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MEDIA & MARKETING | Contributed Content, Singapore
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Imran Mohamad

Why aren't more small businesses going digital?

BY IMRAN MOHAMAD

This is the age of disruption. The changes in markets, consumer psychology, and the Internet have caused major changes in how business works. Cycles of booms and crises come more often. New industries and companies can rise overnight, and established names can topple as fast.

Companies leveraging these changes are able to restructure their businesses leanly, profitably, and in many cases, move faster than their competition. Brilliant entrepreneurs, marketers, and technologists have used the incredible pace of development of technology and the accompanying change in consumer behavior to create and scale businesses at amazing speed.

The fallacy which many business managers make is that their industry is unique, not able to be disrupted. The complacency of being incumbent means that businesses think digital disruption won't happen to them. This unfortunately happens to both Fortune 500 companies and small businesses.

As much as it is a threat, today's environment presents massive opportunities, especially to small businesses wanting to grow. Adapting and innovating fast presents not only the opportunity to reduce cost and increase profit, but to solidify a business' longevity in their industry.

In Singapore, it is all the more clear as a business hub where businesses, retail and b2b alike, are still struggling to come to terms with a changing world. In an ecosystem still entrenched in very Asian heirarchical processes and structured thinking, many decision makers in business still don't understand how social, Internet, and cloud are providing tremendous threats and opportunities for their business to either whither or thrive.

Here are the 3 major ways adopting online technology, social media, and Internet marketing can significantly add revenue or lower costs for small business:

1. Marketing and sales
Using online advertising, companies can now generate more leads with less cost. When a click from a qualified lead could cost mere cents, the time, resources, and money that is required for traditional printed flyers, telemarketing, or salespeople seem ridiculously expensive.

The other benefit of online lead generation is the ability to run campaigns 24/7 -- yes, even while management and staff are asleep -- as well as the unprecedented ability to scale. The set-up time required to drive 1000 leads is the same as that to drive 100,000.

The best part is that especially for small business, everything can be quantified so you know what your most cost-effective sources of leads are. The main obstacle is that it is not as simple to drive qualified traffic and sales as switching on a campaign, which is why it is important to work with advisors well acquainted with the process of setting up the assets and campaigns required and who can do it in your industry.

A simple example would be that of a tuition centre in Singapore. It is not uncommon for education companies to be spending 5 to 6 figures for newspaper advertisements and editorial features, with inconsistent and, many a time, hard-to-track results.

Targeting parents who are seeking tuition for their children online are easy by either demographic or intent targeting, and in some cases the cost to generate the lead is less than $5. This means that with the cost of putting out traditional advertising or to hire a salesperson, the tuition centre can generate hundreds or thousands of qualified leads with little time.

2. Fulfilment and administration
Information is now everywhere, overwhelming people. What is extremely scarce is wisdom, and proven systems and processes to generate specific results. Customers want to be educated and empowered when they make their decision to work with you, and also want to be informed during the process of transformation.

In many cases, education, client briefs, information sharing are still done manually. This leads to redundancy and increased time, costs, and longer implementation periods.

Anything that is repeated in client fulfillment can be automated, from information sharing, to client education, to feedback, and financial administration. The time saved means your business has capacity to serve more clients, and your existing clients have a shorter wait for results while improving their experience.

For example, in coaching and consulting work, clients book consults using a calendaring service (I use TimeTrade). There are no more back and forth e-mails, calls, and calendar checking. With 3 clicks, a session is booked and both parties receive an immediate confirmation and a calendar booking in our Google or Outlook calendar.

With dozens of meetings a month, this simple tool saves several man-days. Cloud and collaborative solutions ranging from the readily-accessible Google Docs to document sharing and signing platforms like HelloSign remove physical paperwork, back and forth communication, and the need for storage space.

Common in coaching and consulting work, clients are also given access to documents, resources, instructional videos, and templates in an online site which minimises physical storage, waiting time and leverages the time of the consultant. Creating automated systems reduces delivery time, fixed and variable costs, and minimises human error in the process.

3. Attracting, developing, and keeping talent
Instead of spending time, energy, and money on omitting details and polishing up the truth, today it is far better to be candid about who you are, what you stand for, and why people should work with you. Millennials especially are values- and purpose-driven, and want to feel that they are part of something bigger than themselves.

Shots and exposes of a day in the life, expounding on company values and how it leads to certain practices, or even social causes by the company shared on your website and social media can go a long way. Talent who feel valued and enjoy their experience are also sure to share their sentiment in their network, online and offline.

By attracting and keeping the right talent, companies save a major pain and cost center than prevents them from scaling.

If we take the area of attracting talent, it is no secret that companies are already hiring far more through personal and social networks than in the classifieds. Platforms like StartupJobsAsia, a Singapore-based company, provide start-ups and small businesses recruitment solutions especially targeting the younger demographic, and for emerging job roles, such as performance marketers, SEO experts, programmers, and growth hackers.

Communicating with aspiring job-seekers through social media and engaging in dialogue such as 'AMA's or 'Ask Me Anything's, common in platforms like TechInAsia and Mashable, allow job-seekers to peek into the management philosophy and company culture.

Creative ways of recruitment such as through the social network of employees and partners, getting applicants to submit video cover letters, and engaging in online video interviews not only engage job-seekers through networks of trust, and on platforms that they are active in, they also reduce the time and resources required to recruit.

There are many ways to go digital for small business. The key principles encompassing these are:

1. Be authentic. You can't hide anything in an age of social. You can't deny numbers in an age of data.

In a recent social media furore, Nikon Singapore awarded someone who Photoshopped his image with the top prize, causing an immediate backlash from photographers and observers alike. The organisers graciously apologised and have since started to win back the support of people online.

2. Be smart. Use technology to streamline, automate, and scale.

There is a huge movement to out-sourced workforce, flexi-arrangements, and virtual teams. In Singapore this can be seen with the boom of co-working and serviced office spaces, even those commissioned by the Government in the National Library branches. When managed effectively, this means reduced office, manpower, and hardware costs, and more freedom of time and choice for business owners.

3. Find experts, partners, and service providers who already invested in the learning curve, infrastructure and generate results rather than reinventing the wheel.

Don't create an accounting system from scratch, many cost-effective ones are available which can be implemented within days. In some cases, small businesses can leverage from schemes offered by the government such as the Productivity and Innovation Credit (PIC) and Innovation and Capability Voucher (ICV) to defray the costs of some systems.

4. Move fast. There is no set and forget. There are no long lead times. Things you implement today may need to be tweaked tomorrow; this is the reality of the digital age. It pays off to have at least one person in the team well acquainted with all the online technology and processes required to transform and run your business. If you're able to adapt, you will perform better than the majority of the market.

Using these principles and strategies, small businesses can transform their operations and thrive moving forward in an ever-intensifying market.

The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.

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Imran Mohamad

Imran Mohamad

Imran Mohamad is a serial entrepreneur, marketer, and speaker. In ten years of entrepreneurship, he has been obsessed with exploding the growth of businesses. Having tremendous growth in business in the last two years, Imran now helps other entrepreneurs to do the same.

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