What ‘digital’ means for small businesses

About thirty-five percent (35%) of my clients fall into a particular demographic.  They have recently set up a business, and require a website and related online marketing services, such as social media marketing and/or search engine optimisation (SEO). They feel these services will improve their visibility and increase the number of customers, leading to more sales and, ultimately, profit and, to some extent, they are right. 

However, once I mention the words, ‘digital change’, I get quite a few reactions. Most small businesses assume that digital transformation is something that bigger businesses do. “I do not need digital transformation,” they say, “I want to get more customers.”  

Or quite frequently I get a glazed look, as the term ‘digital transformation’ is virtually meaningless (excuse the pun). 

But it is important for all types of businesses – from start-ups to established companies – to grasp the significance of doing business in a digital world. Businesses that are reluctant to change, or are in denial of the ongoing digital shift, run the risk of becoming extinct. 

So what does digital transformation look like, and what does it mean for a small business?  It is not complex technology, computers and code. Digital transformation is not primarily about the technology.  It is not just about marketing, and it cannot be left to your IT department. To understand ‘digital’, let us starting by looking at what digital means to the three key determinants of your business success: 

1. Customers 

2. Processes 

3. Industry or competitors 

What does digital mean to your customers? 

Our potential customers live in an increasingly digital world. With the widespread use of smartphones and social media, they are more connected than ever before, and require things to be done smarter and faster.  At the click of a button, our customers can order food and get this delivered to their doorsteps; they can speak to family members thousands of miles away, and they can hear the latest music using a voice command. We all take these things for granted nowadays, and our expectations are increasingly for digitally powered solutions to our day-to-day requirements.  

Customers understand that some interactions may not be fully digital, so visiting a hairdresser, or getting their cars repaired or heating fixed may not be a fully digital process, but their experience is enhanced when businesses provide a digital element, such as booking online, or sending explanatory videos or images via WhatsApp or messaging apps, or providing examples of previous work on Instagram, or customer reviews on eBay or Amazon. 

In response, businesses have to embrace change in order to remain relevant to their customers’ new behaviours or expectations. This resultant business change is described as digital transformation. The first step in this process is not adopting new technology, but a change of mindset when thinking about your customers.  

A few questions to ask are: 

How do my customers benefit from my business? 

Is there anywhere else they could get this same value? 

How do they access my business? 

What are their expectations around the value I offer? 

Is the value of my service increasing or decreasing in view of their lifestyles/habits? 

If Blockbusters had asked some of these questions early on, they might still have a business today. 

How can digital impact your processes? 

A process simply means the way things are done. Every business has a specific way in which it delivers its products or services to customers. In addition, businesses also have processes by which they create their product or services. This can include a procurement process, collaborative processes or manufacturing processes. In addition, for efficiency, businesses also have financial processes or structures, staff processes, marketing processes, etc. 

It is widely recognised that technology is a key enhancement to processes. Things can be done quicker, smarter and more accurately by adopting relevant technology – from using a simple spreadsheet, to using an online financial platform; or adopting artificial intelligence to interpret and utilise existing business data. Technology powers your ability to remain competitive in the market. 

Thinking about your current business processes and how these can be improved by adopting new technology is a significant step in business transformation. 

How is digital disrupting your industry? 

Finally, there is disruption taking place in virtually every business sector, and it is important to be aware of what these emerging threats look like, and how/why they emerge. 

A lot of the business threats we see today are related to technology: cyber security, artificial intelligence/automation, big data, to mention a few. These threats are also opportunities which are being utilised by the tech disruptors we see in the marketplace.  

Uber built a platform to connect car owners directly with passengers using a mobile app, and disrupted the traditional taxi hailing business. 

Spotify offers music on a subscription basis to listeners, and HMV struggles with a decreased brand appeal.  

AirBnB disrupted the travel accommodation sector, from low-cost basic accommodation to luxury accommodation. 

Conclusion 

It is time to start thinking digital.  A good starting point is to perform a SWOT analysis on your current business or industry. Perhaps get together with a few colleagues in your industry, or hold a staff meeting and include some of your key customers or suppliers. 

This trend is just beginning and, as the English grime artist Wiley puts it:  ‘Evolve or Be Extinct’. 

SWOT Toolkit 

Strengths: Look at how your business is embracing digital already within the 3 key aspects 

Weakness: In which areas is your business slow in catching up? 

Opportunities: Where are the opportunities to increase your digital footsteps? 

Threats: What are the threats your business could be facing?

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Written By: Keno Ogbo

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