For the inner workings of their respective businesses, 86 per cent of respondents indicated that the use of technology has resulted in significant improvement to the productivity and efficiency of their workforces. There’s also a shift towards virtual platforms: a whopping 75 per cent are now using cloud apps, with 86 per cent using cloud-based storage.
They’re also more connected. This year’s numbers show that 71 per cent of entrants have a mobile-optimised website, and 93% per cent have smartphones (up 5 per cent on last year), compared with 81 per cent of the general population. With mobile traffic now making up almost 40 per cent of all website visits, small business owners and consumers alike are digital nomads, using portable technology to run their lives from anywhere they can access a reliable network. They make buying decisions from their phones, book services from their tablets, and order dinner from an app. They manage whole operations from the (relative) comfort of a train commute. They’re more plugged in, more discerning, and more likely to make decisions based on advice from their social networks.
It stands to reason, then, that the biggest – and some might say most predictable – winning strategy in small business tech is social media. This year, it’s finally overtaken referral marketing as the activity businesses identify as “best performing”. What’s interesting about this distinction is that social media is, in many ways, a different kind of referral marketing. Without taking a personal, two-way conversational approach, social media won’t be successful. It relies on word of mouth – in the modern way we know it, which is “people tagged me in it” or “I saw it in my Instagram feed” – to thrive.
Interpersonal marketing is racing ahead when it comes to small business success. More enterprises than ever are building upon one-to-one or one-to-many relationships to grow, nurture and legitimise what they do. Social media has created new spaces in which to build a brand, to cultivate a community and to be visible, and they exist outside of the businesses that use them. Winning businesses are moving away from broadcast marketing – like billboards and newspaper advertising – and finding great success in speaking with their customers in the places they already occupy.
The reason for this success could be in the NSW Business Chamber and Telstra’s finding that 100 per cent of Telstra Business Awards respondents are monitoring their social media at least monthly. That might mean anything from seeing the stats and responding to customer enquiries, to managing social advertising campaigns and checking website referrals. That’s not just to mitigate risk, put out spot fires, or check on Beyonce’s latest Instagram post. Winning businesses are using it as an opportunity to understand their customers better: through data collection (for example, Facebook and Instagram both offer demographic and interest-based data); by observing and analysing their online behaviour; by monitoring the success of campaigns; and by being in touch with social media consumer trends overall.
This shift towards consumer-focused marketing – made possible by the latest technology – carries across to customer relationship management. The NSW Business Chamber and Telstra found that of this year’s respondents, 84 per cent use their customer database to promote and market their products and services – that’s up from last year. And with “own website” now overtaking “own sales force” as the primary driver of sales and distribution, winning businesses are also leveraging their tech channels to grow and convert their databases into revenue and customer engagement.
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Digital literacy is on the up and up and up and up. SMEs are taking control of their digital footprint, and the best businesses are looking outside of themselves to understand how to do it well. In 2017, the number of small enterprises involving stakeholders in their marketing activities has dropped significantly, from 96 per cent to just 81 per cent. And while only 41 per cent of SMEs have their own website, 98 per cent of Telstra Business Awards entrants do – and they take them seriously. Eighty-nine per cent have resources allocated to managing those websites, making sure they’re current, accurate, engaging, and working hard for the business. Not only that, but almost all of them are doing their own search engine optimisation; fewer than 10 per cent reported doing none at all, while most are adding appropriate keywords, identifying relevant search terms, updating content regularly, and integrating their websites with their social media channels.
So how can you translate this into your own winning business?
Let’s break it down: this year, 65 per cent of respondents indicated they have made and/or implemented improvements to their technology, equipment, facilities, tools and/or infrastructure. Small business tech is constantly evolving, and so are the businesses that understand its value. Almost 100 per cent of respondents use the internet – the web, social media, email, and so on – to stay across the latest technologies. Good use of tech isn’t the same for every business, and what will set yours apart is to understand and use it in a way that’s specific to you. Not everyone needs Facebook. Not everyone needs the same kind of website. Not everyone needs the same cloud apps. Use these insights to get you started, but trust in what you know about your business, too.
Social media, mobile traffic, and business websites might be the big hitters for the 2017 Telstra Business Awards entrants, but the 2018 landscape could look quite different. So while the tech itself may change, the winning formula will remain the same: be curious, be agile, and always be innovating.