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Small businesses must go digital to survive (and thrive)

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) A study at Cisco reveals how digitizing small businesses is no longer optional, but critical to success, thanks to the pandemic.

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Black woman working on a laptop on a couch, running her small businesses' needs digitally.

As digital transformation efforts ramp up due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a new study released by Cisco has highlighted some key insights into how small businesses will need to adapt in order to survive in the “new normal.”

The study, conducted by International Data Corporation (IDC), analyzed more than 2,000 small businesses across eight different markets, including the United States, Canada, Germany, Mexico, United Kingdom, Brazil, Chile, and France. Using a four-section index to assess a small business’s digitalization efforts, the research found that 16% of companies said they were “thriving and feel their businesses are agile and resilient.” While 36% stated they were in “survival mode.” Regardless of where they were ranked in the index, the study concluded that 70% of firms were in the process of ramping up digital transformation within their company due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the digital divide that was already present in the small business market, and it is forcing companies to accelerate their digitalization,” said Daniel-Zoe Jimenez, AVP, head digital transformation & SMB research at IDC. “Small businesses are realizing that digitalization is no longer an option, but a matter of survival.”

The study also highlighted several challenges associated with digital transformation. The three biggest obstacles that businesses seem to face during the process were digital skills and talent, budgetary issues (lack of funds or previous commitment of funds), and cultural resistance to change. Despite these roadblocks, 45% of companies surveyed stated that they expect over 30% of their business to be digital by 2021. And 32% responded that they are planning on developing a digital strategy. This included investing in talent with the right set of digital skills moving forward.

Those decisions fall in line with Cisco and IDC’s recommendations. These include creating a three-year technology road map and building a workforce with the right skills to succeed in a digital world. Other suggestions include finding the right technology partner, and keeping up with industry trends. Leveraging financing and remanufactured equipment can aid with cash flow and budget requirements.

As small businesses continue to adapt to consumer behavior and the whirlwind of ever-changing rules that have come with the coronavirus, digital transformation will continue to play a major role in the post-COVID world. According to the report, if half of the small businesses surveyed can reach the second-highest tier of the index by 2024, those companies could end up adding an additional $2.3 trillion to the eight markets’ gross domestic product (GDP), contributing to the global economic recovery.

As we approach the six-month mark of the pandemic, just when and how the “new normal” will emerge is still uncertain. But there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel for small businesses — even if it’s faint green and contains zeroes and ones.

Patrick Auger is a management consultant and entrepreneur who resides in Austin, Texas. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Business Management from Western Illinois University, and is the Founder and Principal Consultant at Auger Consulting Group, LLC. When he's not writing for The American Genius, he's writing about the business of Mixed Martial Arts for The Body Lock or learning how to cook, one burnt recipe at a time.

Business Entrepreneur

Snowpocalypse disaster 2021: How can businesses help their employees?

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) How did your business manage your human resources during snowpocalypse? How can you protect your team and prepare for the next disaster?

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Snow storm disaster, inches of snow where it was unexpected in front of a home and car.

The effects of Snowpocalypse 2021 will be felt for months. It’s not just fixing the power grid, paying off electric bills, or repairing pipes. Many employees lost wages because they couldn’t work. CNBC estimates that over 40% of Americans couldn’t last a month on their savings. Combined with the impact of COVID-19 across many industries, recovering from a 2-week loss of wages from the snowstorm disaster could devastate many Texans.

How does your business manage time off during disasters?

Larger businesses often continue to pay their employee’s salaries during disasters. Exempt employees have different rules over non-exempt employees, but we’ve seen many instances where larger organizations continued to pay employees, even though they couldn’t get into work. Employees with small to medium sized businesses often don’t have an option. These employees either take PTO or don’t get paid. While this might be legal and understandable from the business point of view, there might be other options. What can a business do when a disaster occurs when it comes to employee wages?

Know the law to pay employees right

I’m not even going to try to and sort through the multitude of laws that pertain to nonexempt or exempt employees. Every business should have a disaster policy that informs employees how their salary will be handled during the disaster, whether employees can stay home and work, choose to stay home out of safety or are forced to stay home and can’t work. Know the policies of the ADA, OSHA and FMLA to know what your rights and responsibilities are as an employer when disaster strikes. Make sure you’re paying employees according to state and federal laws.

