This year has been a tough one for all businesses – and especially rural small businesses. Small business owners face a unique set of challenges during normal times, as Small Business Majority reported in 2019, and the coronavirus pandemic has compounded many of those issues. More than ever, small business owners are looking for creative ways to cut costs and boost their bottom line. One of the fastest ways to do this is to increase productivity across the entire team. Thankfully, a never-ending flow of technology has offered solutions to some of the most time-consuming tasks faced by any small business. Here’s how your rural small business can make the most of online business productivity tools.
Maximize the Cloud
Gone are the days of print-and-paper records; these days, everything is digital. From orders and invoices to receiving customer payments and paying employees, modern businesses – including small ones – are increasingly using computers for everything. Keeping digital records is a real paper-saver and incredibly convenient… but it can create issues if the computer on which records are stored goes down. Cloud-based tools are an increasingly important part of business life – including rural small businesses that plan to grow. Tools like G-suite (which includes Gmail, Google Docs, Google Drive, and more) and Dropbox allow your team to store key documents online. In addition, the files can easily be shared across your team or accessed remotely should you or a member of your staff need to take care of digital “paperwork” while at home.
Kick Off Digital Communication
Going digital also opens up a whole new world of communication, enabling staff at rural small businesses to share requests, ideas, commentary, and even laughs in an online format. Tools such as Slack allow one-on-one communication between your team members, but the app can also be configured to create group chats amongst specific teams – sales, service, or management, for example. In addition to chatting, apps like Slack can be used to quickly and conveniently share files and photos.
If your rural small business doesn’t have a thriving online presence, you likely have competitors who are light years ahead of you. The internet is the first place that potential buyers will go to learn about your business, the kinds of products and services you provide, and your hours and location, as well as to check out reviews from your customers. Digital Marketing Institute points out that among other factors, businesses that fail to go online lose relevance and the ability to hire the best people. For business owners that are new to the online world, it may help to have a tech-savvy staff member or even a third party help you dip your toes in the water. Start small by creating a website, a social media account on a platform like Facebook or Instagram and make sure your business is listed on review sites like Yelp. An online presence will give your business authority in the eyes of prospects as well as potential hires. Then, as you dig deeper into marketing and begin to implement tactics like creating a company blog to attract more customers, you’ll be able to use tools such as Google Analytics to determine which of your online activities bring the most traffic to your site.
Ensure Reliable Internet Access for Rural Small Businesses
To fully make the most of online tools and keep your web and social media presence up-to-date and consistent, it’s essential that your business has reliable access to the internet. This can be tricky in remote locations, which is why many rural small businesses turn to wireless internet routers that work off of cell signals. They offer excellent coverage that isn’t tied to cable service (which often doesn’t extend to rural areas) or satellite (which can be negatively impacted by bad weather).
If the coronavirus pandemic has taught the world anything, it’s the value of online tools, communication, and teamwork during a time when businesses must operate in new ways. And while all of these tools might not be appropriate for your rural small business, securing reliable internet access is a critical first step for every business.