People 'n' Issues

How apps boost SMEs

August 30th, 2016
Small business owners looking need to increase productivity and profits need to change their outlook on technology and should even start making use of mobile apps, writes COLIN TIMMIS, SA Head of Accounting, Xero.
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According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), labour productivity in South Africa has trended downwards since 2011 – and, in the 47 years between 1967 and 2014, it’s declined by 41%. While this is concerning, it hasn’t hampered

South Africa’s thriving small business community as confidence is running high: according to research recently conducted by Xero and WWW, some 58% of small business owners anticipate growth within the next year.

To drive growth and make immediate, impactful improvements to productivity, small businesses should focus on technology: it plays a crucial role in maximising efficiency and generating profits. It’s encouraging that many South African small businesses already recognise this: 47% consider it “very important”, while 19% go as far as to call it “essential”. However, we still have some way to go, as 26% consider PCs to be necessary business tools, and only 6% consider their internet connection to be crucial. A mere 4% of respondents believe smartphones to be essential – and 10% don’t have one at all.

So if you’re a small business owner looking to increase profits and efficiency, your top priorities should be to rethink your approach to technology and, in particular, consider how mobile apps might revolutionise the way you run your business.

Which apps can help me simplify my business?

40% of South African small businesses rely on paper records and spreadsheets, and research suggests that 88% of these spreadsheets contain errors. When you’re handling sensitive data, it’s important that it’s done quickly and accurately.

The age of the app has given rise to more SME-friendly tools. It’s now possible to automate and consolidate functions like payroll, bookkeeping, training, and marketing – and if you take advantage, you’ll spare yourself a big headache.

Within the mobile Salesforce dashboard, for example, you can manage customer relationships, monitor employee work performance, and send marketing material with Pardot – much easier than logging in and out of several different applications.

What’s the most cost-effective option?

Some 39% of the businesses we surveyed reported cashflow concerns, which have a direct influence on whether or not the business can afford the tools it needs. An increase in labour productivity only matters if you’re making money – which becomes exponentially more difficult if the tech you’re using is unaffordable.

Where enterprise software can be exorbitant on a perpetual license, tools like Slack, CamScanner and Evernote offer unlimited free plans for smaller teams. If you need to scale up, you can usually upgrade to premium for a reasonable monthly fee – significantly cheaper than an outright purchase.

Which apps can give my team more flexibility?

The modern employee demands flexibility, and modern apps can give it to them. Project management software like Trello and Asana make it possible to keep track of individual tasks and assignees, while the cloud-based hosting service of Dropbox allows you to access whatever you need from anywhere across the globe.

What’s more, you don’t lose anything by allowing your employees to work in their preferred way: it actually has a positive effect on their productivity.

That said, adopting technology isn’t just a means of improving labour productivity. It’s a chance for South Africa’s SME community to give itself a shot in the arm. The analogue world is receding further into the distance. We are in the age of the app, the smart device, and the

hot desk. Soon enough, we’ll be in the age of the ‘Internet of Things’.

If small businesses make strategic use of the right apps, they’ll not only improve productivity and profits: they’ll carve out a place for themselves in a bright – and not-so-distant – future.

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