Want to be the next Rod Drury of Xero? Then get the right technology right from Day One.
Drury took his business international from the very beginning and now boasts 200,000 customers in more than 100 countries.
Thanks to technology fledgling businesses can punch above their weight and appear to have a profile, credibility and "heritage" the day they launch says Drury. Communications technology allows small business owners to think big and still operate from home.
Any small owner can run the same powerhouse office that Drury does. He has a Macbook Air; tethered to his iPhone over Telecom XT Mobile coverage , and most of the data he needs to run his business stored in the cloud (online). When he calls into his office at Xero, Drury docks the Macbook into a 27 inch Apple monitor.
That seamless technology allows the serial entrepreneur to be productive anywhere in the world. Just like small business owners Drury spends a lot of time in the car and at meetings in cafés. He needs to be able to work wherever he finds himself.
It's not just the hardware that matters. Even one-man-band businesses can create a professional image thanks to reasonably price applications that do everything from offering ecommerce to holding video conferences.
The very first step for any small business, says Drury is to get a good domain name, publish a website, and set up email through Google Apps For Business, which enables small businesses to send emails branded with the company name. "It makes you look slick," he says. "It's about using low cost technology, but look quite polished."
Whatever the business, owners need to focus on brand and marketing to raise their business profile. For example, says Drury easy steps such as blogging or microblogging with Google+, can elevate a company's search results ranking very quickly.
Social networking can also be used to raise a business owner's profile. Approached strategically it can lead to international recognition of the owner as a thought leader in the business' field, says Drury.
James McLeod a senior marketing manager at Telecom knows all about the technology challenges faced by small home-based businesses. Along with wife Rebecca he runs Made4Baby from their home.
Through clever use of technology and social networking the couple can work from wherever they are in the world. Their online and retail sales come through as emails and are sent to a pick and pack service Steller International, faxes are converted to email by Kiwifax, their accounting is with Xero, inventory with Unleashed and files in Dropbox. In the past this type of operation would have been prohibitively expensive to run, says McLeod. Now these applications are far more flexible and affordable.
In the case of Made4Baby technology fast-tracked the company's export drive. The McLeods haven't even visited three of the six countries Made4Baby exports to. The distributors in those countries found the company thanks to its online presence and with the help of New Zealand Trade & Enterprise for reference checks they either visited them here in NZ or video conferences were set up.
Knowing where to start with technology or even the possibilities can be a problem for small businesses. There are many organisations such as Business.govt.nz, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise and regional economic development agencies such as Grow Wellington and Venture Southland. Telecom offers technology-specific advice through 30 local Business Hubs across the country.
The licensees of the hubs are small business owners themselves and can advise on everything from data needs to the hardware and applications needed to run a small business efficiently.
That advice may be anything from advising a fishing retailer to use a tide time application to give customers added value, to recommending that a business publish personal biographies of the founders to help potential customers identify with the business.