Small business technology flips the odds in a ‘make or break’ situation

I joined Xero early on as the then startup’s first international exec hire and was promptly tasked with getting our UK business off the ground. In those days my workspace was often my local coffee shop and the business was pretty much run from my Mac and iPhone. It was the technology that transformed us and allowed us to scale in those early stages of start-up to become the Xero you see today. Just six years later, we now have more than 100,000 customers in the UK and our business globally is valued at over £1 billion.

Many entrepreneurs in the start-up space would say the same. Technology allows us to work from anywhere and scale a business. There’s no need to rent expensive offices and hire a bunch of people in the first instance. With technology, start-ups can recruit virtual teams and freelancers with the desired expertise, connect with customers and suppliers, get real time advice and mentoring from your business advisors or your accountant and run brand marketing campaigns from a web browser.

This level of productivity will get your start-up quickly and cheaply off the ground and off to a running start. As the Xero ‘Make or Break?’ report reveals, technology and access to your accountant and business figures are the key components in keeping a small business alive in the early stages. Our report gives examples of the kinds of technologies businesses are using to increase their productivity and grow and that insight is shared below.

Small businesses in the UK and the US both say the same. Technology has a huge impact and the smart use of clever technology can often be the difference between success and failure. Small businesses told us that the kinds of technologies that have given their productivity levels a boost include business apps, fintech and mobile tech. A high majority of small businesses (86 per cent) use a range of technologies to increase their productivity. Almost half (49 per cent) use business apps with almost a third (32 per cent) integrating mobile payment technology into their service offering via tools like PayPal and iZettle. More than one in four (26 per cent) use business planning tools, of which a quarter use e-commerce tools and channels. Some of the more experimental start-ups have based their success on cutting edge tech liked RFID and NFC technologies to give their businesses a boost, but just 2 per cent are likely to do this. Noodle Live is a young and nimble UK high tech events company that ran our annual conference in London, Xerocon. For this event, they used contactless, RFID and NFC tech to do clever things like create smart badges for delegates. These are used to check delegates into the event and collect content, such as the kind of information delegates collect when browsing around booths. This is then fed back into the event's app so they have a profile of what delegates are interested in.

Technology doesn’t just increase productivity it is also an essential backbone for business growth and 78 per cent of small businesses agree with this. The most important tool has been online banking, followed closely by online accounting, demonstrating that financial control and having access to business figures is pretty vital to small business success. Other growth stimulating technologies include business apps and mobile payments, with 4 per cent saying they’ve used crowdfunding for seed investment.

Government statistics show that half of all business start-ups fail both in the UK and the US but investing in technology is beginning to reverse this trend. According to our findings, it makes a dramatic difference between success and failure. Of those that invested in financial or accounting technology, 58 per cent succeeded and only 14 per cent failed and of those that invested in marketing programmes, 49 per cent succeeded and only 20 per cent failed. For increased productivity in finance, marketing and customer service, let your business software do the tough stuff. It’s a no brainer.

Other surprising insights that reveal what separates the most successful entrepreneurs include:

1) They wind down in their spare time - They have a strong belief in the value of personal time. The most successful business owners have a great sense of work/life balance and make time for loved ones in the evenings and at weekends.

2) They know failure is often the first step to success - Successful entrepreneurs have a positive mindset and a willingness to fail. Successful small business owners are more likely to see failure as a good thing, learn from mistakes and want to try again. Our findings suggest that a business is stronger second time round.

3) They build a strong team around them - They enlist the support of a large community: family, advisors and mentors, an accountant and a financial advisor.

Gary Turner, Managing Director of Xero UK

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