Few businesses are lucky enough to have had a sustained growth through the recession. Most are having to run increasing fast just to stand still. Can you exploit the latest developments in technology to the benefit of your business or give you an extra competitive edge?
A properly designed and effectively managed website can bring more sales, but what about the rest of your business. Can you exploit the same technology to increase the effectiveness of your sales team, or provide a better customer service, reduce your operating costs, or control and manage your remote workforce more effectively.
A sales person visits a customer, tablet in hand, and connects the tablet to the internet via a local hot spot or a 3G cellular connection. The sales person creates a quotation, or several quotations, via their tablet, and then discusses and agrees the price and the terms with the customer.
Instead of writing the quotation out by hand, or, more likely returning to the office to have it typed up, the sales person enters the customer's email address, touches the send button. This system automatically creates a pre-formatted PDF version of the quotation and sends it as an attachment to the customer's email address. The customer opens up the attachment, confirms their acceptance of the quotation and hands are shaken. Job done.
If the sales person needs to get their manager's approval, they phone the manager, the manager reviews the quotation online via their own tablet and (hopefully) concurs.
All of the quotation data, including the customer's details, delivery address, etc., is now in the system. The purchase order arrives, most likely as an email attachment. This is uploaded to the system and attached to the quotation. The quotation is now complete, so an internal order for the supply of the product or service can be generated. If the quotation system is part of a larger integrated system, then this data is forwarded electronically to the departments that require it.
It may sound like Star Trek technology, but it isn't. We have customers using just such systems today.
A freelancer spends a day working as a temporary contractor in London. They then manage to find seat on the train, take out their tablet and make a mobile 3G connection to their online accounts.
They record the hours that they worked and all of the expenses that they incurred. If there are receipts for any of the expenses, the freelancer takes photographs of them with their tablet and uploads them to the system for attachment to the expense claim. The freelancer can also create a sales invoice for the day’s work via their tablet, which the system generates automatically as a PDF document. The freelancer then instructs the system to send the invoice as an email attachment to the customer’s designated email address.
The freelancer might also log in to their online bank account, download the latest transactions and upload them to the system, all via their tablet. The freelancer can then allocate the bank transactions as required. For example, any payments received from customers can be allocated to the correct sales invoice.
There is no need for the freelancer to commit anything to memory, or to record the data on paper or in a spreadsheet. The system also validates the data as the freelancer enters it and ensures that all of the sales invoices, expenses, payments and receipts are fully reconciled.
At the end of each quarter, the system presents the freelancer with the VAT liability and the supporting figures. The freelancer logs into the HMRC system and records the VAT figures. The user then logs into their online bank account to pay the liability. The freelancer can also forward the quarterly figures to their accountant, so that they can generate the quarterly accounts.
Combined with use of a tablet, the online system enables the freelancer to keep on top of their financial records on a daily basis, wherever they are, and whenever they have some free time.
Where Does the Paper Go?
What we are talking about here are near paperless online business systems. Many might say, but we still use paper. All of our quotations and invoices are on paper, and so are our statements.
Fact: Outside of the legal profession, an email attachment has become the norm, rather than printed documents, even for quotations, contracts, purchase orders, etc.
You may still receive printed documents from your customers, but you don't have to be scan them in any more. Take you tablet or mobile phone, take a photograph, and upload it to the system. Its uploaded in the context of the particular customer / quotation / order, etc., so it gets filed automatically in the right place in an online document register. You'll find that the documents are perfectly clear and easy to read. In this context, conventional scanners are obsolete.
People are using digital photographs in many other situations to record important documents. Many take photographs of their receipts so that they can be attached electronically to their expense claims. Photographs of signed documents, passports, driving licences, etc. are also accepted by Government agencies and others as proof of their validity.