Contemporary consumers live online. Everything from product research to purchasing happens over the internet. As a small business, however, it’s not always easy to reach that connected audience. Moving and responding in the online world is tough enough for big brands – for smaller businesses it can seem downright overwhelming.
There’s good news, though. By breaking your efforts down into manageable steps and asking some simple questions, you can easily nail down a more comprehensive picture of what your company needs to survive and thrive in the digital realm.
Step 1: Determine Basic Connectivity Needs
With the rise of the mobile workforce and cloud server solutions, high-speed internet has become more of a necessity than a luxury for most small businesses. To help narrow down your Internet Service Provider (ISP) options, take the time to answer these four questions:
- What internet speed do I need for my business?
Consider the number of users who will be using the internet at the same time, the frequency and scope of your uploads and downloads and the critical programs you use on a regular basis. Plug those numbers into an online speed-gauge tool to figure out what speeds to look for.
- Will I be using VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) phones?
The bandwidth required for VoIP service depends on how many calls you’ll be making simultaneously. For small businesses with limited phone use, VoIP services shouldn’t be much of a burden. The same can’t be said for call-heavy companies.
- What’s my backup plan if the internet goes down?
Many small business owners don’t realize that a few minutes of downtime each day can amount to thousands of dollars lost annually. If your business can still perform critical functions offline, you probably won’t need an extensive backup plan. However, if your organization depends on the internet to run, look at plans with more robust support offerings.
- How big is my budget?
Internet pricing for small businesses varies depending on the connection type – cable, DSL, satellite or fiber. Costs may also be influenced by additional features like support and equipment, as well as by the complexity of the network. Take a look at your internet budget before you start shopping around to avoid signing on for more bandwidth than you can afford.
If you want to simplify your search for an ISP even further, don’t hesitate to ask around in your area. Nothing beats hearing experiences straight from fellow small business owners.
Step 2: Research Online Customer Management Tools
With a reliable internet plan in place, you can start finding programs to improve internal efficiencies and customer relationship management (CRM). There are plenty of tools out there, and many are relatively inexpensive for small businesses. Ask the following questions to pick the perfect CRM system and open up more time for yourself and the rest of your team:
- What tasks or processes could online CRM tools help me with?
To find out which tool is the best fit for you, figure out the specific tasks that you need help with. If you send online newsletters regularly, look for email automation. If you rely a lot on outbound sales revenue, find a program that helps capture consumer information.
- Should I opt for cloud-based solutions?
On-premise CRM systems house servers and data in subscribers’ offices, while cloud-based solutions house information remotely, giving users access to that data via the internet. While both solutions have their own pros and cons, cloud-based options are by far the best option for businesses that need secure, reliable storage with flexible access.
- How important is scalability?
One huge benefit of online CRM tools is that they generally grow and scale more easily than traditional solutions. Even if you don’t anticipate a lot of growth in the next year or two, it’s worth looking at smaller annual fluctuations – particularly during the holidays – to figure out how much scalability means to your business.
Step 3: Secure Important Digital Information
Once you’ve figured out which tools you’ll be using in the digital sphere, you’ll need to establish some security protocols for how those programs will be used.
An astonishing number of companies fall prey to cyber criminals and data theft each year, and small businesses are no exception. In fact, according to Symantec’s Internet Security Report, 43 percent of all cyber attacks recorded in 2015 were targeted at small businesses. To help ensure secure communications within your organization and assess your company’s level of information security readiness, consider these questions.
- What type of customer/client information do I need to secure?
Sensitive information varies from one small business to another. A retail company, for instance, would need to secure transaction information and financial data, while an organization in the healthcare industry might need additional security to handle private medical information.
- Does my business need cybersecurity insurance?
Many small businesses can’t afford to shoulder lawsuits that come with data theft and loss – a breach could spell disaster for a company with limited resources. If you don’t have the budget to handle legal charges in the wake of data theft, cybersecurity insurance is worth considering.
- Are there written information security policies in place?
Your security policies should include strict password policies, measures to maximize firewall protection, download/streaming rules and antivirus software regulations. Don’t hesitate to spell out the consequences for violating the established policy.
Step 4: Plan Digital Marketing and Outreach
When you’ve successfully established ground rules for online processes and security, you can start building your digital presence. For many small business owners, social media is a hit-and-miss affair. Some don’t see the value of putting a lot of effort into it, while others have tried but didn’t see the positive outcomes they were hoping for.
The truth is that social media marketing is all about building relationships with prospects and customers. It takes time and effort to see results. To help determine how social media can fit into your brand’s big picture, figure out the answers to these three questions:
- What are my company’s specific social media marketing goals?
Small businesses dive into social media marketing for various reasons – from customer engagement to brand awareness to lead generation. By being specific about your goals, you’ll have a clearer picture of the tools and tactics required to keep your social campaigns running like well-oiled machines.
- What audiences should the company target?
Knowing your prospective customers’ demographics, interests and pain points will make it easier for you to identify the social networks that can provide the most leverage. It may also help clue you in on the type of content your customers care about.
- Who is in charge of social media marketing?
Examining your online marketing process will help you determine if you should hire someone to do social media full time or part time. Some small businesses have seen success in outsourcing their social media marketing.
Whether it’s finding the perfect ISP or beefing up your information security measures, the questions outlined above can help you determine your company’s digital needs quickly and efficiently. Just give yourself plenty of room to research your options, and you’ll set your company up for long-term success both online and offline.
Jonathan Deesing is a freelance writer, marketer, and amateur beekeeper. When he’s not working you can find him trying to teach his husky puppy to sit! Stay!