How to maximise technology for your business

In this ever-shifting digital age, businesses need to adapt to new technology in order to increase sales and revenue, but that is easier said than done. Many small to medium sized businesses discount the value of an online presence, but the latest ABS statistics have revealed otherwise- the online retail industry is valued at $12.6 billion in Australia.

Online sales are predicted to increase by 10 to 15 percent annually for the next three years, highlighting the importance of changing your business strategy to suit the evolving customer base.

Here are some of the most popular tech-focused applications and deals to help you tackle your logistical problems and get your business up and running.

  • Apply for a business phone and broadband plan
  • Float to the cloud
  • Launch your website
  • Get social

Apply for a business phone and broadband plan

There are a myriad of mobile phone and broadband Internet packages in the market catered specifically to small businesses at competitive prices. Ensure that you shop around and conduct some research to find the best deal for your business. A good place to start is the handy Google search and the major telecommunications providers, namely Telstra, Optus and Vodafone.

Claiming to serve 99 percent of the population, Telstra operates around 70 local business centres throughout metropolitan and regional Australia aiming to help business owners with any communications issues. Telstra offers a digital business package for SMEs that bundles a fixed line, broadband, mobile phone plan and free voice calls into a single box that can be plugged to phones, fax machines and EFTPOS machines.

Optus has partnered with directory website to offer an advertising package for small businesses. This includes higher placement for your business in search results on the website as well as the listing of your business contact details, reviews and picture galleries.

Vodafone, which has been affected by an exodus of customers from its network of late, offers a 24 month phone plan, Let's Talk Business, which can put an entire office on one account to cut costs. This is only applicable to small businesses, which have been traditionally referred to as those with less than 20 staff. The phone services are pooled and shared between users on a first-come, first-serve basis. Vodafone's CallScreen service can also be useful for business owners on the move, diverting calls to a Vodafone operator.

Float to the cloud

Cloud computing is a relatively new phenomenon but has been experiencing rapid uptake by SMEs and entrepreneurs. Basically, cloud computing means that applications operate from a shared data centre "in the cloud" or online, instead of on your business's own network.

While this has raised questions of privacy and identity theft, cloud computing is generally more secure than applications hosted on a company server due to improved backup and redundancy services.

The benefits? There aren't any delays and startup costs associated with this method of information storage, and it is particularly advantageous for hosting accounting applications. Saasu  is one example of a company that offers MYOB on the cloud. Cloud computing is also good for disaster recovery in the case your office network crashes or is hacked.

Read more on taking your accounting to the cloud here.

Launch your website

In this day and age, all SMEs should have an online presence, and there is no easier way to do so than launching a website. Surprisingly, two-thirds of Australian businesses do not have a website, according to a recent MYOB Business Monitor survey. The survey also revealed that 30 percent of businesses with websites experienced increased revenue in FY2010 compared to 23 percent of businesses without a website.

Having a website is particularly relevant for the retail, wholesale and manufacturing industries, which can take advantage of the increasing number of online shoppers. If a business cannot afford to maintain a website, there are plenty of free blogging platforms around that serve as a starting point to establish a web presence.

A good option for food businesses is to list themselves on restaurant review sites or aggregators such as Urbanspoon, Eatability and Menulog.

Get social

We've all heard that Facebook and Twitter are good marketing tools, but how can you get the most out of social networking? Creating a business page or advertising on Facebook is cheap but effectively increases brand awareness and can even help you track down new customers. In this way, information is communicated on a personal level to 'fans' of your Facebook page, an approach that may be less aggressive than direct marketing campaigns.

On the other hand, Twitter is suited to communicating time-sensitive information such as special offers, sales or the launch of a new product, creating virtual suspense for customers. The search function on Twitter can also be used for media monitoring purposes as it allows you to search for your business name or competitors' names in the Twitter universe. The key benefit of Twitter and Facebook is their ability to reach thousands of people in a few clicks, reducing your marketing costs yet ensuring a targeted approach.

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