Consider options to protect employees

We’re not suggesting that businesses put themselves in debt to pay workers during a crisis, but Texas has experienced so many disasters over the past few years, it does make sense to think about how to help employees during those times. Critical time off (CTO) is one option as a benefit to workers during crises. By lowering stress during critical times, your employees come back to work ready to deal with your business.

Building trust with your team by helping them through a crisis can help your business keep your best workers. Now’s the time to look at your disaster response and figure out how to take steps to prepare for the next time.

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Business Entrepreneur

4 tips for acquiring a business: The why and how

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) Acquiring a business can be a key part of your business’s future growth, but there are some factors you should consider before signing the deal.

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A meeting room with people shaking hands over acquiring a business

Growing businesses have multiple levers that can be pulled separately or in unison to continue scaling and expanding. And while many companies choose to grow internally, there’s always the option of acquiring other businesses to supercharge results and instantly expand.

Why Acquire?

Acquiring a business is certainly a complicated path to expansion, but it’s also a highly attractive one for a variety of reasons. This includes:

  • Increased market share. If you’re acquiring a business that happens to be a competitor, you can instantly increase your market share. If you currently own 20 percent of the market share and the competition has 15 percent, you suddenly catapult to 35 percent. That might make you the industry leader overnight!
  • Expansion into new markets. Sometimes you acquire a business outside of your industry or niche. In this case, it allows you to expand vertically or horizontally. This can improve top-line revenue and/or reduce costs and benefit profit margins.
  • Advanced tech and IP. In some situations, an acquisition is about acquiring a specific piece of technology or intellectual property (IP). This may prove to be the final boost you need to accelerate growth and initiate further expansion.
  • Talent acquisition. One of the secondary benefits of an acquisition is the opportunity to welcome new talent into your team. Whether it’s a seasoned executive or a highly effective sales staff, this is one benefit you can’t ignore.

Mergers and acquisitions aren’t the correct solutions in every situation, but they often make sense. It’s ultimately up to your team to sit down and discuss the pros, cons, opportunities, drawbacks, and possibilities of pursuing this option.

Helpful Acquisition Tips

Should your business choose to move forward with the acquisition route, here are some essential tips to be aware of:

1. Assemble a Talented Team

Don’t do anything until you first develop an acquisition team. This is a very important step and should not be delayed. (Many businesses make the mistake of starting the search and then forming a team on the fly, but this results in missed opportunities and foundational errors that can compromise an otherwise smart acquisition.)

A good acquisition team should include an experienced mergers and acquisitions advisor, a responsible executive, an attorney, an HR professional, and an IT expert. You’ll also want to bring on a public relations professional as soon as possible. This will ensure you control the messaging that customers, investors, and even employees hear.

2. Do Extensive Due Diligence

With the support of a talented dream team, you’re equipped to find the best acquisition opportunities. As you narrow your targets down, you’ll want to identify and implement a very detailed due diligence process for acquiring a business. This may include an extensive, objective analysis that consists of a letter of intent, confidentiality agreement, contracts and leases, financial statements, tax returns, and other important documents.

3. Make an Initial Offer

If the due diligence checks out, then it’s time to work on formulating an offer for acquiring a business. While the first offer almost certainly won’t be the offer that gets accepted, it’s the single most important offer you’ll make. It frames the transaction and sets the tone for the rest of the negotiations. It’s generally a good idea to offer no more than 75 to 90 percent of what you’re willing to pay. It should be low enough to leave room to inch up, but not so low that the other party could potentially see it as an insult.

4. Negotiate

Your first offer won’t get accepted. But unless you’ve totally insulted the other business, they should come back with a counter. Now is where things get really interesting. Negotiations ensue and it’s time to counter back and forth. The offer consists of a variety of elements – not just a price tag – so consider all of these variables in your subsequent counters.

Adding it All Up

As valuable as an acquisition can be, the process is often filled with friction. It’s up to your team to make the transition after closing as smooth as possible.

