Learning how Internet Technology Tools can help your Detroit Business is easy.
Here are 3 to get started:
Some of my friends with small businesses have asked what I’ve been working on with SixFootLever consulting. SixFootLever is a training company that seeks to teach established, mid-sized businesses, new technology tools and services that are available to improve efficiency and protect their market niche. Some examples include small scale outsourcing, manufacturing abroad, automatic order fulfillment, online visibility, customer engagement methods, and recurring revenue systems. These technology tools and services have now advanced to the point where it is easy to teach your employees the needed skills by integrating them with their current responsibilities. In many cases, you will no longer need to hire out these services, because SixFootLever teaches the man (or woman) to fish. You still CAN hire out when required, but now you will do it abroad, in order to reduce the costs. You can easily contract out the tasks you need accomplished, rather than hiring a permanent employee or consultant.
So for my friends and followers, here is an example of what we teach. This article describes, in general, 3 steps a traditional small business can take to exploit the solo entrepreneur’s technology leveraging tools and improve efficiency. The idea is to use the same tricks that today’s new solo entrepreneur uses, so that you can streamline your own business. When used by a small to medium sized business, these tricks act as force multipliers (hence the use of “lever” in our name) to improve efficiency, reduce the cash outlay for services, and reduce the number of employee hours needed to complete tasks:
Today’s solo entrepreneurs (aka solopreneurs) and start-ups use a number of technology tools and services to help them start and run a business, with a minimum of resources. Some of these tools previously existed in a more complicated form and others were recently developed, to meet the solopreneur’s limited time resources. They allow the solopreneur to accomplish feats that would have required teams of people to emulate, as little as ten years ago. In most cases, the tools are scalable, as the business grows. For the first time ever, if is now possible for a single person using technology tools to:
- Raise Capital
- Design a Product
- Manufacture at Home or Abroad
- Market to the Customer
- Ship from a Fulfilment Center
- Keep the Books
- Create Recurring Revenue Models
- and more
The tools available allow a single person or small team to start a new business, or more importantly for this discussion, to be able to compete with a larger business.
Note that even using these tools, it would be very difficult for the individual to compete with a large company like HP or Intel where there are teams of people assigned to each of the above tasks. Additionally, many of these companies are aware of the tools of the solopreneur and are working to bring them into their business model. The smarter large companies and the solopreneur have a handle on this shift in the way business is being done. But what about the established mid-sized companies? For this discussion, we’ll call them the small businesses with 25 to 300 employees. The ones that do a good job of running their operations, using conventional “departments”, job descriptions, and structures. These companies face a growing threat (see my darker article, “the Threat” on Medium.com) from the start up that decides to target their business and will have an even harder time than usual, competing against larger companies. They have not learned the technology tools of the solopreneur and lack the advantages that a larger business achieves from scale. For these companies, the past approach has been to hire out the specialized knowledge required to leverage these tech tools. But can you really trust your core business to hired guns?
There is already a trend of solopreneurs who provide marketing services, turning on their previous clients and manufacturing the very items they were helping to market. The last case I heard was of an Internet marketer that decided to offer his own line of lotions and scrubs because he figured that if the client had enough margin to hire him, it was a good business. Without having to pay someone to market his own products, the margins were even bigger. The design and manufacture of the product was the easy part!
It is no longer necessary to hire out these services and trust that “expert” in, for one example, web design. It may have been necessary 15 years ago when all websites were .html and you needed a coder to set up a system that fit YOUR business. However, the tools have continuously improved, in no small part because of the number of software engineers (coders) in business for themselves. They have found the needs and filled them, putting the tools within the understanding of the average person.
So what can the small to mid-sized, established business do to compete? Teach your people to fish! Since these tools are accessible to the average person, you no longer need to hire these tasks out. Put your own people back in charge of the functions you’ve outsourced and teach them new skills! In the near future, these will be basic skills required of every employee. By teaching your people now, you are not only protecting your own business, but offering value to your employees. They will get to learn marketable skills which will reinvigorate their interest in their current job.
There are a myriad of new tools available, but we’ll just pick three examples where you can pick up significant gains, with the least effort. All of the following can be set up and run by a single person, but in your case, you may choose to distribute them among your current employees. For this discussion, we’ll limit the discussion to the following topics:
- Order Fulfillment
- Training and Recurring Revenue models
There are of course many more, but we can get the point across with these three, for the sake of brevity. After all, this is just an introduction and there are hundreds of tools available.
