Because Microsoft’s technologies have helped transform my own business so much and I love to partner with them, including hosting Microsoft Office Small Business Academy, we have asked the incredible CarolRoth.com Business Unplugged contributor network of business owners, experts, advisors and entrepreneurs to share how a particular technology has transformed their own business. Their answers are presented below in no particular order.
You may notice some similar technologies and ideas listed below, but I kept their insights separate, as something in the way one is framed may resonate differently with you.
1. Microsoft Power BI
Technology is at the heart of business transformation and thanks to the cloud, solutions that were available only to large companies are now available to all. Business intelligence tools are a great example. These solutions enable employees to uncover data insights that can drive transformation across all aspects of a business, including employee productivity, customer loyalty and systems efficiency. Microsoft Power BI helps businesses make sense of data and transform the way they do business.
Cindy Bates, VP, US Small Business & Distribution of Microsoft
2. Surface Pro 4 Tablets
Axis Construction is known as a construction management innovator but recently, client service suffered due to significant growth – currently Axis is working on projects in excess of $100M. Experts at Microsoft Store recommended Surface Pro 4 tablets be used in the field, so onsite job managers could complete client communications remotely and timely. Store-led trainings ensured users were set up for success from the start. Axis now reports increased client satisfaction and employee efficiency.
3. The Power of Skype
Skype has transformed my business by allowing me the flexibility to supplement my in-person lessons with check-ups via Skype. This way, I can assess my students' progress, saving them valuable lesson time, while keeping them on track and motivated after the lessons. I can even keep them on track when they're sick and unable to attend class in-person.
4. Beyond My Kitchen Table
People have come to me to discuss problems my entire life. From confidences on the playground, to tears over tea, to late night calls, I've heard a lot. Yet, technology is what allowed me to take my role as "professional encourager" to a business level. The internet with its charms of email, video chatting and digital publishing dissolved barriers of work hours and location. People who need me can connect in more ways and on their terms. Research and communication- my biz life blood are easy now.
5. Bubble Drives our Business
Our business is entirely built around a new technology called Bubble. Bubble lets anybody build websites without coding experience. It's similar to Squarespace, but rather than focusing on personal and small business sites, it is powerful enough to handle apps with complex features like Yelp, and Airbnb. Because we use Bubble, none of our employees have coding background. It’s exciting and pioneering and I love that we’re giving this opportunity to those who want to enter the industry.
Andrew Haller of AirDev
6. Put it in the Cloud
Until recently, businesses with an online presence had to choose between offering their full array of services online or having a site that was blazingly fast for customers using mobile devices. We've had great results moving the bulk of our offerings to cloud services and using content delivery networks. These changes were relatively easy to implement and we no longer have to choose between the quality of our mobile sites/apps/beacons and the speed of delivery to our customers.
7. Technology Should Work for You
I am a big believer that technology should work for you & not the opposite. If a certain platform, piece of hardware, software solution, app, etc. does not enhance your workflow, it is probably hindering it & you should get rid of it.
8. Outlook Got Me Organized
Outlook changed the way I do business because it has allowed me to get organized. Having my calendar and inbox together in one place has allowed me to immediately input events and change my schedule as needed. Plus, my prospects can see my calendar and schedule something that works without any back-and-forth emails. It's made everything more efficient.
9. Simulating Office Interactions
Remote workers miss out on interactions with someone next to them. They can try via Slack, text, etc., but I’ve worked with clients to set up daily Skype calls for colleagues. Even when there’s no agenda, they stay on, working on related issues. If something comes up, the other person is there, and they do the equivalent of lifting their head to ask the person next to them. Video calls are crucial for remote folks, but this tweak has greatly benefited their creativity and productivity.
10. Outlook Transformed PR Pitches
The combination of Microsoft Outlook and Word transformed our Goody PR pitches, efficiency and media results. Instead of manually pitching stories to reporters one at a time, we now use Outlook and the Mail Merge feature in Word to email hundreds of reporters on media lists by topic (business, health, technology, etc.) with a personalized message. Through Mail Merge, we can enter the reporter's first name and the name of their publication. As a result, our media interviews have gone up 5-10x.
