Five things your start-up must do to survive in the digital age

From embracing AI to changing your attitude towards IT, Virgin Media Business’ Steve Wind-Mozley shares his top tips to use tech to your advantage

In a white paper titled The Road to the Digital Future of SMEs, IDC called start-ups and small to medium businesses – which contribute 46% of the UK’s turnover and 51% of its employment – “the cornerstone of national economies”.

But small businesses can only stay in such a position if they stay ahead of competitors, remain efficient, keep customers engaged and more – and you can’t do this without using the latest digital tech to your advantage.

So, read on for five ways that you can embrace digital transformation to keep your business ahead of the game…

1. Give customers a rich experience

IDC’s white paper found that 88% of small and medium businesses view customer relationships as key, and rightly so. Small businesses and start-ups are uniquely positioned to foster strong relationships with customers, and technology can help do this even better by providing rich, enjoyable customer experiences.

For example, a website is no longer just a static place to display information. Instead, it should take customers on a dynamic journey through your business story and offerings with a smooth, engaging user experience.

Similarly, interacting with customers through email and social media provides even more touch points with your business, continuing their connection with you between and following purchases.

IDC advises small businesses that “investments in customer interaction tools such as CRM and social technologies, and big data/analytics, can play to their strengths. These solutions are all available from the Cloud, which highlights the importance of having excellent and dependable connectivity services.”

For more advice and information on these technologies and how you can unleash the power of digital, get your free ebook to find, win and keep happy customers.

2. Change your attitude

According to IDC, 45% of UK small businesses view IT as merely a necessary cost rather than a driver of growth and competitive edge.

Instead of taking your digital tools for granted and using it to do the bare minimum, try to tap into its potential when plotting new strategies.

Make the capabilities of your technology the first thing you brainstorm; whether you’re looking to streamline payments or devise a creative marketing plan.

As the white paper advises, “view technology as a key driver of competitive advantage, rather than a necessary cost or risk… small and medium enterprises that leverage digital technology to drive competitive advantage see the return in business results”.

3. Embrace emerging technology

When it comes to security, small businesses and start-ups are on the ball, with IDC reporting that a huge 98% were starting to invest or planning to invest in it.

It also found, however, that businesses are less switched on when it comes to emerging, sophisticated and trending technology, with few making use of the opportunities presented by big data and analytics, artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality.

IDC’s white paper says that “it is precisely these technologies that can play a crucial role in helping small and medium enterprises learn even more about their customers and provide a customer experience that is much more intuitive and immersive than it is today”.

So, start-ups and small businesses should keep their fingers on the pulse when it comes to exciting new tech, and look to incorporate it in fresh and creative ways. Could AI improve your website’s chatbot? Might virtual reality make for some engaging advertising? How can big data help you better understand your customers?

4. Streamline efficiencies

Having an ultrafast business broadband connection often enables small businesses to achieve more in less time, at a smaller cost. For example, ditching analogue phones for VoIP phones – which transmit calls through the internet – essentially gives you free calls.

However, not all start-ups are aware of these benefits – with IDC relaying that only 35% of small businesses saw digital tech as an enabler of efficiency.

Commenting on this, IDC says: “This means that the bulk of UK small and medium enterprises could find themselves not well positioned to grow their businesses in a world shaped by increased competition.”

This competition comes “not only from small and medium enterprises that do embrace ICT as a growth driver but also from non-UK companies both small and large in a world where technology shrinks physical distance and barriers to entry.”

5. Stay connected

Today, businesses need to be accessible online 24/7, with the internet minimising distances between people and places. Customers are, now more than ever, accustomed to flexibility and instant accessibility.

But start-ups can only use this to their advantage if they’re constantly connected – so ensure that you’re working with a provider who gives you a fast, secure and reliable connection to the web.

As IDC’s white paper says, “speed, security and scalability will be essential to cope with growing business requirements and enable small and medium enterprises to stay nimble, flexible and close to the customer and market. Connectivity will underpin everything in a cloud-centric world. Small and medium enterprises should look for a partner that can help them take their business to the next level in the digital future”.

Startups.co.uk and Virgin Media Business are delighted to invite you to The Power of Digital: a meet the experts breakfast panel discussion for start-ups and small businesses. Part of a nationwide series, this event explores the digital necessities for future business success. Grab your FREE ticket here to join us in Manchester on Wednesday 24 January!