Career Smart Tech Solves for Small Businesses

by Polly Brewster | October 20, 2020

A close bond with customers is the greatest brand tool any small- or medium-sized business possesses as it strives to be competitive at every level.

But establishing and maintaining those relationships — particularly when you run a lean operation — is a challenge. So how do you employ tech solutions in a smart, budget-friendly way without losing that personal touch? It’s easier than you might think. Here are four ways to get the most tech ROI for your buck.

1. Create your own app

Once upon a time, simply having a company website may have been sufficient, but no longer. Customers are now accustomed to an ever-larger, more sophisticated array of digital options. One effective way to push forward in the digital arena? Create your own app.

Yes, it’s true that you can sell or market your products or services on established online delivery platforms. However, you potentially miss out on being able to personalize your business, glean valuable customer data, and offer perks and discounts in real time. A branded app ensures you are with your customers wherever they go. 

Apps are being developed for a diverse range of businesses. Take for example CityHive, a New York City-based e-commerce and data platform for the wine and spirits industry. With no upfront cost or contract, City Hive can help beer, wine and liquor stores set up mobile apps to access entire in-store inventories.

Plus, registered app users also receive emails about store discounts or promotions and receive points for ordering through the app. “Apps increase loyalty, retention, basket size, frequency of purchase and generally improve the relationship with the consumer,” says City Hive co-founder and CEO Roi Kliper.

Not just for product-based business models, MODO Yoga relies on its app to keep students updated on daily schedules and special workshops. The studio sought out a small third-party platform to build its own app rather than rely on an established platform.

Thanks to a background in the tech industry, MODO Yoga General Manager Guillaume Brun intuited that seeking out a smaller company to build a new app would allow them more flexibility at a lower cost and provide students a better experience. He was right. “We’ve had really strong feedback,” Brun says. “People just enjoy the usability of it. Especially since they can make a reservation and add a guest.”

The add-a-guest feature has also proven a real boon for their membership. “Our studio is very community oriented,” he continues. “The app makes it so easy to invite people [that] more members bring guests and they start practicing together. And those guests often become members.”

2. Connect with suppliers online

While online ordering and fulfillment is almost second nature to suppliers and consumers, a handful of outliers still rely on phone calls, checklists and — gasp — fax machines. In the restaurant industry, for example, many suppliers — farmers, fishermen, linen companies — take weekly orders by phone or fax.

Bluecart hopes to upend this model. “The two founders were in graduate school working with a major restaurant group in the DC area,” explains Dennis Tze, Bluecart chief commercial officer. “They saw chefs using clipboards with paper and pencil and calling suppliers at midnight to get the specials for the next day. There were lots of errors in orders. It was ripe for disruption.” Bluecart built a platform that, for a flat monthly fee, allowed suppliers to put inventories online and update delivery cutoff times and minimum quantities in real time.

For many, the ROI results justify the access fee. “Our suppliers have higher retention rates, faster processing times and over 10% increase in order size because now restaurants can see a supplier’s full product line-up — sometimes, for example, chefs didn’t know a supplier sold XYZ,” Tze says. “And there are better relationships because fewer errors are happening.”

Similar platforms are now rolling out to help small hardware and lumber companies better supply local contractors and small textile companies and furniture makers to connect with interior designers. Buyers may wistfully recall the days of chatting with suppliers over the phone, but no one will miss botched orders and upset customers.

Buyers may wistfully recall the days of chatting with suppliers over the phone, but no one will miss botched orders and upset customers.
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3. Outsource social media management

“An authentic brand voice is really key for any business,” says Sara Mitzner, a freelance creative director and former vice president of PR and social media marketing at FullBeauty Brands. “And it’s vital for small or medium businesses going up against big box stores — that’s what sets you apart.”

Nowhere is this more important for those businesses than in building a social media presence that is both authentic and responsive. Alas, hiring an in-house social media manager to constantly track your social media can be expensive. And outside social media agencies might not be as keyed into your brand message or as responsive as you would prefer. “A brand is a living thing,” Mitzner explains. “It’s nice to get an agency’s help on brainstorming or strategy, but you should try to keep the day-to-day in-house.”

Enter social media streamlining platforms such as Loomly or Sprout Social. These tools allow your team to track all of your posts across social media, create an internal system to approve posts and set up a system that pings the right person when a customer posts negative feedback on Twitter or Facebook.

“In terms of having a holistic view of your social presence — all your platforms and engagement across the board all in one place — companies like Loomly really help collaboration,” says Jackie Anzaroot, the social lead at Coffee Meets Bagel, an online dating and networking website.

These platforms also help its customers find inspiration based on trending topics, fun date-based events — ahem, did you forget Cat Scowl Appreciation Day?! —as well as best practices. “This is usually a feature that creates a ‘wow’ moment when new users discover it, as it saves them tons of time during the brainstorming phase of the publishing process,” Loomly CEO Thibaud Clement says.

4. Use paid media to get earned media

Raising the profile of your business often requires some advertising spending dollars — and whether that money lands with a local newspaper, website or on Facebook, once you have a bit of that spotlight use it wisely. “The media landscape is poised to want to cover small brands right now,” Mitzner says. “If the idea is strong enough or your message is strong enough, it will get covered.

A company needs to think deeply about the stories that can define its brand. Creating a compelling human interest story and doing paid promotion on social channels could help it gain traction in the form of social shares, backlinks from other sites and even news coverage.

Try testing a few different types of content on paid channels and see what works.

“You have to keep doing things for brand awareness over and over,” Mitzner explains. “You need 11 to 13 touch points before people remember or register. Even if it does work, you gotta figure out a way to do it over and over or that news blip will be short-lived.”

Creating a compelling human interest story and doing paid promotion on social channels could help it gain traction...
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So, to get the best ROI on paid social media try to curate a quarterly calendar of events or company profiles that will not only elevate your brand’s personality, but also secure news coverage throughout the year.

Polly Brewster

is a freelance editor and writer based in Brooklyn. Her best low-cost tech tool is her portable phone charger — it kept her phone alive on a five-day raft trip down the Grand Canyon. She has written for O, The Oprah Magazine, InStyle and Entrepreneur.