Over the past few weeks, I've been thinking about the following six rules I created that I believe will really help you boost your business. There are plenty of other technology rules to keep in mind, but these six go beyond the traditional guidelines of having a website and making sure your technology is secure.
1.Spend money on technology as an investment--not as a cost.
You spend money on insurance. You probably have a lawyer and an accountant. However, when it comes to spending money on technology, many of you only do so when absolutely necessary. You don't spend money on technology that you think you don't need. This is a mistake.
If you're building a business that's meant to last, you must think of your technology spending as an investment in how technology can help your business grow. You should spend money on technology that will help you now and in the future. The right investments in technology will help you save money and time, do more with less and grow your business.
Don't think of where your business is now, but think of where your business will be in five years and invest in technology accordingly.
2. Microsoft Outlook is not CRM.
Many of you, like me, use Microsoft Outlook as the core foundation of your business. You use it to manage your e-mail, tasks, notes and calendar--and that's good. But if you want to increase sales to your current customers and know everything you can about each customer, you should use a true CRM product or service.
When a customer buys from you, chats with your sales rep and maybe returns a product, a true CRM product or service can help you mine this data and use it to know more about your customers.
3. Web 2.0 is no joke.
You've heard about Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and a few dozen other social media tools that help you connect with others. Many websites also enable you to comment, upload your own videos and share your insights. This is what Web 2.0 is about. It's more than you giving a sales pitch to someone, which is a one-way conversation. It's about having a conversation with customers and letting them have a conversation with each other--about you.
You need to have a great website with quality navigation and content. You need an e-mail newsletter to reach people. You should have a blog to foster more conversation and boost your websites rankings in search engines.
The next step is to ensure visitors to your site can communicate with you and with each other using Web 2.0 technologies.
4. Mobile technology can boost productivity.
If you and your staff are sitting at desks all day, you may not need mobile technology. But if you travel, you need to implement mobile technology solutions. This means you can access your office--e-mail, faxes, files and more--wherever you are.
There's no reason to tell a customer they have to wait until you get back to your office. There's no excuse for telling a partner you haven't received a fax someone sent you or missed a voice mail because you weren't in the office.
5. Outsource your technology.
You don't need to manage and implement technology on your own. You may be an expert in what you sell, but you probably aren't an expert in network security, data backup or mobile technology. The only way you're going to maximize technology is to outsource your use and implementation of it.
Technology isn't all that you need to outsource. If you find that you're scanning business cards, answering phones and faxing proposals, you need to hire someone to do these tasks for you. Whether you're a one- or 50-person business, you need to manage your company and concentrate on its growth. Hire someone else, such as a smart virtual or in-person assistant to help you.
6. Don't "technologize" a bad business process.
I'm sure you run a very good business and do your best to manage its various processes, however if some aspects aren't running as well and you think technology is the sole answer, you're wrong.
I was recently in Puerto Rico at the great Ritz Carlton Hotel. The entire experience was simply splendid. What most impressed me was the hotel's customer service, which is a huge part of the Ritz's culture. However, they also use technology to profile each guest and build a database of their likes and dislikes. What if the Ritz Carlton had employees that were rude, inconsiderate and nasty? The hotel would only be "technologizing" a bad business process.
They hire employees who love service and then use technology to manage and enhance the customer service experience.
Ramon Ray is Entrepreneur.com's "Tech Basics" columnist and editor of Smallbiztechnology.com. He's the author of Technology Solutions for Growing Businesses and currently serves on the board of directors and the technology committee for the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce.