It is almost impossible to build or grow a business in the 2020s without employing the use of technology in one form or another. At the basic end you need an email account and Facebook Page ... and then it can evolve through to online payment gateways, customer management systems and data analytic software.
For some, the technology itself is a fundamental aspect of the product or service. For instance, an online coach is going to intricately rely on software like Zoom to conduct their 1:1 coaching services. For others, technology will serve the primary purpose of communications and marketing - allowing them to connect with their audience through Facebook Groups, YouTube channel or webinars. Finally, there's the 'admin' side of things - for instance your online calendar or invoicing software, which allows you to keep track of appointments and client payments.
As I said, it's almost impossible to escape the use of technology in your business!!
My business has focused on providing digital marketing training, and website/graphic design services. Therefore, I rely on technology every step of the way, not only to actually deliver results for my clients (i.e. using Adobe InDesign for graphic design work, or Wordpress to build a website), but to understand how technology operates so I can pass that along to other business owners who attend my training sessions.
I've spent the last 8 years evolving and developing the services that I offer. In recent months I have had the chance to reflect and can see quite clearly now some of the mistakes I have made over the years with my use of technology! Yep, even though it's literally "what I do" - it is so easy to make mistakes within your business, particularly with technology, as there are so many different options and considerations!
Today I'm going to share with you quite candidly the three biggest mistakes I've made, to hopefully help you avoid making them yourself!
You know that old saying about trying to fit a triangle block into a round hole?
That's how I feel looking back on some of my technology choices over the years.
For various reasons (mostly, limited budget while starting up) I avoided the "premium" tools (like software subscriptions and hardware equipment) and opted instead for cheaper alternatives that "sort-of-did-the-job-OK".
Looking back, I cannot stress enough how much of a mistake this was, for several reasons:
1. It has cost me more... Remember, the "not-quite-perfect" program still costs money! I liken it to shoes ... I used to always spend cheap on my shoes (you know, those $20 black flats from Target!) but then they would fall apart within 3 months and I'd be out buying another pair. So that becomes a total of $80 a year.... Then, I made the shift to buying "good quality" shoes which cost $120, which last me at least two years (plus, they are sooooo much more comfortable!) So although the initial outlay was more, in the long run I have not only saved money but I have a product that actually solves my problem and is fit for purpose #winning
2. They didn't deliver the results ... These different software programs and hardware equipment were OK and they delivered some results - but not to the quality or scale that I am after. And that's because ultimately, that wasn't what they were designed to do! And that's because I wasn't using the right tool! I'd fuss and fiddle and stress and spend all this time reviewing my strategies and marketing trying to refine everything to get the bookings or sales I was after but it was never quite what I was after. So disappointing, particularly when I was spending literally hours and hours of unpaid time every week on this.
3. It was a complete waste of time ... As I'm sure you're well aware, new programs or equipment take time to set-up and learn. Looking back I shudder at how many hours, days, weeks I have wasted learning how to use programs which ultimately weren't right for my business and couldn't actually provide me with the outcomes I was after. Often, because these programs/equipment are cheaper they don't have the built-in systems which make them quick to use or they aren't able to deliver what you're trying to achieve ... but you still spend hours trying to find a way! When time is precious (and isn't it always, when you're running a business) ... this seriously sucks!
A classic example for me was around the filming of my YouTube and course videos. I knew I was going to be filming myself on a regular basis, and wanted to be able to quickly film and upload. For me, the easiest way to do this was to film via the webcam built into my computer. Now, I'm an Apple person through-and-through ... however, I have to say I've been beyond disappointed in the quality of the webcam on my Macbook ... so grainy! However, I wasn't prepared to invest money in either upgrading the Macbook (it's actually only a couple months old!) or investing in expensive webcams. So I thought I'd try and fix the webcam issue by increasing the lighting situation (the graininess was particularly bad when the lighting in the room was bad). So I spent about $70 ordering some cheap lighting equipment off Amazon ... one of them broke on the first day I had it and the other emits such soft lighting that it actually does nothing to help with the graininess! So, that's $70 completely wasted. I decided to persevere with the videos nonetheless. I spent weeks prepping, filming and editing a series of videos only to look back at the end and decide that they just were not good enough for me to put out there with my name on them!! So eventually I went out and invested in a proper webcam and omg what a gamechanger. The difference has been so worth it and I'm so happy with the quality of the videos now. However, through all of this ... I wasted $70, I wasted weeks filming and editing, only to have to re-do it all again with the good camera, and arguably I wasted $2,500 on a Macbook in the first place that didn't suit my purposes (so I suppose a bonus tip here is to do your research and test try equipment before you buy!!)
