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Digital transformation – 6 steps to future-proof your small business

For your business to remain competitive in the modern economy, you need to both invest in and educate yourself about digital technologies

The unstoppable digitisation of the UK economy rolls on and small businesses that don’t undergo a digital transformation are at risk of losing out to more savvy players in the market.

To future-proof your start-up, you need to be vigilant about changing trends in the digital world.

You don’t need to be a first adopter but investing in new technologies will ensure you remain competitive and can keep in step with your customers’ needs.

According to analyst firm IDC, just 20% of UK small businesses see investment in digital technology as a competitive advantage and 35% as an enabler of efficiency. The majority of small businesses (45%) simply see digital activity it as a necessary cost.

But, to be a business with a competitive edge, you need to be curious (about the potential of digital), aware (of the need to increase digital investment), savvy (about new technologies), and downright ambitious (about disrupting your sector with digital).

Here are six key steps you can follow to future-proof your business:

1. Invest in ultrafast broadband

This is the rocket fuel that’s going to blast your small business into the stratosphere.

Entering the modern economy with standard broadband (which the IDC says 30% of UK small businesses still rely on) is like entering Formula 1 on horseback – everyone’s going to overtake you.

Make sure to get an ultrafast broadband business package from a provider that works for you.

Having fast broadband doesn’t just mean you can load pages faster.

Faster broadband means you can quickly capitalise on new opportunities, me more responsive to your customers, and be more productive. Everything just runs more smoothly.

2. Get the right business apps and software

It can be mindboggling to sift through the ever-increasing number of apps that promise to make your business smarter, faster and stronger. The fact is that not all of these app will deliver and some can even impede productivity.

Look up online reviews and get advice from you peers to decide which digital apps and software will be right for your business.

A carefully selected toolkit of apps should be a boon to your business, not a distraction.

3. Embrace emerging technologies

The artificial intelligence (AI) revolution continues to disrupt almost every aspect of business.

The robots are here to help you. AI can increase productivity, boost efficiency, and take on time-consuming administrative tasks, freeing up you and your team to concentrate on other more valuable tasks.

Chatbots are an increasingly popular use of AI amongst businesses, able to provide customers with advice and support without the need for a human agent to be constantly on duty. 80% of businesses are predicted to adopt chatbot technology by 2022.

You should also consider exploring the Internet of Things (IoT) (the network of devices appliances and other items with internet connectivity), virtual reality (VR), and augmented reality (AR) and the ways you could combine them within your business.

The IDC says that only 6% of the small business market has explored opportunities in IoT, while just 5% have gotten wise to the huge potential of VR and AR.

Embracing these technologies early on will enable your small business to stay ahead of the competition.

4. Connect across multiple channels and platforms

Use a variety of content types to get your message across from blogs and features to social media posts.

In the constant battle of the attention economy, you need to pull out all the stops to keep consumers scrolling, clicking and engaging.

That means attacking on all fronts with powerful, original content that creates an emotional connection.

More and more businesses are realising the power of visual content as part of a comprehensive digital strategy. It can be more shareable and engaging than copy and a quick way to disseminate information to your followers.

Marry this with a sold social media presence and written content to really hammer your message home.

5. Get digitally educated

With the exponential evolution of the digital world, there’s so much to learn and the learning never stops.

Taking a coding course is a good way to upskill yourself with the foundational building materials of digital.

Learning code gives you the language to start creating your own pages, websites and platforms.

Courses are available from Makers Academy (a highly selective 12-week software development boot camp) and Code First Girls (a not for profit social enterprise that works exclusively with women).

There’s also Decoded, which teaches courses in a variety of key technologies, and (because there’s nothing like getting started early) Code Club, which runs free coding clubs for kids aged nine to 13.

They vary in price and can be completed in a matter of weeks, months, or be an ongoing programme.

6. Employ top digital talent

As a small business owner, there’s only so much you can juggle.

The best advantage you can give your business is to employ those with specific skills or specialisms who will focus solely on doing one task really well.

If it’s a co-founder or CTO you’re looking for, you could use MeetUp to find ambitious individuals that share your interests and goals. Or if you want to fill your entry-level positions, use Enternship to find talented young graduates.

Don’t stop with local talent though; freelancer platforms enable you to enlist remote workers from all over the world to do everything from software development to graphic design.

LinkedIn is another great resource for building a network of likeminded digital entrepreneurs, whilst TechHub is a global community of start-ups that can offer support and help you to form valuable business relationships.

The UK digital environment and the government’s digital strategy

The UK government announced its commitment to digital businesses in 2017 with the development of its digital strategy. The plan is simple: to make Britain the “best place in the world to start and grow a digital business”.

This includes a scheme from Lloyds Banking Group to help 2.5 million individuals, charities and small to medium businesses access digital skills training by 2020.

Meanwhile, Barclays plans to teach 45,000 children basic coding skills and train one million people in general digital skills and cyber awareness.

The plans also included a £1bn funding package to accelerate the development of fibre broadband and 5G and a further £17.3m to support the development of AI.

Meanwhile, the UK’s digital investment landscape is in  robust health, with foreign investment into UK tech firms nearly doubling on 2016 to $7.8bn in 2017.

Embrace digital today

With a talented team, powerful software, fast broadband and a comprehensive digital strategy, your business can take advantage of every opportunity to get ahead and succeed in our increasingly digital economy.

Whether you’re digitally curious, digitally aware, digitally savvy, or digitally ambitious, find out where you’re at on your digital journey with Virgin Media Business.

Download a personalised report and discover what next steps you need to take in your digital transformation.

Henry Williams
Henry Williams

Henry has been writing for since 2015, covering everything from business finance and web builders to tax and red tape. He’s also contributed to many of our industry-renowned annual indexes, including Startups 100 and Young Guns, and created a number of the site’s popular how to guides. Before joining the team, he reviewed films for a culture website, and still harbours ambitions of being a screenwriter.