Owners of fast-growing SMBs talk about their favorite technology solutions.
By Andrea Holved
Everywhere you look, new technology products tempt you with the promise of out-performing the competition—but which solutions are worth the investment?
The best answer to that question will depend on the industry you’re in and your company’s specific needs, but entrepreneurs who’ve successfully guided their own ventures through big growth spurts can offer insights into the tools that worked for them.
We asked the owners and managers of three fast-growing small businesses to tell us which tech tool has been most helpful to them.
- All-in-one marketing software
Chicago-based relocation software company UrbanBound has almost doubled its employee count every year for the past three years, “and we expect to do the same this year,” says Erin Wasson, UrbanBound’s vice president of marketing.
Their customer base has grown about 250% in the past two years alone. Much of that growth is attributable to marketing software, Wasson says.
A lot of companies pick and choose marketing tools one by one—email software, customer relationship management software, a content management system, she says. That leaves them with “all these different tools that you inevitably have to duct-tape together,” she says. “It’s hard for the data to tell a story when it’s so segmented.”
Instead, Wasson’s team uses marketing automation software that includes tools for all of their marketing needs in one centralized location. “It ties everything together,” she says, allowing her team to understand quickly and easily which emails and blog posts are most appealing to their prospective customers and which ones lead to sales.
“From a training and efficiency standpoint, your team really only has to learn the UX and UI of [one] tool,” she says.
- Search engine optimization
Before there was social media, there was search—and it’s still a major channel through which prospective customers can discover your company and learn more about your product or service, usually at a time when they’re actively searching for a solution.
It’s common practice for companies to buy ads to display in search results, but you can also get your website to display organically, for free, by paying attention to the principles of search engine optimization (SEO).
That can take time, but that time can pay off, and help to rocket your business through major growth. Bill Dinker, director of admissions at the Burns, Tenn.-based addiction recovery program Discovery Place, says that in just 2-1/2 years, his SEO strategy took his organization from “barely breaking even” to experiencing more demand for services than they could keep up with.
When Dinker took over responsibility for SEO in January 2013, he didn’t know anything about it, he says. But with the help of resources he found online, he developed a plan for publishing articles to his company blog that he hoped would answer the search queries of potential clients.
“It took about a year to double the traffic daily,” Dinker says, but then the growth became exponential. Today, average daily visits to the website are 10 times greater than they were in 2013, generating so many leads that Discovery Place is now considering opening a second location.
Dinker suggests researching articles in your niche that have already been shared a lot on social media—proof that people want to read about those topics, he says—and to “figure out a way to improve upon it.” In his industry, that meant writing articles about addiction recovery that were conversational and had a sense of humor, as an alternative to the textbook-style articles that were already published and popular online, he says.
“You don’t have to pump out an article every day,” Dinker says. “Our website is proof of that. But if you can pump out an article every week or two…you’re going to get results.”
- Cloud-based software to enable remote workers
David Johnson, partner and co-founder of the Kent, Wash.-based online sporting goods retailer PickleballCentral, says his company has grown 75% year-over-year for the past three years because they’ve opted for cloud-based software.
“This technology has allowed us to hire staff that could do at least part of their job remotely, giving us the largest, most talented pool of candidates when we hire,” he says. “Our bookkeeper has been able to work remotely for several years.”
Cloud-based business management has functioned so smoothly for Johnson and Anna, his co-founder and wife, that they’ve scheduled a 10-month, around-the-world trip with their children. Their journey starts this summer.
“With all of our key systems in the cloud, Anna and I are able to check in on the business wherever we are,” he says. “This will be the ultimate test.”
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