You need the right tools for the job, and in the long run it is worth taking the time initially to do your research and invest in the best software and hardware.
Here's the thing: I thought I was keeping track of my business software expenses. Until I did it "properly", and realised that I wasn't!
And look, it's an easy trap to fall into. Almost every program/app runs on some form of subscription model these days and many offer low monthly payments. But here are the mistakes I was making:
The turning point for me was completing a complete Software Subscription Audit. In this I documented the following for all my paid business programs/apps/subscriptions:
From this, I could see EXACTLY how much I was spending per month (and for me more importantly, per year) on these subscriptions.
I then went through and asked myself about each subscription...
This last point was actually really important, because as we know (and possibly in 2020 more so than ever!) things change! Businesses evolve, systems evolve, goals evolve. What I found was, programs which were absolutely essential to me 12 months ago were becoming less relevant, and I could see that next year that trend would continue.
So, by answering those four questions I found quite quickly that there were several programs I could cancel. There were also a few where I reviewed the pricing options, and was able to downgrade my subscription level. There were also many which were completely essential and it was a non-negotiable that I would keep them.
Keeping track doesn't take much time, particularly if you're using a for-purpose budget tracking spreadsheet which calculates everything for you .... it can literally save you thousands of dollars a year.
I was late to the party when it came to automation and streamlining my processes, and ultimately this cost me time and money. In the early years of my business, I did everything myself and everything from scratch. To be honest, I think it's a classic mind-set for entrepreneurs and those starting up ... Plus my thinking was, I'm good at technology, and I'm quick at technology - so it didn't seem like a big deal to just create things as I needed them. Plus "automation" sounded so serious and scary, and I was just starting out! Surely it's not for me? However, since embracing automation I quickly realised what a mistake this was.
Not only can the right software streamline regular processes and save you time, they can also do it with better results.
Take invoicing for instance. I used to do all my invoicing for clients manually. By this I mean I would use Microsoft Word to create my invoice, type out all their details and services, export as a PDF and then email that PDF to the client. I thought I was being 'clever' and streamlining because I had created a Microsoft Word template which I duplicated for each invoice... But that was before I discovered invoicing software (I use QuickBooks, but there are many options out there).
This software stores client info, so I'm not having to search for their details each time to add to the invoice. It also stores my regular services so I'm not having to type out the details and pricing each time. It even stores the text that I email to the client, thanking them for working with me and explaining the details of payment. It generates the look of the invoice (so I'm not mucking around with the design of the table in Word), it sends the invoice off and will even send automatic reminders to the client, and keep track of whether the payment has come in. All this saves me the hassle of following up and checking myself! My monthly invoicing process is now down from 1.5 hours to less than 20 minutes ... plus I'm actually getting paid faster by clients (because of the 'click the pay now via PayPal' option that Quickbooks adds to the invoice). Not only is it automated, making it quicker for me - it is doing a better job than I ever could have done!
This is just one example of automation. My advice for you is to make a list of all the tasks that you do on a regular basis, and then consider whether there is a way to streamline them. If you're looking at the list with absolutely no idea of what the options are (and that's completely fine - how can you know what you don't know!) book in a time with me and we can go through it together!
It can seem scary to change up the way you do things, but ultimately, taking the time to learn about automating your business by using the right tech tools will help you do things quicker and better.
Now I know this sounds really cliche, but it is worth remembering that every mistake is a learning opportunity.
Looking back, it is abundantly clear that in the early days I wasted a lot of time and money by making the mistakes I've outlined above. I've probably also missed out on growth and sales opportunity.
However, what I have learnt has been so valuable.
Particularly as someone whose job centres around helping people with technology, I'm glad I've had these experiences as I have a better understanding now of how to help others avoid them. In general, I can answer almost any question someone throws at me now, because I've been there and done that. Making mistakes has made me better at my job.
While it may be frustrating in the moment, remember that this will be the same for you in the long run.
The three biggest mistakes I made in my business when it comes to technology was
If you want to learn more about which tools are right for your business, or how to automate your business systems please book in for a 1:1 coaching session with me. Also, check out my Software Subscription Audit template - yep, the very one I used which saved me over $4,000!