Globalization was once thought of something that only the largest of enterprises would entertain. It's also thought of as a dirty word, drumming up connotations of the developed world taking over the economies of the developing world and a homogenization of businesses to a handful of unstoppable brands. Years later, we've come to learn that globalization through the Internet provides new opportunities for lesser known companies and many small businesses to compete on a larger scale. This has helped small businesses to weather the economic storm on their domestic doorstep by allowing them to take advantage of online storefronts and lower cost of travel. However, new challenges have come out of globalization and many may still wonder if technology has been able to keep pace.
One of the biggest challenges for any small business is to keep operating costs in line as they expand their serving footprint. Reductions alone in office space and allowing employees to work from home or in fluid office environments will not necessarily result in positive savings. What many organizations have noticed is that once employees become more mobile so do their communication needs and that inevitably drives up costs in mobile airtime, bandwidth demands, and roaming fees that often appear incomprehensible.
Before we review what you can do to keep operating costs down while increasing communication internally and with your customers, we'd like to share a few common mistakes.
The first mistake most small businesses make is trying to build their business around how technology works. Take a phone system for example. The productivity gains made by managing all your calls in one "box" has been dramatic, however those productivity gains are all lost the second someone needs to work remotely. Small businesses begin restricting mobile communications because they simply cannot afford it this can lead to dissatisfied employees who end up leaving to seek jobs at more convenient companies that are closer to home or offer other fringe benefits like work from home days. Tying your business to a physical phone system inevitably means running your business according to how that phone system can work.
A second mistake we see day in and day out are businesses that are dead set on using traditional telephony solutions because that's what they know. Take a PRI (Primary Rate Interface) for example; a PRI helped revolutionize business communication by allowing many employees to share the same voice service, significantly reducing the cost of a single phone line for each person at the office. However, that low cost of communicating quickly increases when you need to move to a new location or the demands of a growing workforce requires increased capacity. Additionally, the restrictions of traditional telephony keeps small businesses hard wired to their office space, causing more headaches in the long run and costs no one planned for.
The final mistake, and probably the most dramatic at holding small businesses back from reaching their goals, is trying to manage all of their operations themselves. Take a small boutique advertising firm for example. Their goal is to secure key contracts and deliver the most innovative advertising campaigns that win accolades and increases their business three fold each year. They decide they need a phone system to manage the calls coming in and handle frequent conference calls with clients all over the city or country. In order to manage that phone system they now need to hire the necessary technical expertise to manage things. That boutique advertising firm has now stepped out of their area of expertise - developing innovative advertising programs - and have now jumped head first into the world of managing telephony and technology solutions for their operations. How much more revenue could they have driven if they used that expense to hire another sales person?
To meet your business goals and operate at a global level while driving operating costs lower, there are 3 questions that should come in to every purchase decision:
- How flexible is this service and will it adapt to my changing business needs?
- Can this scale incrementally as my business grows?
- Will I have to manage this myself or do you take care of it for me?
Flexibility is critical to your communication and IT needs as a small business. You will outgrow your current office environment, you will likely expand to a second location, and in many cases you'll start getting demands to work from home or on the road. Can your current systems and services handle any of this? If you're still in the process of making that purchase decision you need to assess the flexibility of that service or you could find yourself going through this same process in less than 3 years to find a replacement product.
Scalability is often glossed over in product information sheets or given a slick treatment to appear like a service will grow infinitely as your business does. The reality is that most services or equipment has a very clear ceiling. A phone system designed for up to 8 employees simply does not have additional ports to add a 9th or more. This means going back to the drawing board and overhauling your communication needs, breaking contracts, and disrupting your business operations.
Managed services are probably the most overlooked area of any small business. There is the idea that you must be in control of every facet of your business or it could lead you to losing all control. This couldn't be more wrong. Getting distracted with managing the IT needs of your business will ultimately make you lose sight of your core business strengths. A financial services firm needs to focus on the profitability of their investments and acquiring more investors. Why should they ever worry about how their internal office communicates or how the security of their servers is being managed? Finding a partner that is an expert in a particular service allows a small organization to stay focused on their core strengths by losing the distraction and the cost of managing it all themselves.
There are a number of products and services that are entering the market on a daily basis to serve the needs of small businesses. These services could help you to keep your operating costs at a minimum while driving revenue growth at home or abroad. Hosted phone systems, cloud computing, and unified communication tools are just a few of the ways you can ensure flexibility, scalability, and pass the day by day management of your IT and communication needs off to someone else.