- One area where the solopreneur must absolutely succeed, without exception, is in Marketing. The challenge for a lone voice to get heard in a world of billions is substantial. For the last few years, assuming the business was savvy enough to have a webpage, the model has been to pay for “clicks” with the concept being that anyone that searches your business keywords will find your webpage. This method still works, but can cost a significant amount of money (especially if you make no effort to measure conversions and determine the cost of each customer) and ignores the free organic traffic that you can generate from writing content. Every business should have a web page to guide your customer to the next step in the buying process and to inform them about the product or service. We’ll assume that you’ve gone at least that far. So, how do we get customers to our web page without pay per click campaigns? There are 50 or more approaches, but let’s look at the one you can already do, Content Creation. Content Creation means writing or providing…..wait for it….content. This can be in the form of a short, written blog post on your website, a dedicated page on your site that teaches the consumer about your industry, or a how-to video. Although it may mention your product, this is not an advertisement. Rather, it is something that your customer can make use of to benefit THEM. This serves two purposes. First, it gives useful information to your potential customers and establishes YOU as the industry expert. Second, by targeting specific phrases in your writing, search engines will find you when someone searches your phrase. That’s an over simplification, but this is an introductory article. No one knows more about your business than you. So, start writing. Get your employees to write. Filter their thoughts as little as possible, then send it off to a proofreader (free tip, find one starting at $5 on Fiverr.com). Content is a way to engage your customer in open conversation and provide information for everyone to share. Allow questions and answers. You can approve, or “moderate” what ends up on your site. The goal here is to talk about your business and share insights. You want to share valuable information that will directly benefit your customer….for free. Yep, that’s right, FREE! Give so much to your potential customers that they will feel obligated to buy from you when the time comes. (For an in-depth look at this, read Gary Vaynerchuk’s “the Thank You Economy” or his other works). Even if someone else is in a similar business, no one is YOU. You and your people have unique insights and experiences that can benefit your customers. If you haven’t already, have your webpage set up in WordPress, to make it easier for your own people to maintain it and add content. When writing content, you will use key words (“keywords”) that point to the goal or subject of the content. Used in a proper, natural way, these focus words will tell the search engines what the post or page is about.
- Order fulfillment and shipping. Does your business have a hard product, do they sell spares, or do they ship software? How do you fill orders? If you are a traditional mid-sized company, you have a means of receiving a PO or payment information, processing the payment, and then a packing and shipping department to send it out. (If your business is primarily a “teaching” company (training, etc.) see number 3, below.) The process usually involves checking inventory and ship times and a certain amount of internal communication. Instead, why not let your customer check the inventory and place his order accordingly. This process can be automated by using an online store service (see Shopify) or fulfillment center, like Amazon. The cost borders on insignificant, with plans starting at $10 a month. For far less than you pay to have an employee do this, they will check inventory, process payment, warehouse, and ship your product. Do you sell something where this is impractical, for example, large machinery? I’ll bet you can automate at least PART of the business (like spare parts and consumables). Even if you cannot process EVERY order through an automated system, even automating part of the process will free up your people to do a better job elsewhere. Did you know that Amazon has an industrial supply site? If not, what else are you missing?
- Training. Does your product require in-person training, or does it have an owner’s/user manual? That probably meets the basic need, but maybe you and your people know little “tricks” about the product, that you can show your customer. Why not shoot a video and post it on YouTube or another service? This fills a number of needs. It can help a search engine find you (don’t forget to link to your site), make your product more desirable, provide a resource for you customer, train new employees, and/or be scaled into a recurring revenue model. Depending on your product or business, there may be demand for more “advanced” training than the manual can provide. How about creating step-by-step training videos. For the solopreneur, this is often the ONLY means they have of training since they are a one person operation. Other businesses are built around training videos for another company’s products because, the great thing about a video is that once you create it, it can be sold over and over again. You are selling the SAME product to multiple customers. Why not do a set of short training videos and see if there is an interest. What’s the cost? Well, here we leverage a couple of technologies. First, we’ll use a product like Camtasia to edit a video shot with an iPhone, or to capture your computer screen (if your product involves software). Cost, about $350 and a couple hours of time. This type of software has reached a point where it is intuitive to use. You can get a video that is 80% of what a professional studio can produce, using your own people, for a fraction of their price… Plus, as you might have guessed, they have video training available, if you get stuck. Next, go to Fiverr and have a voiceover added, based on the subtitles that you put into the video. Cost, $5-$15. Post it on your site and on YouTube. If response is favorable, consider adding more videos and selling them to your customers for a small fee or subscription charge.
So there are three easy action items for you that can help your company begin to leverage technology. There is enough information here for you to take action, or, you can check out SixFootLever.com to see the one-time fees to train your employees. Either way, it will go a lot smoother if you can start to locate your own entrepreneurs in the company (aka intrapreneurs), to champion and set up each one of these tools. It has always been the case that in a mid-sized company, that there are those who “moonlight” in another job. Today, moonlighting often means pursuing a hobby or interest and turning it into an online business. Since these people are the solopreneurs we’ve been discussing (albeit with varying levels of success), it makes sense to search them out, from within your own organization. There are easy ways to find them, but that is the topic of another article.
This article originally appeared on LinkedIn as:
This article explains how to use three easy tools to protect your Detroit based business!by