11. Managing Insurance Online
My co-founder, Inaki Berenguer, and I actually created CoverWallet as a solution that we wanted to be available from our experience working with small businesses. We got the idea when Inaki's previous company was trying to close a deal, but was unable to without receiving multiple insurance documents from their agent, who was unreachable for a few days. As a solution, we created a platform that allows us (and others) to manage all documents and information digitally and easily online.
12. What's App for Office
One of the best tech ideas we had was to set up a “what’s app” group for IT issues. If something occurs, all offices are notified immediately, provided an estimated time to repair and alerted once this issue is resolved.
13. The Cloud!
Documents can be stored in “virtual” drives or computers and can be accessed by an authorized user through the Internet. Cloud computing allows real-time communication and interaction exactly the way a network does, with access extended to the global level. Cloud computing can help eliminate data that may be lost through a system crash and it also avoids problems with network downtime.
14. Skype Brings the World Closer!
Certainly SEO and Social media are huge today in growing your business. This technology did not exist many years ago and today, it makes all the difference in expanding your brand. But, one piece of technology that has really helped us in becoming a worldwide brand is Skype. Now, you can effectively with no cost whatsoever speak to your people in countries all over the world via audio or video. It's a real game changer and I am still quite amazed by it to be honest!
15. Zapier Connects All the Things
Discovering Zapier.com was a game changer for us. Zapier allows your separate applications and services to "speak" to one another without you needing to understand how to code or use APIs. As an example, we used Zapier to make our website form (powered by Gravity Forms) automatically enter form submissions into Pipedrive (our CRM) and assign each lead to the correct person based on the reason for contact chosen on the form. Zapier saves us a ton of time (and thus $) by automating simple tasks.
16. Video. Your Power Tool.
Over the last few years, I've used video to grow my business. I'm a global speaker (amongst other things) and generate some of my revenue through speaking. Through video, I'm able to constantly showcase my personal brand and style. It's not about "ME", but sharing tidbits, being fun and engaging for my audience. EVERY business should leverage VIDEO to showcase their product, service or overall brand. Take your smartphone, clear your throat, smile and SHARE. It's that easy.
17. Check Chaos with Task Tool
To stay organized and hold teammates accountable for work, we utilize Asana, an easy-to-use task management tool. Users can list and organize tasks and assign them to teammates, as well as track project status and communication. Messages sent via the interface are saved, providing helpful background information and greatly decreasing the number of emails my team sends. Communication has improved, and everyone is aware of where projects stand and what still needs to happen to get things done.
18. Implement Chat Bots
When visitors are moving through our website, a chat box pops up in the lower right corner to ask if they have any questions. Often times, the visitor will respond which gives us the opportunity to open a dialogue and collect a method of contact. We ask for an email address in order to respond with the best possible information and so that a member of our sales team can reach out to answer any additional questions. This has worked remarkably well for us in terms of lead generation.
19. Communicate - Microsoft Teams
Microsoft Teams is my favorite tool for streamlining communication. Instead of trying to have discussions through phone calls, texting, email, and Skype, everything runs smoothly because it’s integrated directly through the app. It’s really cool because I can talk about various subjects in different channels, so that everyone on the team is able to see any updates, pictures, files and more. This tool really helps condense all of your methods of communication into one.
20. Increasing Workflows
We've been hard at work integrating our API with DevOps technologies like Ansible, which provides the ability to provision and set up various kinds of servers in mere minutes, as opposed to taking hours to set up. Integrating this into our own workflows has allowed for fast turnaround times and increased quality control for our Managed Cloud customers. Technology is here to make our lives more efficient and the goal is to work smarter, not harder.
21. Create New Software
We created a platform which allows you to submit work requests through a customized web form. You can figure out your workload ahead of time and improve building maintenance by proactively scheduling maintenance before repairs are needed. The software also gives you the ability to track your expenses that are related to equipment or property assets for your facility. By using this kind of technology, field service employees are able to manage tasks quicker and easier without sacrificing cost.
22. Live Streaming Technology
Content marketing is constantly changing and evolving. We've used the growing trend of live streaming to enhance our brand. While recorded video will of course still remain popular, apps like Instagram Stories, Snap, Facebook Live, and YouTube Live offer user friendly platforms that make content like sporting events, music festivals, tours, launch events, product briefings, tutorials and more easier than ever.
