Information and Communication Technology or ICT is an integral part of modern life. Nearly all of us carry a mini computer around with us in the form of smartphones that we use constantly in our daily lives, almost like they are an extra appendage we would feel bereft without! Similarly, ICT has proved to be just as vital to businesses. When you consider how you can use technology to get your business off the ground, you may think of social media or administration perhaps, but technology can play a role in almost every aspect of your business.
When you are thinking about entering the world of entrepreneurship and launching your own business, whether at a physical location or online, you could be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work involved, from researching your competition and registering your business to setting up physical premises or an online store. This blog can hopefully serve as a guide to how you can use technology to help you navigate starting a business.
When you are in the planning stages of starting a business you may have to do a lot of research, on your proposed business sector, the viability of your products/services, and on your competition. Once upon a time you may have had to physically go to a library, or visit your competition in person, but now you can find almost all the information you need online. Similarly, if you need to find premises for your business, you can turn to social media or online newspaper classifieds to research the ideal location, and communicate with agents/sellers online. Or if you need to set up a website or online store, if you do not have web design skills yourself, you can find professionals online who can help.
To operate your business in Mauritius you need to obtain a Business Registration Number (BRN) from the Registrar of Companies (ROC) in Port Louis. You no longer need to wait in line and submit forms in person; you can access the forms you need from the ROC website, including for incorporating a company, submit them online, and make any associated payments for registration and trade fees if applicable. The procedure can vary depending on the type of business you are registering, so seek advice if you are unsure of how to complete the formalities.
If you are looking for funding to start your business you will need to have a good Business Plan. This should at a minimum describe your company, your products/services, your company’s leadership team and financial statements and plans for growth. If you do not know where to start you can use the internet to research what type of information to include and find business plan templates online. With your laptop and word processing software you can create your business plan, and use email to disseminate it to interested parties. If you do not feel confident that you can create a business plan, it is a good idea to seek help and advice from experts in this field.
When you are planning to launch a business you will have start-up costs to think about. Accounting software can help you keep track of your spending and make sure you stay within your budget. There are a number of sophisticated accounting software programs that you can use to record your expenditure and to create informative reports and financial statements which can help you to keep track of the running costs of your business and to make effective decisions about your financial future.
If you find accounting software a little intimidating, you can try simpler spreadsheet programs for doing basic calculations, but remember that you can use online tutorials to help you understand how to use any software package. Some of you may be tempted to just keep financial records in a physical ledger instead, but using accounting software means you do not have to perform calculations yourself which reduces the likelihood of errors, saves you time, and allows you to track income and expenditure so you can make sure you are operating within your budget.
Technology can help immensely in the recruitment of staff. Traditional methods like advertising in print newspapers may not reach as wide an audience as it once did, but with the internet you can potentially access talent from all over the world! Some positions may require you to recruit locally, in which case you can advertise online, on social media, particularly on Facebook, in groups where people are searching for jobs, or in online newspapers and magazines, or on recruitment sites.
You can request CVs by email or through social media and even interview candidates’ online using video conferencing applications like Zoom. You may also have functions within your business that can be performed remotely online, such as online marketing or accounting, in which case you can consider outsourcing to a company or individual further away. There are a number of sites where you can find professionals looking for freelance or contract work, and if you do engage anyone to work remotely, there are a number of applications and tools that can facilitate communication and collaborative working, such as Skype, Slack, and the aforementioned Zoom. And if you feel the need to track productivity there are applications such as Time Doctor that can track individuals (Users) or a group of users or projects, including taking screenshots from the user’s monitor.
Marketing is a key aspect to consider when launching your business. With the rise of the internet and technology, digital marketing methods are increasingly preferred over traditional marketing methods such as mailshots, and print media adverts. Digital marketing using social media or banner advertising are considered to be more accurate and cost effective as they can be targeted to a specific audience and you can measure how many potential customers have engaged with your content.
Digital or online marketing may be an area you think you have a handle on if you are already familiar with social media. But there are several aspects to online marketing that you may not have considered.
Search engines like Google and Bing make it possible to conduct online research about consumer trends, and the viability and profitability of products and services. You can also identify your competitors and compare their online presence and activities. Of course if your business and your competitors are brick and mortar establishments, then you might find it useful to visit them.
Creating good content for your website or advertising campaigns can help to increase your online visibility, establish your brand and drive sales. If you have the skills, you can use graphics software like Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator or Premiere or similar to create eye-catching adverts or videos to post on your website or social media pages that engage your audience. Of course if you do not feel confident producing your own adverts you should outsource to a specialist.
Advertising online, through social media and with banner adverts on websites or search engines, is becoming increasingly important. Here you need to consider a mix of paid and organic (not-paid) through different marketing vehicles from Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), General Social Media Posts to paid methods like Google AdWords and Facebook advertising and post boosting. A powerful social media marketing campaign can increase sales and revenue. Subscribing to a page in an online Business Directory or other industry sites can also improve your online visibility and lend credibility to your business.
You will find that there are a great number of online applications that can help you to set up, monitor and evaluate the progress of your SEO and your Social Media Marketing. Again you can outsource these tasks, but you need to keep your strategy in mind and set benchmarks for any digital marketing agency you engage.
The scope for how technology can help you to get your business off the ground is vast. With just a handful of tools, like a laptop, a smartphone, a good internet connection, and a selection of software for the functions you feel comfortable dealing with, your business can get off to a great start. Technology can also provide invaluable solutions in other areas as you grow your business, including in sales and customer service, communication, payroll, inventory and stock control, and so much more. Making the best use of technology will mean you can start as you mean to go on, using tools that will help you to innovate and stay competitive.
We have one caveat though, while technology makes it possible to perform most of the functions of your business yourself, it does not mean that you should. This article is intended as a guide, and does not provide an exhaustive list of technologies. You should seek professional advice for areas where you lack knowledge or experience to discover the technology requirements that are relevant to your business, and of course if you need assistance with navigating the digital landscape, Purple Lime’s Digital Quarter is here to help!