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One of the biggest issues that SMBs face is being “too small”. This is not in terms of capabilities, but rather the perception, whether from potential customers or partners, that they lack the muscle and reliability of larger enterprises. Today, however, it’s never been easier for SMBs to punch above their weight – and generate levels of efficiency and market share that in many cases beat much larger competitors. How is this possible? The clever use of digital platforms in the cloud has made competing on a larger scale much easier. A growing number of SMBs use cloud-based software to automate, streamline, and expand their business operations. Doing so helps them operate much more efficiently and productively, while keeping costs down and maintaining a lean headcount.
Here are three ways that the cloud is helping small businesses appear like major multinationals:
Reducing day-to-day workload
Most digitally-savvy SMB owners are already aware that the cloud can drastically cut internal IT expenditure. However, both small and large businesses are only now realising the greatest cost-saving aspect of the cloud is not in CapEx, but staff productivity. Cloud-based software is ideal for automating day-to-day tasks. Repetitive but often business critical processes – both back-office such as warehousing, and front-office such as tracking customer orders – can take up a big amount of a small business’ time. Cloud-based ERP (enterprise resource planning) tools can automate all of these processes as well as provide a real-time view of the whole business, leaving much more time for SMB owners and staff to get on with important decisions and customer engagements. In the pre-cloud days, these types of automation solutions would’ve required huge investment in IT infrastructure, but with the cloud they can be accessed instantly with virtually no investment.
Every SMB owner wears many hats, from CEO to back-office administrator. Cloud-based software significantly reduces the time spent on tasks which can be automated, allowing owners to focus on strategic priorities that can generate greater revenue or new sources of competitive advantage. With a seamlessly-integrated cloud solution for automation, SMBs can gain the operational efficiencies of scale that much bigger businesses have – right from Day One.
Bringing real-time intelligence to the business
When it comes to focusing on those strategic priorities, SMB owners need a full picture of how their businesses are performing. Gaining this level of detail manually is no mean feat. The cloud, however, can provide clear and concise insights into business performance in real time, across all functions from inventory to accounts payable. This also makes reporting to stakeholders and auditors both easier and more precise. The trick here is that all your ERP systems need to work seamlessly together if you’re to gain a comprehensive picture of critical business information. If your ERP software doesn’t communicate with your CRM tools or with your accounting solutions, you could easily end up with far more complexity than you had to begin with! When selecting these types of management tools, you need to ensure that they’re fully compatible, ideally all hosted on a single cloud platform.
When information flows seamlessly between different modules and software in the cloud, you’ll get a level of visibility that was once only available to big business. Paired with automation, this lets you continuously improve and delight your customers with the same – or better – service than they’d expect from large enterprises. And as your business scales up, you can easily expand your cloud software’s capabilities to keep up with demand. Select cloud solutions that offer the option to scale up to enterprise-grade functions at the very start: this will save you the pain of switching solutions or encountering incompatibilities as your business needs grow.
Taking you global
We’ve seen how cloud software can give you the efficiencies and service quality of much bigger businesses, but can it directly help you grow and expand? Definitely: just take a look at ecommerce. Once only the domain of multinationals with big IT pockets, ecommerce platforms have been democratised by the cloud. SMBs can set up payment gateways, order fulfilment systems, and customer service channels without large upfront or ongoing investment. Most of these cloud solutions are also highly automated, allowing even one-person businesses to sell globally without requiring additional headcount.
When choosing an e-commerce platform, make sure that it does more than just facilitate payments and track orders. The best platforms will also use automation to handle things like multi-currency transactions, multi-country taxation and compliance rules, and even run differently branded websites to cater to different countries. This ensures that your business can avoid some of the later-stage costs of ecommerce and operate globally without expensive investment or lengthy rollout times.
Size doesn’t always determine victory – just ask Goliath. But appearing much larger that you really are can be an invaluable asset for small businesses looking to start out or reach their next level of growth – just ask the Wizard of Oz. Cloud software frees up time and resources to be invested in higher priorities where innovation and personality are critical. When used effectively, it inevitably transforms SMBs’ perceived size from appearance into reality.
Mark Troselj is vice president and general manager of Australia and New Zealand for NetSuite.