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What Does Digital Transformation Look Like for a Small Business?

What Does Digital Transformation Look Like for a Small Business?

Optimizing your company’s digital presence is not as daunting as you think. Invest in your digital transformation and better satisfy your customers.

In the past few years, our innovation-obsessed world has only become more tech-savvy. And, for small businesses, an embrace of digital technology mirrors a worldwide trend of digital transformation.

As recent studies have shown, companies that meet the ever-evolving digital needs of their customers report increased productivity, greater customer satisfaction, and improved fiscal agility.

Yet, with the demands of small business ownership, you may be wondering if you have the capacity to take on a digital transformation. Luckily, optimizing your company’s digital presence is not as daunting as you may think.

In this article, we define digital transformation, provide tips to get your small business’ digital transformation started, and more.

What is Digital Transformation?

Gone are the days of filing cabinets and physical ledgers. The once-analog business world is now firmly digital. However, going from analog to digital is not the same as digital transformation. An initial shift from analog to digital data is called “digitization.” And while digitization is essential to quickening the retrieval and dissemination of data, it largely mirrors the analog way of doing things. An example of digitization is scanning client information into an online database and getting rid of a rolodex.

To take things a step further, “digitalization” accomplishes the same goal as digitization, albeit with increasingly efficient methodology. Instead of just pivoting an analog system into a digital format, digitalization introduces new, efficient tools into older business models. An example of digitalization is being able to access client information via a dynamic computer search instead of those rolodex scans. The digitalization of records saves loads of time and offers more convenience, but you are essentially going through the same process as digitization — you’re just searching for a computer file instead of a static copy.

Finally, “digital transformation” goes beyond either of these techniques. Companies that embark on a digital transformation can improve the very way their business gets done. In some instances, digital transformation is a complete disruption of a traditional business model, leading to the creation of a whole new market. The goal in digital transformation is to use technology to reimagine your company’s business model, and better appeal to customers.

Here’s an example: Not too long ago, people physically went into a bank to withdraw money. With time, the convenience of ATMs changed that process for the better. Customers could more efficiently withdraw money at any time of day in multiple locations. The very same financial services revolution is continuing today with a shift toward mobile banking, cash apps, and cardless payments. It’s tech-leading, industry-wide disruption that directly benefits customers, otherwise known as digital transformation.

How Does Digital Transformation Apply to Small Businesses?

While digital transformation may feel daunting to a small business owner, it is essential in order to continue to reach customers and foster growth. For instance, the 2020 Small Business Digital Transformation survey found small businesses that are ahead in digital transformation saw eight times the revenue growth of small businesses that had no digital efforts.

No matter the size of your business, customers expect digital ease and innovation. Salesforce research shows that 57 per cent of consumers found it to be “absolutely critical or very important” that the companies they buy from be innovative. Further, 70 per cent of consumers said that new technologies made it easier for them to seek out companies that better align with their needs. Meaning, if you don’t embrace technology, it may be the very thing that pushes your customers to your competitors.

Tips to Drive Digital Transformation in Small Businesses

Digital transformation can be a game changer for your business. But it doesn’t need to be a scary process. With thoughtfulness and team buy-in, you can take the first steps toward upgrading your business. Read on for tips on how to start the digital transformation process.

Be Thoughtful

Think about your company. What’s going well? What could be going better? Doing an internal assessment of your biggest gaps and where you would most like to see change is an important first step in the process.

There are many free tools online to help assess your current digital readiness. One of these is BDC’s Digital Maturity Assessment, which is available for free. This assessment will help you identify your current level of digitization, compare your digital maturity to your peers, and discover any potential for improvement.

When performing your internal assessment, keep in mind that digital transformation will affect the entire company. For this reason, it’s important to involve your whole company in your assessment. Get early involvement from your employees, solicit ideas, and encourage employee buy-in as your digital transformation plan unfolds.

Prioritize Your Plan

Once you’ve discussed the challenges facing your organization with your team, prioritize. What are the biggest issues facing your company? How can technology help?

After your assessment, you might find that it is more crucial to move certain areas of your business online than others. For instance, if you find that customers are having a hard time contacting you, that might be your focus. You may decide that you want to add a chat feature to your website to be able to interface with customers in real time, or offer digital customer surveys to further refine your processes.

Employ Data Analytics

“Organizations have no idea that they’re sitting on a treasure trove of data,” Data Scientist Michael Albo told the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada in 2019.

Indeed, by employing data analytics, you can better understand how customers find you, what they buy, what they don’t buy, how they shop, when they shop, what device they shop from, and more.

Data analytics is the practice of examining large and diverse sets of data from different sources to get insights that help in decision making for your company. And yes, small businesses have quite a bit of data to sift through: Social media sites, websites, email marketing reports, and sales receipts all contain valuable consumer information.

With this information, you can identify patterns in your customers’ experiences and then predict what choices they might make in the future. For instance, you may find that your customers tend to shop between 12 and 2 pm. Now, knowing that data, you can leverage that time slot to push social media posts or send out an email blast, increasing conversions and improving your bottom line.

Consider Outside Help

As a small business, you may still be worried that you won’t have enough data. However, it’s more likely you will have too much data. You may want to consider hiring an expert to review the data and help make sense of it with you.

An expert may also be helpful in your goals and priority setting. Or in making sure that you are investing in the correct technology. Using the expertise of someone who has done it before can be a big time saver and stress reducer.

If the thought of paying for a consultant makes you nervous, the Canadian government has a $4 billion grant program to help get your digital transformation running.

Reassess Often

After you’ve begun your digital transformation, be sure to check in with your goals and with your team. Are the changes you’ve made working toward the goals you’ve prioritized? How is your team feeling about the changes? What could be better? What’s working well?

Thinking through the process early and often helps maintain team buy-in. It also helps to make sure you’re staying on track with your goals.


Thinking about how to best serve your clients is essential to any small business. While you may feel behind the times, you’re just a few clicks away from upping your digital game and welcoming more customers through your physical (or digital) door. By investing in your own digital transformation, you may better satisfy your customers and find a whole new level of success.

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