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Digitizing your operations – perceived barriers and how to overcome them

(Image credit: Image Credit: Chombosan / Shutterstock)

Saying 2020 has been a challenging year for business is an understatement. Just as lockdown measures have lifted and operations have resumed, the threat of more swift regional lockdowns still looms. Many businesses are in the dark about what’s to come and understandably concerned. But there are some positives that can be taken from this.

It’s no secret that the pandemic has caused an increase in demand for online services. In fact, a survey of Enterprise Nation members, which was conducted just as we were starting to see businesses open to a more normal pattern, showed that 73 percent were planning to introduce more online services. Until this point, half of the UK’s small business population had little or no online presence.

But knowing where to begin their ‘digital transformation’ journey can be overwhelming. It is a confusing and scary time for small business owners who are exploring new tech solutions and services, perhaps for the first time. Finding the right tech solution is critical to ensuring businesses can shift their operations seamlessly, meaning they’re prepared for a second lockdown as well as other unprecedented events that may occur. Below are three common barriers preventing businesses from digitizing their operations, as well as some necessary steps to overcome them.

Successfully implementing automation

Automation does not have to mean employing robots. For the majority of businesses it means making the most of technology to link systems so that work flows can become seamless and more efficient.

For example, the shift to online creates a greater need for seamless and frictionless payments. Bringing on ready-made plug in payment services, like GoCardless, means you can continue to take regular, recurring payments through direct debit, insuring your business against unknown future impact. For physical outlets, Square also has a range of card payment solutions that allow safe social distancing via contactless accessories.

Additionally, a payment system like GoCardless can also be the trigger to accelerate solutions for keeping on top of cash flow. For example, using systems such as Xero, linking to new quarterly digital tax returns, VAT and time management, giving you access to a wider audience and efficiency.

There’s no doubt that cash is going out of fashion, and this has only been accelerated by the pandemic. An up-side of this forced increased automation and understanding is exploring how technology can lead to time-saving, efficient working practices that will lead to higher productivity. Once businesses have taken the initial steps to increase their access and understanding, they’ll be able to link payments with their bank account and tax returns and more.

One thing is clear, you do not need to be a tech whizz to see a dramatic increase in efficiency. In fact, this new appetite to bring on board more technology will complement offline activity, and increase diversification options when founders are looking to pivot their business model in the future.

Pivoting your marketing strategy

As a small business owner, marketing tactics can be limited due to smaller budgets. When historically tactics have focused exclusively on in-person or physical store offerings, planning and implementing a good digital marketing strategy can be overwhelming. But moving online opens up access to a whole new pool of potential customers, who can be targeted on a variety of platforms.

Transitioning to social media marketing is a good first step. For example if you’re a local clothing shop in Northampton, there’s no reason why you couldn’t use Instagram to build a following and begin to sell online to customers from further afield. From Instagram stores accepting orders via DMs, to ecommerce platforms such as Amazon, it’s never been easier to drive marketing engagement with customers and sell online.

Other techniques may include running virtual events to nurture sales leads and bring in new ones, making the most of the platforms out there such as and Go to Webinar. Online events are slowly becoming the norm, so it’s worthwhile thinking about how they can support your business goals.

Being prepared with a cyber security strategy

As operations move online, a solid cyber security strategy is critical to ensuring your business, staff and customers remain protected. It’s important to seek advice on keeping cyber safe, as well as to educate staff on the importance of making sure their devices and networks are protected. Five important steps include:

1. Make sure your firewall and antivirus software are up-to-date

If your employees work from home or on their own mobiles or laptops, remember to make sure their devices and networks are protected too.

2. Educate your staff

It’s not just hackers you need to be mindful of. One of the most common but preventable threats to cyber security is staff error – from forwarding a confidential email to the wrong person to opening a malicious link or attachment.

3. Get smart about your passwords

Gone are the days of using the same, simple password across all your logins. For extra reassurance, you can create a two-step authentication process. Users can connect another device – their mobile, for example – to the account they’re trying to access, and be sent a code to use as a secondary login step.

4. Create an internet usage policy

While it might feel like you’re stating the obvious, documenting the dos and don’ts of staying cyber-safe for your staff will remove any confusion when it comes to what’s expected.

5. Backup your data

Saving your files on an external hard drive will mean that if your online network is compromised, you can still access the data needed to run your business. It makes the process of recovering from attacks like ransomware more likely and much quicker.

The road to tech adoption

There are many free courses aimed at helping businesses looking to leverage new technologies, such as the Amazon Small Business Accelerator we’re running at Enterprise Nation. It’s an e-learning program that brings together modules from trusted advisers across the UK, to build a bank of resources that will take businesses through the process of increasing technology and rebuilding their business to come back stronger. We’re also offering support with digital advisers via the Recovery Advice for Business scheme in conjunction with the Department for Business (BEIS).

While we know there will be a pain barrier to get through when it comes to implementing the necessary tech solutions, once it’s done, businesses can be assured that there will be so many time-saving elements that will more than pay for the time-commitment and initial outlay. For example, signing up with GoCardless means you never have to miss a payment again, and you can also save a lot of time and money that would have otherwise been spent chasing late payments.

This time should therefore be seen as an opportunity for businesses to resolve new challenges with new and improved tech-first solutions.

Emma Jones, MBE & Founder, Enterprise Nation (opens in new tab)

Emma's experience of starting, growing and selling a business gave her the idea for Enterprise Nation which launched in 2006. The company has since expanded to become a small business membership community of over 75,000 people who benefit from events and support.