What does it mean, to ‘digitalize your business’?
For a majority of business owners (61% of French SME owners, according to an Opinion Way for Qonto), being digitalized means keeping an updated website. But is that enough to make you digitalized? Or is it ‘digitized’? Let’s find out.
‘To digitize’ is to turn something analog into something digital. Technology digitizes.
‘To digitalize’ is to use that digitizing technology to create new revenue streams, cut costs or streamline processes. Businesses digitalize.
If a company digitalizes every one of its processes, allows all its staff to embrace a new, digital culture and leverages technology in all its interactions with customers, then it can claim to have achieved total digital transformation.
But digital transformation is a big ask, a giant leap that not all SMEs can afford to take. What they can do is digitalize incrementally, process by process, towards that digital transformation.
In this article, we explore the concrete, day-to-day steps that SMEs can take to modernize their operations, increase productivity and optimize growth. In short, here is how you can start to digitalize.
I. Develop your online presence to increase your visibility
A. Keep your website up to date
Those 61% of French SME owners weren’t wrong in identifying an updated website as a sign of digitalization. It’s an obvious one, perhaps, but it’s an element that can be overlooked.
“Digital shop window” is an oft-used phrase to describe a website but in fact it’s much more than that. It can also be your customer service team, your shop assistant, your cashier and your presence in the telephone directory (for those of us old enough to remember what they were).
A website allows you to be visible, find existing customers and generate new ones, thanks largely to search engines. If you’re a retailer, it’s not just your shop window. It’s your shop. Your customers can order and pay from their own homes. If you’re a service provider, it does the job of a sales team by providing all the information on how you can make people’s lives better.
Whatever your activity, an up-to-date website includes at the very least an about page that says who you are, a contact page so people can reach you, a page that says what you sell and, in many cases, how much it costs.
Some companies, notably smaller ones, are still reluctant to create their own website. Their owners may be worried that it costs too much, or requires advanced IT skills to make themselves. But this is not the case.
There are solutions out there that allow you to build your own site quickly, easily and affordably. Platforms like Wordpress or Wix provide you with a template, a choice of themes and the page elements that you just drag and drop where you want them to appear. Some provide a basic, free package with add-on options that you pay for. There is one inevitable cost: the domain name, although this does not have to set you back more than a few dozen euros.
B. Draw up a digital communications strategy
In the survey of business owners mentioned above, 47% said that digitalization means having a digital communications strategy. Again, they are right.
Component parts of such a strategy include paid, targeted advertising, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), posts on social media, blog articles and email newsletters. Together, they can form a potent online communication strategy that will allow you to reach your target customers and, as a result, generate sales.
A website can have its own My Business page on Google, which boosts its performance in its search engine and lets customers leave their reviews. Given Google’s power in this domain, such a tool is almost indispensable for SMEs wishing to build both visibility and the trust of potential clients.
II. Get good digital tools that will improve your productivity
For 53% of business owners asked in the survey, being digitalized means having an efficient IT system.
Most companies need some sort of IT platform to be able to operate effectively, whatever their size and whatever their sector of activity.
But what are the right tools and how can they help?
A. Digital tools that help organize your teams
As your business grows and you start employing more staff, its development no longer relies uniquely on you but also on the work and productivity of your teams.
These teams will need to be provided with effective IT tools to be able to do their jobs. This is especially the case for those who don’t work ‘in the field’ but ‘at the office’.
Optimized productivity is the result of solid communication and sound organization and new technologies have proven to be game-changers in that regard.
- Communication: giving your employees access to an intuitive and fully-functional email platform is the first step. You can also bring on board internal communications tools (instant message services such as Slack or video call services like Zoom or Google Meet) to make it easier to communicate with colleagues.
- Organization: regardless of what your business does, it is always useful to set up a database that unites all important information and makes it accessible to all employees. Some organizational tools make it simpler to delegate tasks and follow the progress being made on each one of them. There are many out there, but solutions like Trello or Notion are among the favourites of digitalized companies.
B. Digital tools that manage your customer relationships
A successful business is generally one that satisfies its customers and keeps them coming back. But modern tools can help with this ancient truth. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solutions do exactly what their name suggests, drawing on a database of all of a company’s customers (existing and even potential) and maintaining contact with them.
CRMs bring all the relevant data under one roof. That might include:
- customer contact details;
- an archive of all past communications;
- a purchase history (completed orders and those in progress);
- price quotes and invoices and any other document sent by or to customers.
A CRM can be a goldmine of information for all departments across a company, from sales and marketing to IT and customer service.
The information they contain is generally stored on the Cloud, making it accessible to any employee with just a few clicks whether they’re at home or at the office.
💡 Good to know: since May 2018, all companies must comply with GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation). This makes it essential to protect the entirety of the personal data of your customers, notably, their names and contact details. Fulfilling this legal obligation is not easy using non-secured software like Excel or Google Sheet, so it’s wise to use a secure CRM that is GDPR-compliant.
C. Digital tools to simplify your company’s finance and admin management
Bookkeeping, accounting and admin is often seen as a constraint on businesses, a necessary evil. But there are some good digital tools out there that will make that side of life much easier for you.
- Financial solutions like Qonto go,much further than traditional banks in offering accounts that are optimized for your business. They provide practical features that are designed specifically with SMEs in mind, such as intuitive, user-friendly interfaces, round-the-clock customer service and real-time monitoring of your spending.
- For many finance teams, expense reports are a time-consuming chore that require the constant chasing up of paper receipts. Why not simply cut out the paperwork by automating your expenses? Employees would just need to take a photo of a receipt on their mobile phone and submit it to the app. This centralizes all the necessary documents in one place that’s easy to access when tax auditors come visiting.
- Invoicing is another dull process that’s often seen as time-inefficient. To save all that time and effort for more valuable tasks, consider the option of automated invoices, which carry the same legal value as their paper counterparts. From 2025, digital invoicing will be mandatory anyway in France, a legal step that suggests digitalization will, to some extent, no longer be a question of choice.