If you are like most small business owners, you know that many of today’s tech tools can help grow your small business and improve your efficiency. And, if you are like most small business owners, you also haven’t had the chance to do a thorough analysis of the right tech tools for your small business, let alone create an actual tech plan. Instead, you may find yourself using tech tools in a piecemeal fashion to put out “fires” rather than taking the time to identify the best and most impactful tech tools that will help you reach your top business goals.
Complete the following three steps and you will gain a new perspective on your business and have the outline of a customized tech plan.
1. Perform an inventory of all the tech tools your small business currently uses.
Print the “Technology Inventory and Audit Worksheet” located at the end of this article. Think of all the technology components that you currently use in your small business and mark a “Y” next to each one, whether you own or lease the item. Once you’ve completed this step, put aside this worksheet. You will get back to it at the end of Step 3.
2. Conduct a SWOT analysis for your small business (SWOT stands for “Strengths,” “Weaknesses,” “Opportunities” and “Threats”).
Print the “SWOT Analysis Worksheet” located at the end of this article. Take a moment to think about your business’ strengths. They might be related to customer service. They might fall under speed and efficiency. Or, your business may have a pricing advantage over your competition. Whatever they may be, make a list of your top strengths.
Repeat the process for your business’ weaknesses. Your business may have a fantastic, high quality product that is priced right, but it may not have an efficient distribution network. Or, your consulting business may have the expertise to help other businesses, but if nobody knows you exist, you won’t have any customers. Write down your top weaknesses.
Repeat the process for your business’ opportunities. One way to discover these opportunities is to examine your competition closely to identify its weaknesses. These could be opportunities for your business to seize. Another way to identify opportunities for your business might be to look at your target market and think of better or new ways that your business could serve it. Write down the top opportunities for your business.
Repeat the process for threats against your business. These may come from your competition or external sources, such as natural disasters or wars. Examples of threats could be a new competitor moving into your business’ territory or economic factors, such as an increase in the cost of fuel. Make a list of the top threats to your business.
3. Identify your top three business goals
Print the “Tech Plan Worksheet” at the end of this article. Based on the results of your SWOT analysis, identify your top three business goals for the coming year. These might be to improve one or more of your business’ strengths, or address one or more of your business’ weaknesses, or take advantage of one or more of the opportunities identified, or neutralize a detected threat, or a combination of all of the above.
Once you’ve written down your top three goals for your business, go back to your “Technology Inventory and Audit Worksheet” and think about the types of technology tools that can assist you to achieve your goals. For example, if improving customer care is one of your goals, purchasing a new CRM system or upgrading a current system could be one of the tech tools that you mark as a need. You might also mark “social network presence” as a needed item if you think that you can improve your customer service by creating a Facebook page and regularly asking your customers for their comments or input about your product. Another tech tool that could help improve customer service might be to adopt Skype or a similar technology to offer regular live chat sessions to your customers. The latter two types of tech tools are entirely free and require only your time.
There may be many type of tech tools that can help you achieve your top three goals, so you will need to determine which of the identified tech tools best fits within your business’ overall business plan for the coming year. Based on a realistic assessment of the tech tools your business should adopt, prioritize the identified items. Make sure to prioritize the tech tools that your business currently uses. You may discover that you already own or lease the resources needed to achieve your top three goals or you may discover that the current tech tools that you lease or own are not helping you achieve your most important business goals. With this new insight, you can adjust your allocation of funds, time and man power in a way that makes the most sense and that furthers your top goals.
Once you’ve done that, go back to your list of top three goals and write down the top three tech tools that will help achieve each of those goals. Also note whether your business already owns or leases each one of these tools. You can also do a quick internet search to get a cost estimate for each of the identified tech tools.
And voila, you have the outline of a tech plan that identifies the top nine tech tools you will need to adopt and your top three business goals for the coming year. It will be up to you to integrate this information into your business plan, based on the immediacy of the need and your budgetary and time constraints.
For more information on integrating tech tools into your business plan, take the “Roadmap” workshop online at e-Business Now or contact your local SCORE chapter to take a live “Tech Roadmap” workshop or schedule a free counseling appointment with a SCORE mentor.