By Mark Robinson, Market Business Developer, Canon
It’s great when a business idea takes off, but every long path to success is littered with tricky challenges. Such obstacles, if not handled well, can inhibit the growth of the business and increase the time it takes to succeed. Furthermore, if shortcuts are taken when a business is starting out, bigger challenges will be all the more difficult to overcome as the business scales and grows.
Gaining access to the right knowledge at the right time can really make a difference. Research from Canon and ICM suggests a number of key areas where small business owners believe they could have benefited from expert experience:
> Half of SMB / SoHo owners said they lacked knowledge in finance and accounting when they started their organisations
> Legal, bureaucracy and compliance were other areas of deficiency (46 per cent), as was general business acumen (36 per cent)
> Small business owners also believed they could have benefited from additional technical skills in IT software (36 per cent) and IT hardware (33 per cent)
The research proves that small business owners need help when they start. Targeted assistance across areas of administration and technology can make the difference between organisational success and failure.
Sources can vary from informal – such as online forums, articles and webinars – and formal – such as paid consultants, trade associations and membership networks. Both sources can have their benefits and can provide great knowledge.
But while searching for help online can be a bit like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack, joining formal networks can be an expensive investment, especially when consultants are being paid by the hour.
So, how can small businesses find the knowledge they require, and where should they direct their attention in terms of skills and technology? Here are our top five tips for starting out with the right information:
Cash is often one thing that is in short supply for a new small business. Yet, there are expert sources of information that can help fill skills gaps in a cost-effective manner. Bridging the gap between informal search and formal networks, the reseller community works hard to find the best technical solutions to tricky business challenges – and SMB and SoHos can use this advice to give their firm a sure start. Canon research suggests a quarter of small business owners already tap into resellers as an expert source of advice.
Time is money for small business owners. With limited resources, SMBs and SoHos cannot afford to waste time on non-core tasks. IT should provide a means for smaller organisations to work in a more efficient manner, yet the facts suggests otherwise. Canon research shows that 20 per cent of small business owners believe they already spend too much time on IT-related tasks. Rather than seeing IT as a barrier, SMB and SoHos should see the digital transformation as a way to reduce the amount of time spent on technology and a means to improve productivity.
Almost a third (28 per cent) of SMBs and SoHos surveyed by Canon in Europe and Russia say they spend too much time on general administration. As a result, as many as 29 per cent of firms say they do not spend enough time generating new business, a key factor in the continued success of smaller firms. Small businesses can cut the paperwork mountain by using advanced printing technology. By scanning documents, SMBs and SoHos can digitise their information and create the platform for automated and fast-moving workflows.
Almost half (49 per cent) of SMBs surveyed agree or strongly agree that bureaucracy is a challenge for their business, it is going to be difficult for SMB and SoHo owners to move their focus from operations to business development. Proprietors should take steps right at the start and think about how digital technology can make governance less of a bind. Information management can help to automate processes, such as compliance with rules and regulations, which might otherwise hinder organisational productivity.
Gone are the days when a small business owner needed to be tied to their desk. The combined powers of the cloud and mobile technology means proprietors can stay in touch with their organisation, regardless of location. Furthermore, if the business needs to grow quickly, this is far more manageable with a cloud set-up as opposed to owned infrastructure. By sourcing the right combination of hardware and software, SMB and SoHos can receive documents, edit agreements and sign-off invoices on the go.
Technical expertise remains a moving target. The research suggests many SMB and SoHo owners continue to seek expert knowledge in regards to technology long after they have set up their businesses, with 28 per cent still searching for IT software skills and 27 per cent looking for information about IT hardware.
The next IT transformation is always lurking on the horizon, so proprietors should make sure they hunt for the relevant expertise on an on-going basis. After all, a well-informed SMB or SoHo should be able to take advantage of tech-enabled change to help propel their businesses forward.