23. Invest in SEO
We recently hired an SEO company to help our website rank higher in search results. As more and more companies advance into the digital marketing space, website ranking and visibility will become increasingly competitive. If you plan on reaching your audience through your newly designed and developed website, make sure you invest the time and money into SEO, as well. Do your research and select a company that employs “white hat” strategies and tactics.
24. Marketing Automation and CRM
We combined our Customer Relationship Management platform with our Marketing Automation platform to help marketers on our team connect crucial campaign strategies with the financial outcomes. This provided our salespeople with better visibility into prospecting and leads. It also allowed our marketing team to hand leads over to sales without manually exporting anything. This is a huge time saver and makes the process flow a lot smoother.
25. Achieve Global Prominence
Magnetic communication is all that is required to become known and grow your brand. In 140 character spaces or less, Twitter helped me to change the perception of my business, provided new titles, such as Top 1% Influencer, and being seen on many Sales Experts lists is frequent due to purposefully tweeting every day. I connect and retweet those who are similar in philosophy and who extend my knowledge. Twitter allows me to connect personally with people from around the world.
26. Teams Saves Time
Using Microsoft Teams in my office allows us the convenience of getting everyone in the loop without cluttering email. It houses all our documents in one easy to find location. If we have an edit, it saves automatically to Teams. It’s a time saver in our busy day!
Stephanie Larson of AmpliPhi
27. Easy Cross-Platform Native App
We use the React Native (RN) JS library to write cross-platform native apps. We were able to prototype our app on iOS and then port to Android in 2 weeks. We're planning a Windows port later this year, which will only take a few weeks using Microsoft's RN libraries. Microsoft's CodePush for RN allows us to push updates instantly to all platforms without spending time going through the app stores' review processes. This all combines to reduce the overhead of writing cross-platform apps.
28. Technology Changed My Business
Technology has been a huge blessing on my business and it has revolutionized the way I conduct business. Especially with Microsoft power BI, a cloud based business analysis. The Power BI gives me the ability to sort all of my business data in a simplified way on a very easy to use dashboard. Customizing my data in a rich visual platform has given me more time to spend on other aspects of my business. Using the Microsoft Power BI has really transformed the way I sort my important files.
29. We Were Not Even in the Game
Technology that we implemented two years ago that has transformed our business is mobile payments.
Before that, we had to mail invoices to customers, and our supplier partners had to haggle and negotiate getting paid in person in the customer's front yard.
What we find is customer support from stripe.com is better than the other mobile payment providers.
30. Training with Home Video
I use homemade videos to train my contractors. I have created a separate video for each important process and uploaded to a common access area on OneDrive. The videos allow my staff to review material on their schedule, to pause, to rewind, and replay - minimizing questions and misunderstandings. The result is the ability to quickly train new staff and to make training independent of my availability should I be busy or out of pocket.
31. Re-thinking Travel Security
Providing security transport and bodyguard services to corporates around the world has historically been a complex process- an RFP, vetting, on-boarding, numerous emails, and cost center issues. Therefore, we set about to design a web-based platform called ExecSecure with online booking, and a supporting supplier console. The technology has allowed for simplification at every juncture, saving clients time, and has also allowed us as a business to offer clients standardized global service.
32. Managing Data in CRM
The best way I’ve used technology in business is moving our company data into one hub, Microsoft Dynamics CRM. We have customers that have been with us for over 20 years that touch three different parts of our business and Dynamics has allowed us to not only track all the data in one spot, it’s allowed us to create workflows and business processes that allow us to create unique customer experiences, customized communications, and an overall better customer experience.
33. PowerPoint Lives!
No "Death by PowerPoint" here. The features of PowerPoint have given new life to our marketing. Video attracts attention- on websites, social media, and emails. We have always taken pictures to promote our events, but never videos. We learned how to use the animation feature on the text, pictures and shapes on the slides, add complimentary transitions between the slides and save the file as an mp4 video. The video ads brought an immediate increase in visitors to our website and Facebook page.
34. Rapid Growth Can Break Things
Our client is a company that does repairs for a major retailer. The problem is reported, a crew rolls out to fix it... NOT! Growth caused logistics and quality issues. They used conventional tools to manage each interaction and became overwhelmed. Traditional BPM solutions were more money and time than was acceptable. Our company integrated a selection of modern solutions to solve their specific issues and it worked. The moral: Sometimes big solutions can come in a group of small packages.
