Life in a small or medium-sized business is largely about building, not transforming.
SMBs are often focused on adding to their portfolio of products and services, increasing the volume they sell to their most valuable customers, attracting new customers and hiring the people who help them keep everything running.
“Transformation” — digital or otherwise — probably feels like something that should come later.
In fact, if you research the concept of digital transformation online, many of the most often-cited examples are large organizations who are already leaders in their industries, or who have been established long enough that they felt compelled to adopt new technologies to stay competitive and continue to satisfy their customers.
Examples could include extending their brand presence into new digital channels such as social media, or offering e-commerce capabilities in addition to product and service catalogs on their website. Some go even further, making major investments in digital advertising, mobile apps and more.
Some of these opportunities might already be on SMBs’ to-do lists — but they may be ranked lower than what seem like more pressing priorities.
In other cases, SMBs might not feel prepared to look at digital transformation because they haven’t reached a certain size, or have yet to achieve some other milestone.
One of the lessons to learn from larger organizations, however, is not to put off adopting digital technologies. The longer you wait, the harder transformation can become.
Think of it this way: most of what you’re going to be doing on a day-to-day basis at work is tied to a particular process. That process may or may not involve digital technology today, but the odds that it will tomorrow are high.
Everything from communicating with customers, processing orders, refilling supplies and tracking finances is often done using digital tools now. That wasn’t the case even 10 years ago.
Digital transformation isn’t for large companies only. SMBs may be in an even better position to transform as part of their growth trajectory. If that doesn’t convince you, here are some points to help make the business case:
Set a timer and see how long it takes you to put a paper form in an envelope and walk it to the mailbox and back.
Now send an email message, set up a digital marketing campaign or check who your most valuable customers are.
You’ll probably find all these things took less time than sending anything via snail mail.
Start thinking about other processes digital transformation could accelerate.
Even SMBs can have dozens, hundreds or even thousands of customers, depending on what they’re selling. How are you tracking that, and identifying opportunities to sell more?
One of the most common answers is spreadsheets.
While they can help document information, they don’t really help analyze what’s in there, or easily slice and dice the data into ways it can be used to boost revenues.
There are plenty of digital tools that could, though. Start looking into them.
Your customers today might still be flipping through printed newspapers and magazines or glancing at billboards while they’re driving on the highway, but they probably spend a lot more time browsing news and other content online.
Digital marketing not only helps you distribute marketing assets like ads more widely, but in more targeted ways.
You can easily find segments that align with your ideal customer profile and continue to test and refine your campaign to see what works.
You can get to know customers if you operate a physical store, but only if you happen to be standing near them at the time, or if they approach you.
Digital channels like social media offer ways to maintain an ongoing dialogue with customers and their friends no matter where they are.
Meanwhile, emerging digital tools like smart speakers and other connected devices in homes and businesses are letting customers place orders, answer questions or send feedback.
Digital transformation is increasingly about mobile transformation.
This not only includes designing a mobile app your customers can use, but apps that you and your team can use to stay on top of critical issues and to cover off tasks that normally required staying chained to your desk.
Digital transformation should help you to sell from anywhere, market from anywhere, provide service and support from anywhere and, most importantly, assess and optimize your strategic plans from anywhere.
“Oh, they’re just a small company,” someone might scoff when they look at your company and decide not to place an order because they’re concerned about getting the service they expect.
Digital transformation allows SMBs to look a lot bigger than they are, because they make firms more visible in more channels, provide the kinds of conveniences only larger firms used to offer and can showcase testimonials and case studies that prove you’re a viable entity.
SMBs were once limited to the suppliers and partners that happened to be operating in their region or territory. Today, that’s no longer true.
Digital transformation is becoming so widespread that there are now online marketplaces, apps and other services that make it easier than ever to work with other companies that can support what you need to accomplish your goals.
Remember that digital transformation doesn’t happen in one, big bang. You can take small steps, run pilot projects and learn as you go.
There are plenty of free online resources available, as well as conferences and events where you can learn from your peers.
Just be open to the idea, explore it and you’ll quickly find that, in some respects, your transformation has already begun.