Organizations of all shapes and sizes need to communicate and collaborate to succeed and grow, and this includes one-man bands, whether that be with colleagues, business partners, or potential customers. It might be surprising that many still resist technology adoption beyond the means of email exchanges as the primary means of communication and creating Word and Excel documents. Often these are the ones who can’t adapt to managing remote teams, and there are others who thrive on firefighting, suffer from hero syndrome, or who wouldn’t want to be seen as having fewer emails to read or less to do, in case it diminishes their own inflated sense of self-importance.
The suggestion of using mail merge to quickly create mailshots, cloud storage to share files, or using Twitter to create a brand presence, can lead to forlorn conversations where you might have more success trying to sell a manicure set to a pig farmer. Resistance is sometimes down to fear of the unknown — despite that most of the technologies we’re talking about involves a relatively small learning curve — or a lack of awareness of how technology can solve common small business problems, freeing up time to do something more useful.
During a recent conversation with an acquaintance — who was dead set against paying the small monthly fee to set up his fledgling business with email, document storage, and all those other goodies that come with Office 365 — I discovered that he instead prefers to email Excel files backward and forward between him and his business partners and use a generic domain name for communicating with customers and prospects. This results in never-ending message exchanges for the sake of getting some insight into what the other partners are doing, which is a rather unprofessional looking front end for the business.
While it’s possible to run a business with a minimal investment in technology thanks to the emergence of cloud services over the past few years, access to technology that was once only available to large corporations is no longer cost prohibitive for even the smallest startups. What’s more likely to restrict adoption is the cost of employing a consultant to advise small businesses through the dense forest of available solutions. But getting the right help can enable businesses grow faster and be prepared for future expansion, not to mention reducing stress related to ineffective work practices and being left in the dark at those all important moments when having the right information at your fingertips might prove to be critical.
One of the factors that can prevent small businesses from expanding, for instance by outsourcing administrative and IT functions and setting the financial implications aside, is the need to be more organized and effectively utilize available collaborative technologies. Employing an extra person or getting part-time help requires existing employees be organized and often requires management of remote workers, without day-to-day contact in the office. This process can require a considerable amount of additional planning and management that isn’t necessary when working alone or in a small team in the same physical location.
Expanding a one-man business can be even more difficult, as with nobody to report to, sloppy working practices can make it hard to integrate a third-party. Project management and collaboration tools become important in these situations and gone are the times where meandering through the day was the working style of choice.
As an independent consultant and writer, expanding my own business has presented some challenges, but the biggest has been keeping up with the constantly evolving world of cloud services, along with how to best implement them to work with colleagues. Once you go beyond consumer services, such as Outlook.com and Google Drive, working with business solutions like Office 365 requires some specialist knowledge and experience. Even where there is some technology expertise in house, deploying Office 365 can be a daunting proposition.
But before taking the plunge with a particular service or solution, it’s worth pausing to evaluate the way you currently work, the company’s needs and growth forecast, and employing the skills of a consultant who specializes in helping small businesses in your field to flesh out the different options, and deploy and train you in using and maintaining the chosen solution. A couple of days of a consultant’s time could be worth its weight in gold, but sadly the benefits of cloud technologies are of no concern for my acquaintance and his business.