The rapidly evolving small business landscape is full of complexity, disruption, and uncertainty. Online marketplaces like Amazon, Airbnb, eBay, Turo, Postmates, TaskRabbit, and online service providers for sales, marketing, taxes, data management, and more, allow almost anyone to start and run a small business.
However, while it may seem easy to start selling furniture or apparel or provide design and marketing services online, operating a business that leverages these technology platforms takes new strategies, skills, and knowledge. Digital payment options, cross-state or border supply chains, evolving data management and security requirements, and increasing fines for consumer data privacy violations have many small businesses struggling to understand the legal and technology requirements applicable to their situations.
What a Small Business Should Do Now to Be Prepared
First, focus on the actual problem you need to solve. Do your research, develop a plan to execute, talk to your customers and prospects, and iterate on your findings. My motto is: “build, test and listen,” then repeat the process as you go.
Let’s say you are looking to sell your first digital cookbook. Start by researching emerging food trends, typical price points for e-cookbooks or apps, and which sites or publishing platforms receive the most traffic. Once you begin making sales, you will be able to engage with your customers. Ask them what they think of your cookbook, but also what the buying experience was like and where else they shop for similar products. Then be ready to adjust your plan in response to what you learn.
2. Build New Partnerships
As you develop your business plan, look at the value of building partnerships and new customer acquisition channels into your business, and be willing to embrace online services. For example, let’s say you want to manufacture and sell a line of custom clothing. Rather than simply setting up your own website, consider an online marketplace. Etsy and Amazon are the best-known e-commerce platforms, but there are other online marketplaces to consider, such as Bonanza, Jet, Overstock and even niche marketplaces like Zibbet for selling handmade, vintage, and craft goods. Platforms that already attract a solid or targeted customer base may enable you to bring your products to market faster and reach new customers more easily. These platforms may also help you solve or guide you through many of the legal and technology issues noted above.
3. Embrace New Technologies
Use new services and technologies to solve old problems. Despite the disruption in nearly every industry, this ultimate business truth remains for 2017: if you have a great product or service that solves a common problem, you can be successful. However, due to the frenetic 24x7 pace of business and the rapid evolution of laws and regulations that apply to small businesses, there’s little room for error. The ability to outsource some business processes in order to ensure compliance, reduce the chance of errors, and increase efficiency is essential to the health and growth of your business. If you’re selling clothing or jewelry or providing design or marketing services, you want to focus on great products and customer service, not on operational challenges such as data management and security or human resources, accounting, and tax compliance.
Every business today, even the smallest, needs to be customer-centric and compliant. New services and technologies, such as having an internet marketing service review your website to ensure it loads well, and automation technology such as a secure online ordering system, can free you to satisfy your customers while still checking off all the compliance boxes.
4. Automate, Automate, Automate
The ease with which anyone can start a small business also means you will likely face stiff competition from every direction. In addition, more millennials are starting, running, and working in small businesses, and their knack for charging audaciously into new markets and finding technology solutions to solve every problem will force other small business owners to invest in making their own operations more efficient. Automation is now an essential investment. When looking for an automation technology, choose one that integrates with your existing applications and data and makes business decisions in the background. These solutions can deliver more value faster while ensuring seamless business operations and greater reliability.
For example, if you’re fed up with moving money the physical way, payment services like Venmo help small businesses to automate the method of receiving payments and paying vendors, so you don’t have to worry about missing a payment or writing out checks. Or, if you’re intimidated by having to figure out the tax implications of your selling model, a cloud-based service like Avalara can help by automating the process of accurately calculating, collecting, and remitting transactional taxes. Avalara will integrate with your existing financial, billing, e-commerce, or point-of-sale system, so you won’t have to re-enter data manually. You simply answer a series of questions and let the software do the rest.
Technology has created disruption and greater complexity for small business owners. But, through careful planning and a focus on customers, smart alliances with partners and the right marketplaces, and outsourcing the automation of complex business processes to proven service providers, you can build and run your small business more confidently and efficiently, spending less time on operations and more time selling.