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How tech has paved the way for SMEs – Does being an early adopter or an innovator give you an advantage against those otherwise?

A recent research study by Vodafone Business found that despite the fact that 30% of SMEs describe themselves as technology innovators or early adopters, almost one in five accept that they are “laggards” who wait as long as possible before investing in new technology; a further 26% say they will only buy established or proven technology. 

So, which way is more beneficial for SMEs, early adoption or waiting for the go-ahead?

The latest Disruptive Minds webinar hosted by the Great British Entrepreneur Awards and Vodafone Business, saw a group of founders discuss the topic of how tech is paving the way for businesses, providing their knowledge and expertise on whether on not you have more of an advantage on your competitors if you adopt technologies earlier. 

The conversation saw five business owners share their own personal experiences, as well as giving advice and expertise on how you should approach your business when it comes to technology.

Discussing how their businesses have changed in recent years due to the advancements in technology, Jo-Anne Chidley, founder of Beauty Kitchen kicked off the conversation by saying, “As a certified B Corp business, we place equal value on people, planet, and profit. Technology has changed travel, people no longer need to travel as much as they used to because they can do so many things virtually, including work. This helps support not only the planet, but people in terms of more value on their time, and also the overall cost and profitability of the business. For me, that's one of the really simple examples of how tech has had a positive impact, and it’s one that I think everybody should take advantage of.”

Agreeing with Jo-Anne that tech has played a huge part in the introduction of more flexibility, Jo Dalton, founder of JD&Co said “I think technology has had an enormous effect on employers and their ability to enable their teams to work more flexibly. I love the fact that I can more easily support all of the working parents in my business so much more because they have the flexibility to part-time, or hybrid because they’re connected through technology platforms that we use.”

“All of my clients are fast-growth tech companies across Europe, and now for the first time ever they are suddenly thinking about having talent everywhere. In terms of the sorts of people that we’d be able to have on the team pre-pandemic and before mass technology adoption is so different now. Previously it would have to be people that could get to a physical office, which meant that lots of talent just wouldn’t be able to apply, and now we have access to talent and the clients that we work with have access to talent all over the world.”

Josh Wintersgill, founder of Able Move added “We started our business back in 2019 and at that time we provided physical assessments to our customers. So we’d meet them before purchasing where they could try out the product with an occupational therapist (OT) in the room. This had to change due to covid, which forced us to move towards technology, so our business model has now gone from a 60/40 split of physical and virtual, to now 100% virtual. We now send our stock out to OTs to then undertake assessments themselves. This has saved us the time and cost of travelling and has enabled us to maximize our profit margins because we don’t have the additional expense. This use of tech has really streamlined everything for us.”

Sheryl Miller, founder of Reboot Digital, whose business focus is on the digital world, spoke about how the move towards tech has changed the way her business works. “Zoom really took off over the pandemic and that really opened up the markets to more international and global companies. Global companies could find us online before, but they would have never necessarily thought of coming to us for business, and we wouldn’t have seen them as an opportunity either. But now we’re delivering training and consultancy to US companies and European companies, and it’s been made much easier with the use of tech.”

“I think there is still a lot to learn about how to best navigate the virtual world and it’s very difficult to actually beat that personal touch and in-person interaction. So it’s a question of how do we still enable the richness of interaction and connection virtually,” she added. 

As well as how the shift to technology has changed the way businesses are working, it has also had a huge impact on the way consumers interact with businesses. So we asked the experts, how have your consumers been engaging with your use of tech? Are they embracing it? 

Jo Dalton answered saying, “We work with lots of founders and some of them love a shared Slack channel or an online client portal that they can access 24/7. It suits them to engage with us on a project when it works for them. But there are others who don’t want to know about our technology. They want a phone call or a voice note. So it’s important to still offer that option.” 

“Lots of startups that are bootstrapped tend to work on automating as much as possible, such as holiday planning systems, payroll, calendars, invoicing, accountancy platforms, etc. I think it’s important that we’re not automating things for the sake of it, instead, we’re automating things that are going to enable you to spend more time focusing and obsessing over your consumers.”

Sanjay Lobo, founder and CEO of onHand went on to discuss how the move to remote working is affecting people, and how the introduction of tech can be different depending on your industry, saying, “I think there’s still a huge learning process on how it all actually works well.”

“At onHand, we’re still learning how to do everything best, as we’re a small business with only 20 employees. One of our team members wanted to move to India and work remotely, which seems okay, but then you hit the problem of, how secure is data and who can access our systems from a non-EU country, this is a problem we haven’t solved yet. Ultimately the world’s still learning how to find the line of working from anywhere.”

“I think it’s here to say, it’ll take us some time to figure out how it works best for different companies. There are plenty of industries that are going to be slower than others to adopt certain technologies or processes, and that’s the stage we’re at now.” 

Want to hear more? The full conversation can be found here.