Tech Fixes: Digital MSME Business Solutions on a Budget

On the face of it, it may appear that MSME's are at a disadvantage when compared with their big business counterparts.  After all, MSME's simply don't have the same level of human or financial resources.  However, technology has leveled the playing field in many cases.

It is constantly evolving and with each evolution, it becomes less expensive.  Many communication, administrative, production and marketing challenges can be effectively tackled with technology.

Every business, regardless of size, relies on communications. Documentation, messaging, voice calls, meetings and presentations are all critical to keeping both customers and team members informed.

Microsoft Office and Lotus SmartSuite are mainstays in the working world.  The software packages offer integrated word processing and spread sheet solutions among other computer programmes to generate business documents.  However, the cost can be prohibitive.

Google Drive (formerly Google Docs), and Office 365 are cost effective alternatives available for a small monthly access fee or free, depending on level of use.

Often, documents are shared via email.  MSME's can opt for Google Apps instead of, the expensive to acquire and expensive to maintain, Microsoft Exchange servers for team email management.

Advanced technology offers solutions to high phone bills as well.  The concept of using the internet (VoIP) for international calls is not new, but increasingly smaller businesses are using the technology for local calls as well.  With free in network calling, the option becomes even more attractive.

When a simple phone call is not enough, and a limited budget doesn’t facilitate expensive travel, technology makes video conferencing possible.  Global corporations have extensive and elaborate videoconference rooms, but businessman with a laptop, webcam and Skype can accomplish much the same effect.  GoToMeeting and similar international services add screen sharing and other features for truly interactive meetings.

Marketing and Sales
Communication forms a big part of marketing and represents the most significant levelling of the playing field.  Social media, in particular, has transformed how businesses of all sizes identify, reach and engage their customers.

Managing Facebook, Twitter, FourSquare, Intagram, Pinterest, Tout, Vine, LinkedIn and several other accounts could be handled by a well staffed IT department, or by a single team member using free services like Hootsuite or TweetDeck among others.

In social media, content is king.  Big players engage well-equipped advertising agencies using powerful software like Adobe Creative Suite (CS4) to design and produce artwork, radio and TV commercials, websites and other marketing materials.  There are a plethora of free or low cost alternatives to the professional grade collection of creative programmes; too many to name here.

The goal of marketing is to generate sales.  From e-commerce stores to credit card processing, technology allows smaller players to offer the same ease of access to customers that bigger players take for granted.  In a crowded field of sales management services, PayPal emerges as a dominant player to send and receive payments tagged to a credit card.

Whether the hard copy is scanned and converted to digital, or it is generated in a digital form, any successful business will generate a lot of documents, images, records and the like, collectively referred to as data.  Data storage costs have plummeted as the technology advances.  All three local telecoms offer data storage options; so too do international providers like Box, DropBox, Carbonite, Drive, iCloud and Skydrive, to name a few.

These are all cloud based (online) services, however, physical storage costs have also plummeted even as drive space has increased.  US$80 can easily purchase 1TB of external hard drive space.

In addition to saving money on data storage, MSME’s can also save money on accounting by ditching the accountant.  While auditors and accountants are still recommended for year-end financials and tax filings, entrepreneurs and small business operators, with little to no accounting experience or training, can successfully use software to manage day to day accounts.

Programmes like QuickBooks and Peachtree are very popular for their easy to use interface and custom reports, while specialized programmes like TurboPay are uniquely designed for the local tax landscape.  Advanced features like enhanced billing, custom templates, email integration, contact list management and online/mobile access gives every user a professional look.

Many accounting programmes even offer human resource (HR) support with time and vacation tracking.

High banking costs occasionally pose a deterrent to MSME’s.  Further, smaller players may find it hard to compete with the ‘big boys’ for customer service attention.  This is no longer the case.  Every business owner now has the same access to banking services when banking online.  Not only does this save money off fees, internet banking can save money on payroll costs, security and transportation.

Transportation costs can be astronomical.  So too can electricity costs.  Fortunately, technology provides a great many ways to identify and reduce associated costs.   An investment in a cost audit will pay great dividends for each specific enterprise.

Scalable solutions allow just about any enterprise to install sophisticated security.  From magnetic door locks to IP (internet protocol) cameras with off site monitoring, specific applications can be customised to individual businesses at a fraction of the cost it would have been just 12 months prior.

Whether a home office, small office, shop or plant, business managers at all levels need only to do the necessary research to leverage emerging digital trends to increase efficiency, gain access and reduce costs.


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