Technology can help businesses become more efficient. But simply downloading the hot, new app won't provide solutions. Entrepreneurs need to review their businesses, identify problems, and work with their teams to find the right fixes and processes. Techniques using tech to radically alter a company's operations are sometimes referred to as 'hacks.'
Here, entrepreneurs describe how they have hacked their own business processes to find success.
Nikolay Piriankov, founder of online jewelery retailer Taylor & Hart, says he finds efficiency hacking addictive and that it is central to his business. Piriankov is a big fan of Zapier, an online platform that enables users to connect and integrate a choice of over 750 apps and create automated processes.
For instance, Piriankov has created a hack (or a 'Zap') connecting a Google spreadsheet, containing the names of potential investors, to his email account. This means, when a new name is added to the list, a pre-written email containing information about the company is automatically sent to that person. "The benefit here is, I can delegate the list-building task to someone else, or even multiple people, and the additional task of sending an email now happens automatically," says Piriankov.
Another one of his hacks is to track #journorequests on Twitter (hashtags used by journalists requesting interviewees). When a journalist on his list uses the hashtag, he receives an alert on his mobile phone.
He also tracks his company's sales with a similar method, connecting his card payment system to a message service. "I like to know when we're making sales, so I made a Zap that connects our card payment system to my messenger," he says.
Piriankov says Taylor & Hart is driven by the use of technology and analytics, but that Zapier sits at the center, linking together different applications which can feed off each other's data. "Zapier allows us to connect several different sources, like Hubspot, Google Analytics, Salesforce and our accounting software, Xero, to paint a picture about the entire customer journey. This gives us the confidence to invest more into profitable marketing channels."
Online platform Slack has gained the attention of many entrepreneurs impressed by its easy communications and ability to link to third party applications. Aidan Rushby, founder of renting app business Movebubble, is one of those who've embraced it. Rushby says when his company started in 2015, communication was simple and straightforward, but he adopted Slack to ensure they stayed fluid as the business grew. "When there's just four of you, communication isn't much of an issue. But as the company grows, it's important to ensure everyone feels involved," explains Rushby.
Now, each team has its own channel for communication, and Rushby says Slack is ideal for dropping someone a quick message and much easier than email. However, Rushby warns entrepreneurs that messaging, while time saving, can be quite informal and so, in some circumstances, it would be inappropriate. He also says that entrepreneurs need to be focused on their aims when adopting technology. "There's a lot of flexibility in Slack and so it's best to start off small. But you have to understand the problem you are trying to solve. We use it to improve communication. When you're very small, that might not be so obvious, but as the company grows, so does the benefit."
As a business grows, management becomes an issue, and this can be a challenge for entrepreneurs. Matt Fox, CEO and founder of company Snaptrip.com has seen his company grow to 15 staff since it was founded in 2014, and it now manages over 50,000 properties across the UK. But this means the company has to ensure the phones are covered to deal with customer queries and that, in turn, means managing shifts. Initially, Fox tried a basic approach, but that didn't last long. "We did our best with an Excel spreadsheet and didn't do it very well," he admits.
So the company started using HR app Rotacloud to track and plan shifts and manage staff absences. Staff all have a login and so can notify management when they need time off. Fox says Rotacloud is one of the main apps to help his growing business to achieve more without employing additional management. "Apps help us to manage elements of the business without having to employ full or part time resource to do it," says Fox.
Social Media Management
Social media is seen by businesses as both as blessing and a curse. Twitter offers enormous potential but it can also be highly distracting and potentially time consuming. Sammy Blindell, founder of brand consultancy How to Build a Brand, avoids this by using Hootsuite, a social media dashboard enabling scheduled posts and management of lists and notifications. "I was often forced to stop what I was doing in order to get social media posts out on time. I believe you must be faithful about updates and that was becoming more difficult as the business grew."
Blindell says automating his social media saves him at least two hours a week, but also means he can focus on core business issues. However, he says while efficiency apps are useful, they are not a magic bullet. "The key to making them work for you is to identify areas of your business that need streamlining and then search for apps that can help," he says.
Like many business owners, Julian Hall, founder of Ultra Education, which teaches kids about entrepreneurship, has a busy to do list. However, he says automated to-do list software such as Trello help him to be more organized and his team to collaborate. "Everyone had individual to do lists and, for special projects, we'd collaborate action points using Google Sheets. This wasn't a great solution because spreadsheets aren't quick to edit, especially on the move," he says.
According to Hall, though, it did take time for everyone on his team to get used to the new system. However, now the mobility of a cloud-based system is seen as a great benefit. "It took a few weeks to get into the habit of using it, but it's made us more productive and effective," he says. "The two main benefits apps have had for our business are collaboration and mobile working. It's hard being tied down to your desk all day. So having the ability to update a Trello task in the bath or on a train ride cuts away at the overall workload."