It’s very important that you respect the products, services, employees, and customers that the acquired business has. If you come into an acquisition and attempt to shake things up on day one, you’re going to get backlash. There’s nothing wrong with making changes – you now own the business – but be diplomatic and patient. Build trust, work together, and gradually introduce changes.

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Business Entrepreneur

How to choose the right software for your business

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) What are the best software products for your up-and-coming company? Use these questions to decide which kind is best for you.

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software products

It’s almost impossible to run a successful modern business without some kind of software to help you stay productive and operate efficiently. There are millions of companies and even more independent developers working hard to produce new software products and services for the businesses of the world, so to say that choosing the right software is intimidating is putting it lightly.

Fortunately, your decisions will become much easier with a handful of decision-making rubrics.

Determining Your Core Needs

First, you need to decide which types of software you really need. For most businesses, these are the most fundamental categories:

  • Proposal software. Customer acquisition starts and ends with effective proposals, which is why you need proposal software that helps you create, send, and track the status of your sales documents.
  • Lead generation and sales. You’ll also want the support of lead generation and sales software, including customer relationship management (CRM) platforms. These help you identify and track prospects throughout the sales process.
  • Marketing and advertising. Marketing and advertising platforms help you plan and implement your campaigns, but even more importantly—they help you track your results.
  • Finance and accounting. With finance and accounting software, you’ll track accounts payable and receivable, and countless variables influencing the financial health of your company.
  • Supply chain and logistics. Certain types of businesses require support when it comes to supply chain management and logistics—and software can help.
  • Productivity and tracking. Some software products, including time trackers and project management platforms, focus on improving productivity and tracking employee actions.
  • Comprehensive analytics. Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software and other “big picture” software products attempt to provide you with comprehensive analytics related to your business’s performance.

Key Factors to Consider

From there, you’ll need to choose a software product in each necessary category—or try to find one that covers all categories simultaneously. When reviewing the thousands (if not millions) of viable options, keep these factors in mind:

    • Core features/functionality. Similar products in a given niche can have radically different sets of features. It’s tempting to go with the most robust product in all cases, but superfluous features and functionality can present their own kind of problem.
    • Integrations. If you use a number of different software products, you’ll need some way to get them to work together. Prioritize products that make it easy to integrate with others—especially ones you’re already using.
    • Intuitiveness/learnability. Software should be intuitive and easy to learn. Not only will this cut down on the amount of training and education you have to provide employees, but it will also reduce the possibilities of platform misuse in the future.
    • Customizability/flexibility. Out-of-the-box software products work well for many customers, but they may not suit your current or future needs precisely. Platforms with greater customizability and flexibility are favorable.
    • Security. If you’re handling sensitive data (and most businesses will be), it’s vital to have a software developed with security in mind. There should be multiple layers of security in place, and ample settings for you to tightly control accessibility.
    • Ongoing developer support. Your chosen software might be impressive today, but how is it going to look in three years? It’s ideal to choose a product that features ongoing developer support, with the potential for more features and better functionality in the near and distant future.
    • Customer support. If you have an issue with the app, will someone be available to help you? Good customer service can elevate the value of otherwise average apps.
    • Price. Finally, you’ll need to consider price. The best apps will often have a price that matches their quality; it’s up to you to decide whether the extra expense is worth it.

Read about each product as you conduct your research, and pay close attention to reviews and testimonials from past customers. Additionally, most software companies are happy to offer free demos and trials, so you can get some firsthand experience before finalizing your decision. Take them up on the offer.

Finding the Balance

It may seem like purchasing or subscribing to new software products will always improve your business fundamentals, but this isn’t always the case. If you become bogged down with too many apps and services, it’s going to make operations more confusing for your staff, decrease consistency, and drain your budget dry at the same time. Instead, try to keep your systems as simplified and straightforward as possible, while still getting all the services you need.

You won’t find or implement the perfect suite of software products for your business overnight. It’s going to take weeks, if not months of research, free trials, and in-house experiments. Remain patient, and don’t be afraid to cut your losses on products that aren’t working the way you originally intended.

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