35. Start Working Only 4 Days/Week
Two years ago, we decided to start working only 4 days a week. Each one of us work from home, also in different countries (Argentina, México, Colombia, Chile and Brazil) through Latin America.
We grow our revenue by 204% with 34 employees. The best technology that help us do this was Skype and Office 365, both from Microsoft. Thanks to Microsoft, now everyone in our company works 4 days a week from their homes.
36. Online Newspaper Curator
One technology transforming our business is Paper.li, a content curation tool that enables individuals to create “newspapers” based on topics they choose and automatically publish & promote engaging articles, photos and videos from across the web. By creating these daily newspapers that contain various articles, we are able to build relationships with businesses and readers. This is a great tool for starting the initial conversation and establishing groundwork for future business endeavors.
37. Social Media Planners
As soon as we invested in a social media planner, we noticed conversations, followers, and sharers on the accounts grew immensely. The planner helped us have a more systematic approach towards social media. It helped maintain constant communications with our audience without being over-the-top or nonexistent. This enabled us to be relevant and current in our audience’s minds.
38. A Smile is Worth 1000 Words
A few years ago, we made the decision to invest in high-quality cameras and large monitors for our conference rooms. Instead of teleconferences, we are now able to see and hear our co-workers and clients from multiple locations simultaneously in high definition clarity. It has changed the dynamic of our meetings. Emotion is more easily conveyed when you can see someone's face and read their body language. It brings people closer together and makes us more effective as an organization.
Ted Murphy of IZEA
39. Amplification Required
Being a SBO, amplification of your marketing message is essential. Through technology, you can schedule your social media postings through various sites.
Additionally, this amplification may help you find others who also want to amplify their message. Now, you have a community that amplifies your message 10 to 50 fold.
The benefit of amplification through technology has expanded my clients from local to global. I have earned international and national clients because of this one technology.
40. Have Wi-Fi, Will Rock
In 2010, I got my first mobile wi-fi stick and took my day job as a writer on the road while touring with my band, Icarus Witch. My digital nomad life instantly became twice as lucrative, since I was able to up-cycle the 22 hours that we weren't onstage with additional income-generating jobs. Seven years later, the "work from home or anywhere" strategy now offers our entire staff the flexibility to do things like workationing from the beach or taking their cat to the vet without burnin' a sick day.
41. Our Secret Tech Weapon
Technology is at the very core of our digital campaigns. Any brand that's attempted to scale its influencer marketing efforts understands the challenge of finding, organizing and emailing more than 50 people.
Our secret weapon is Terakeet. We've been using their proprietary platform since we launched and it's allowed us to build relationships with over 400 influencers, and personally send nearly 10,000 targeted emails. That would be impossible without their technology.
42. Identify Wine Taste with Tech
GREAT WINE collaborates with myVinotype – a smart wine recommendation platform for businesses and connoisseurs to learn more about "vinotypes," wine preferences and sensory abilities of people. It transforms our business into a more client-oriented one that accurately identifies clients’ unique taste with data analytics. The tool also helps our company decide what individualized resources suit our wine club members. Symbiotic parts of the wine world thrive together because of the tool.
43. Automation Now
I have been using the cloud in order to share files with my remote employees. In addition, I have been recording my phone calls in order to train my new employees.
This has given me the opportunity to train new employees at a lower cost than I ever have before.
44. PowerPoint Morph Feature
I give an average of 60 speeches per year and the Microsoft PowerPoint Morph function has been a game-changer for me. Instead of boring bullet-points, I'm able to keep the attention of the audience more effectively by moving (morphing) words and images from slide to slide. The Morph function helps me add a visually appealing element I didn't have before, and I use it now in all of my presentations.
45. The Uber of House Cleaning
Hux is an online platform directly connecting local consumers with service providers. With Hux you can easily compare providers on price, reviews, availability and instantly book a service. Hux's technology empowers providers by replacing costly overhead found in the traditional service industry. I initially used Hux.com to grow my cleaning business to cut out middlemen. I eventually asked to become the first employee to help other cleaners like me grow their business while helping Hux grow too!
Shayla Hill of Hux
46. Skype Enhanced our Business
It has been a while since Skype has hit the market, however, for 7 years we have been 100% location independent thanks in big part to Skype. Without Skype, we could not allow every one of our team members to work from anywhere in the world.
