth, and new business lines, practices or mergers that bring new data and users in.

•‘Skimping’ on technology costs: Providing employees with laptops, BlackBerries and wireless access generates more productivity. They’ll respond promptly to customers wherever they are. Without these gadgets, they’d be less efficient in helping you grow your business.

Marc Berthiaume is president and chief executive of Manchester-based MJB Technology Solutions, a vendor-neutral technology adviser and partner for small to medium-sized businesses. He can be reached at marc@mjbsolutions.com.