Every week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wednesday on Twitter from 8-9pm ET. This is excerpted from my recent interview with LaToya Collins-Jones, @PrettyGeekyCEO. LaToya is the founder of start-up Pretty Geeky and also is SmallBizChat’s Co-host. Before founding Pretty Geeky, LaToya was a member of Dell’s Center for Entrepreneurship team under the leadership of Ingrid Vanderveldt. As an advocate for technology in minority and women communities, LaToya worked a wide range of partners, influencers, and start-ups. The focus of Pretty Geeky is to show clients how to leverage technology to maximize their customer life cycle. Pretty Geeky is a mash-up of the two things she loves most…Breaking the Rules (Innovation) and Technology. For more info, visit www.prettygeeky.co or her personal blog www.geekpraylove.com
SmallBizLady: Why is technology important for small businesses?
LaToya Collins-Jones: Technology is important for small businesses because it can open the door for many more options for a small business in particular. Technology enables you to be more streamlined in your processes. You can accomplish more with less if it is leveraged correctly. Technology has the ability to be an equalizer for all players. That’s why I love it and am passionate about helping business owners maximize the technology they invest in.
SmallBizLady: There is so much technology, where do you start?
LaToya Collins-Jones: First, know where you are in your business and what technologies you are using currently. Make a list! Include everything you could possibly think of that you use internally and externally. Assess how much you use each one of those technologies. Next, know where you are going…have a 5 year plan. If you know where you are going, it makes it easier to work your way backwards. Create a technology strategy based on the growth you expect.
SmallBizLady: Why is having a technology strategy important?
LaToya Collins-Jones: Having a technology strategy is just as important as having a business and marketing plan. Often these plans include growth but most do not have processes, systems, and technologies in place to service their growth. Not having a technology strategy that coincides with your growth plan for your business can be a costly mistake if your technology cannot growth with you! Technology is often overlooked and seen as an expense and not as an investment in business.
SmallBizLady: How do you create a technology strategy?
LaToya Collins-Jones: First, if you do not have at least a 3 or 5 year plan – start there!! It goes back to knowing where you are in your business and what you are currently using. If you are investing in it and not using it, evaluate if you actually need it, or how you can better leverage it. Break down each technology by function like marketing, social media, finance, email, website, etc. and then by year. At Pretty Geeky, all of our technology is scalable internally and externally to make it easier for us long term.
SmallBizLady: How do you evaluate technology in a small business?
LaToya Collins-Jones: We use a system we created called G.R.O.W. to help customers evaluate technology. G.R.O.W. stands for Grow, Retain, Optimize, and Wow. All technology should fall into one of these buckets.
Grow: Does this technology grow my business via leads? Branding? Revenue? This can be a website or social media.
Retain: How does this help me keep my customers? Increase their lifetime value? It is easier to retain and grow a customer through your funnel than to always acquire new ones.
Optimize: How is this technology saving me money? Time? Effort? This is an examination of internal processes and systems.
Wow: Does this technology help me provide the best customer experience possible? A great place to begin is looking at the process to acquire the customer. Take yourself through your entire purchasing cycle.
SmallBizLady: What are some key indicators technology is working in your business?
LaToya Collins-Jones: I would start with the G.R.O.W. assessment for each technology. Next, I would establish a goal for external technologies. At Pretty Geeky, we believe that if you are investing in it, it should have a purpose and a goal. If it is not fulfilling the goal, evaluate it and choose to change your strategy, get help, or get rid of it.
SmallBizLady: When do you enlist outside help for technology needs?
LaToya Collins-Jones: If time and lack of understanding becomes a hindrance and you are growing, you may want to evaluate getting help. Some people prefer to just use an expert rather than go through the struggle of trying to figure it out themselves. I tell all small businesses to be careful when getting outside help for technology. There are lots of sharks who prey on small businesses when it comes to technology. Be wary of those who offer “too good to believe” results; sometimes going with a referral instead of searching on your own helps. Do your research and go with your instinct!
SmallBizLady: What internal technologies should businesses have?
LaToya Collins-Jones: I would start with Accounting. You should have a budget and know your cash flow to determine your sales goals.
Analytics/Metrics are very important. If you are doing it, it should be measured. How do you define success in your business? Use Google Analytics or Facebook Insights to evaluate your efforts.
Project Management/CRM helps you manage your projects with your client. No one and nothing gets lost in the shuffle. There is no need to try and keep track of everything in your head because you can’t!
SmallBizLady: What external technologies should all businesses have?
LaToya Collins-Jones: Surprisingly, still almost 50% of small businesses do not have a Website. Nowadays, if you don’t have a website, you don’t exist. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Make sure it is dynamic and mobile responsive.
Social Media is always a touchy one but I believe necessary. Know which social media platform harnesses your customer base. Leverage it to increase branding and engage your customers. When leveraged properly, it can be used to generate leads as well.
Marketing (Automation) is becoming more prevalent. It’s important to have more than one touch point with your customer before and after a purchase. Know where you want them to go and when. Everything should have a purpose.
SmallBizLady: What are some of the pitfalls small businesses have with technology?
LaToya Collins-Jones: 1. Not knowing your limits. Sometimes, you can’t be everywhere in social and use every technology. Become efficient in one thing at a time if you must; this can be more beneficial.
2. Free isn’t always better. There are some great tools that are free. But know when it is time to invest in something that better suits your needs. Don’t try to stay in a shoe that’s 2 sizes too small!
3. Know what you are investing in. Before you spend your money on any technology, evaluate if it is right for business or just a fad. Know which G.R.O.W bucket it falls into.
SmallBizLady: How do you keep up with technology when it changes all the time?
LaToya Collins-Jones: The truth is…you can’t! There will always be something that looks better or goes faster or has more features. It’s a torturous and exciting cycle amongst most geeks! Have your technology strategy and stick with it before hopping on the next big thing. Success in technology often lies in taking a technology and maximizing it to its fullest capability.
SmallBizLady: What are some words of advice for small businesses?
LaToya Collins-Jones: Start with one thing. Technology can be overwhelming. Take baby steps. Work on one area at a time. You run a marathon one step at a time!
Be intentional and authentic! Organic growth often comes from the purest places. People align themselves and do business with people they know, they like, and they trust.
Persevere and never quit! There are going to be hiccups and bumps and failures along the way. Learn from them. Laugh at them. Sometimes what feels like 3 steps back is really 5 steps forward in another area of growth. It’s all in your perception. Stay positive and enjoy the ride to living out your dream!
For more tips on how start or grow your small business subscribe to Melinda Emerson’s blog http://www.succeedasyourownboss.com.