What tech skills do you need to have as a business owner?
January 31, 2019
Small business owners are used to wearing a lot of hats. One minute you’re the sales lead, next you’re the HR manager, next you’re the custodian taking out the trash.
When it comes to technology, there’s a certain amount of knowledge you need to ensure your business is equipped to succeed – but that doesn’t mean you have to take on all the trouble and effort of becoming an IT expert. Avoid the temptation to think that keeping IT in-house will save you money. It might, but a do-it-yourself approach might just guzzle time better spent elsewhere.
So how much tech know-how is right for you in your business? The answer, as usual, is “it depends.” But here’s some food for thought to help you know where to draw the line:
Keeping your website up to date
Having a good website for your business is basically table stakes these days: you need it, because that’s the first place people look to find companies, products and services.
Unless you’re a web developer, you’ll want to get a professional to help you build your site for a few reasons. First, professionals should be up to date on the latest technologies and have good advice about which ones will help you reach your audience effectively. They’ll also be able to customize your site to meet your specific business needs – meaning you’ll get something that’s well-suited to your goals and requirements. Usually web developers can recommend a hosting provider – a company with the server space to put your website up on the Internet – and can take care of posting the files for you.
Once your website is live, you’ll want to keep it fresh, and that’s something you can take a role in yourself, if you have the time and inclination. Most sites today are built with a content management system (CMS) embedded – an interface and database that lets you log in and make changes easily. Because keeping your site current will keep visitors coming back, you don’t want to have to rely on a third party to make every little change for you. Learning how to use your site’s CMS will let you update text, change images and even add pages easily. Where you’ll want your web partner to take over again is in keeping the CMS itself up to date with plug-ins and security patches so it continues to deliver the best performance for your business.
Managing your Wi-Fi
The pretty much universal use of mobile devices today means most businesses need Wi-Fi – whether for their employees or for their customers. If you have a single location and a small number of users, you can probably set up your network yourself. However, if you’re sharing that connectivity with customers, you may want to have an expert help you ensure your network is secure. If you have lots of users, multiple locations or a large space that requires multiple Wi-Fi access points, you probably want a professional to help you so you can get the optimum bandwidth and signal strength and, again, ensure security.
Taking advantage of social media
Social media is an effective marketing channel for many small businesses. Knowing which platform to choose depends on who you want to reach. Facebook, for example, is popular with all age groups, and particularly women. If you are trying to attract people under 35, then you need to be posting on Instagram, while business-to-business companies do well adding LinkedIn to the mix.
If you have an internal social media manager, you might be able to do social media well from inside your business. Technically, it’s easy enough to do as the platforms have great instructions. But whether you or your staff have the time is another matter. If you can dedicate at least an hour a day to social media – not just to post but to respond to posts, questions and comments from others – this is definitely something you can keep in-house. Otherwise, there are companies that offer social media support for businesses.
Developing apps for easier customer engagement
Mobile apps let customers access information, make purchases and interact with your business from their smartphones or tablets. With 72 per cent of Canadians saying they use their smartphone to access the Internet – and 51 per cent of those aged 18-34 using their phone more than any other device to do so1 – mobile is definitely a good way to connect with customers. Which means it can also make good sense to have an app that saves users the trouble of even having to go online. Apps are particularly useful for customers wanting to place orders, pay bills, engage in social media or make appointments, but their uses are as varied as business itself.
While it’s possible to build your own apps, be realistic about whether or not you have the internal resources or technical skills to produce something that looks good, does what it’s supposed to, presents a professional image and that you can keep updated over time. Odds are, for an app, you’re better off working with a specialized partner.
Do keep in mind for any of these technologies – or any other ones your business takes on – the key to the hands-on, DIY approach is ensuring you and your staff have the right training and knowledge to do it correctly and reflect well on your brand.
- Canada’s Internet Factbook 2019. CIRA https://cira.ca/resources/corporate/factbook/canadas-internet-factbook-2019.