Skype has been at the center of our communication strategy and has allowed our company to fully operate remotely. Without Skype's easy to use UI, reliability and affordable unlimited use packages, we would be forced to work from a traditional office.
47. 2016 Hyper-V VDI at its Finest
Having team members VPN into our corporate network and accessing sensitive documents on their personal machines has made telecommuting very risky. Windows Server 2016's improvements to VDI storage, performance, and remote access has allowed us to give each employee a persistent virtual machine with access to sensitive network resources and enforce strict group policies to protect company resources. Employees can dial in remotely from any PC and access a secure Windows desktop to do work.
48. Move to the Cloud, Reduce Risk
We have moved everything to the cloud; thus, we no longer have the risk of local hardware failure jeopardizing our data or business continuity. We use Dropbox for all of our files, Right Networks to host QuickBooks Enterprise, Office365 for our office suite of software and Amazon Web Services to host our core telecommunications service offering.
49. Tech Made Me a Rock-Star!
When it comes to Marketing, the Microsoft Office suite is my "go to". Whether through Social Media, hard copy, or presentation, the compliment of Publisher and PowerPoint makes me look like a Rock-Star. Putting my trust in Microsoft for a stellar showing is like trusting a reliable partner. I am always prepared and my partner has my back. With the clean-cut capabilities and dimensional features to aid in and enhance Marketing presentations, I can always expect to be on point.
50. Tech Disrupts 100 Y/O Industry
We use technology to create community and more easily connect with our customers. As an online marketplace, we often meet our customers in virtual settings. Given that, we use all forms of media to reach them. Podcasting has been a meaningful tool in particular for us. We've been riding this wave since Adam Curry made podcasting famous over a decade ago.
51. Indoor Intelligence
Moving to the Microsoft Azure platform (Web Apps, autoscaling, and geo-redundancy) transformed Jibestream’s ability to innovate and grow their Indoor Intelligence offering, resulting in increased revenue opportunities and global expansion. The company is now able to rapidly develop prototypes and quickly scale production hosting, delivering a comprehensive and secure solution with unprecedented pace.
52. One-click Meeting Registration
We use Appointlet and Zoom as a self-registration link within our email signatures, MailChimp campaigns and webinars to quickly and easily schedule potential clients for live calls to run demos, finalize contracts and answer general questions.
The automated scheduler finds and fills calendar space, adds our Zoom meeting app, and sends meeting reminders to all involved. With one click, the prospect logs their appointment. And with one click, our sales and support staff initiate the call.
53. The Power of AR Storytelling
GlobeIn is a subscription box startup that invests in local economies to make a sustainable change. As a fair-trade business, storytelling is crucial to our marketing strategy.
We curate Artisan Boxes comprised of 4 - 5 handcrafted items. For our Comfort Box, we partnered with ARLOOPA to produce AR videos to integrate with the brochure, bringing a new way of telling the stories of each artisan. Knowing the impact that each purchase makes has contributed to our success as a company.
Liza Moiseeva of GlobeIn
54. Access to Information
The use of Internet for online patent research has directly led to us inventing and patenting a new, concentrated perfume gel. Without being able to access this information easily, it's unlikely we would have been able to develop our own proprietary product.
55. Measure Everything!
Through the implementation of data analytics, we found a completely new approach to recruiting and corporate culture. The first thing that we realized was that the more solutions that we offered -- before our users even requested them -- the less that our users requested customer service.
In my opinion, most companies should probably start to pay more attention to what the variables are saying, rather than trying to blindly-fix something that may not be necessarily broken.
56. Apps to Increase Productivity
One of the best technology choices we made was transitioning to an app to handle many of the interactions with clients. The fitness app we use allows us to message clients, deliver meal plans and workouts, and to track stats, all on a user-friendly platform that is easily accessible on both the professional and client side. While this does not take the place of face time or call time, it is a welcome addition to the tools we use and allows us to better serve our clientele.
57. Video Messages
A simple but effective example of technology transforming our business was when we began sending personalized video messages to each of our customers as an email attachment. It's as easy as shooting a 30 second video on your smart phone and uploading it to an email, but the response from customers, increased loyalty, reduced churn and bump in referrals has been amazing.
Marty Spargo of REIZE
Have you used any technologies to transform your business that weren’t included? Please share your thoughts below. And as always, many thanks to everyone that contributed to this article!