It’s hard to keep up with the rapidly changing world of technology. Sometimes it’s not until you look back at the way things were that you can see just how far we’ve come.
When we think of fast internet, our first thoughts often bend towards entertainment, socialising and video gaming: after all, these are the things many of us love doing.
Work, on the other hand, may not be front of mind, but the small business sector has benefited dramatically from greater online connectivity.
Perhaps you remember, or remember your parents, driving off interstate with a boot full of product samples to show off to potential customers down the highway.
Or possibly they intended to seek out a new distributor or haggle with a supplier. After all, it was not that long ago.
But things are very different now.
Now, a single individual working from out of their own garage – the smallest of micro-businesses – can offer a service or product to customers all over the world and expand internationally with employees and branding.
And all without leaving the garage! The future is now for small business, and when we cast our mind back to the way things were, we can see how high speed internet has helped to knock down the barriers that had been preventing many Australian small businesses from going global.
Then: For a small business to desire global reach before high speed internet, it was to sell something physical. A product requires manufacturing and distribution.
Imagine the process (and risk) of finding a company to create your product, getting them the right design documents, testing the quality, having it shipped to various countries and distributed to stores, and then hoping it sells, before high speed internet.
Now: For many new small businesses, getting a product to the other side of the world only takes the press of a button.
Major worldwide distributors like Amazon, Apple, Etsy and Google, or even more bespoke storefronts, can move digital products global in a jiffy – opening up limitless new small business opportunities – while providing on-demand options for more traditional physical products for greater efficiency.
Fast broadband allows for the easy management of these systems, the ability to communicate, negotiate and compare options in your supply chain, swap massive design documents, and access funds from sales, anytime and from anywhere.
In addition, hubs like LinkedIn allow people of likeminded services to connect, with video conferencing providing face-to-face connecting with potential clients, partners and customers.
Then: One hurdle small businesses face when going global is the time difference between regions.
Before high speed internet, when you left the office at 5pm, your work couldn’t travel with you.
If you forgot something, you had to go back and get it. And if someone called or messaged out of hours, then the opportunity was missed.
Now: We are always connected. We can receive, send and interact with large files on our smart devices, make free international video or voice calls across broadband networks, interact with employees and respond to urgent requests or promising leads instantly.
We can even store all our most important assets in the cloud, so they are on hand and on demand whenever they are required.
Then: Advertising your product or service to new customers before high speed internet could be a painful, hit-and-miss grind.
You could cast a wide net out in newspapers, TV or radio, hoping you might catch some interested parties.
You could do a letterbox drop or tuck pamphlets into car window wipers. Maybe you could purchase a booth at a local market or larger expo, but it was difficult to know precisely how effective any of these methods were.
Now: You can use the web to help people from anywhere in the world locate your product or service, sending them to a website with a full HD video tutorial, animations and storefront.
You can engage with social media channels, immediately sharing new products, specials and images or video to entice sales.
And a number of platforms will allow you to purchase advertisements that target a specific region, age, sex, hobby and more to maximise your expense.
Even better, with a little know-how you can analyse exactly how effective many of these new methods are, allowing you to focus on ones that work best for your business, and move away from the ones that don’t.
Then: What if part of your expansion into global markets requires you to have a human presence on the ground? Maybe some local sales staff, or a manufacturing manager.
Previously, you would have had to hire an agency to supply applicants, and then perhaps talk over the phone or even travel overseas to assess them directly.
You’d have to consider potentially setup a local bank account and payment system, too. And working on the same document as each other meant sending a fax back and forth.
Now: High speed internet allows for easy video conferencing, connecting with references and access to work portfolios.
Companies like Fiverr, Upwork and Freelancer have opened up a market for easily connecting with contractors and paying them directly for their work.
Plus, you can get instant feedback on what your employees are doing, and respond to their needs.
Cloud based services like Google Sheets can even allow for real-time interaction with the same document for all you employees, no matter where they are.
Then: Running a small business requires most owners to be a jack-of-all-trades – hands-on and competent in all the cogs that help their business motor.
Before, if a new skill was required by the owner or an employee, it meant long periods off work and expensive fees, travelling to schools and workshops.
Now: Multiple options are available for small businesses to quickly and inexpensively improve their skillset around key elements of their business.
Companies like Lynda or even YouTube can provide detailed, high-definition video tutorials, while webinars allow for real-time conversations with teachers as well as a chance to connect with and learn from other students.
The arrival of the internet through devices like the 14.4k dial-up modem didn’t change the landscape of the small business world overnight.
In fact, for years you could not even be on the internet and have a phone line free at the same time! And even if customers were online, they needed to know your website address as you couldn’t just “Google It.”
As infrastructure improved, you could begin to send low resolution images, text documents and make phone calls.
But now, in our nbn powered world, everything can happen in real-time. Fast internet allows small business to explore and invest in global expansion and empowers growth.
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