7 Digital and Tech Skills Every Small Business Owner Should Learn

Master these basics to increase sales and keep your business running smoothly.
christopher hawkins on computer
It is crucial to market your business on social media. According to Travis Bennett, founder of Studio Digita, building a social media following equates to building a customer base. (Photo: Travis Bennett)

In today’s digital world, it’s no longer good enough to know your business. You also have to master the technology that drives it.

Here are seven skills and technologies it pays to learn if you don’t already know them.

WordPress

With the advent of WordPress and other website design tools (such as Wix), you no longer need to hire a professional to create a website or blog.

“There is no better, easier, more ubiquitous tool for small business websites than WordPress,” said Christopher Hawkins, founder and managing consultant for Cogeian Systems, a team of custom software and web design experts. Hawkins is also author of “RECORD & RELEASE: Learn How to Podcast in Just One Day.

To use WordPress you’ll need to learn basics like how to add posts and new contacts. Here are links to help you get started:

https://codex.wordpress.org/First_Steps_With_WordPress

https://learn.wordpress.com/

Email

Email is a necessity these days. You’ll probably want to set up a business email for yourself and your employees and allow access through your smartphones. But small business owners need to make a few decisions first.

“They need to decide what are they comfortable with as far as level of technical experience with email and IT stuff goes. That will help make a determination which direction they want to go — a free service like Gmail or a paid-for service,” said IT consultant Mike Nakashima.

With a paid service, he noted, part of what you’re paying for is, well, technical support. If you don’t have the expertise or the time to troubleshoot problems as they arise  — which they will — a paid service, where help is a phone call or online chat away, might be best, said Nakashima.

You also need to choose an email system. Your main choices come down to an IMAP based system – in these, emails are stored in a server in the cloud, so you can’t accidentally delete them forever — or a higher-end business class Exchange system.

IMAP systems include Yahoo. Gmail is a glorified version of IMAP, with additional features such as calendaring. It’s designed to work best through Web browsers. “You can get it to work with Outlook or a mail client on any of the other platforms, but it doesn’t work as well. It doesn’t adhere to the IMAP rules exactly,” said Nakashima.

A hosted Exchange, such as Rackspace and Outlook.com, is often best for businesses, said Nakashima. “It’s been around longer and it’s kind of the standard for corporate America.”

“All these systems are capable of being put onto any modern phone or tablet, and all of them will have your basic self-setup guide,” he noted.

But some provider/device combos make setup easy. “Some providers can set up email to iOS devices via a self-install link. Just you have to enter your password without having to enter long strings of server name addresses and other technical details.”

Your email provider will have a help page to take you through setup. You can also check out these links:

Outlook:

https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/kb/829918

https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/kb/2648915

Gmail:

https://support.google.com/a/answer/172171?hl=en

Search engine optimization

SEO is a strategy and method of increasing traffic to your website.

“The fundamentals of SEO still work and are simple enough for a non-techie to understand and apply to their website,” said Hawkins.

Optimizing content for search isn’t just something you do after you create your content; it should be part of your content creation strategy, too, driving everything from the topics you choose to cover to how you executive your article, blog or video. A better website experience for users will mean better SEO.

Here are a few fundamental concepts to become familiar with:

Title Tag – This is the element of your page that ends up as the title you see in a search results page. Your title tag should clearly reflect the page’s content. Try to also make title tags interesting and worthy of a click.

Meta Description – This is the paragraph under a search result that tells users what the page is about. The more descriptive and enticing, the more likely a user will be to click. When writing meta descriptions, think about the sites you’ve clicked on because of their search result snippet.

Content – The freshness, uniqueness and quality of your content are all crucial to letting users and search engines know you’re an authority on a topic.

Keywords – Spend some time using tools like Google AdWords to discover what keywords and phrases people are using to search for the topics you cover, then use those in your title and elsewhere in the content.

Backlinks – Links to your site are cues to search engines about your site’s popularity and authority on a subject.  Links should be earned through posting interesting, shareable content, not bought or achieved through link exchanges with unrelated websites. Be cautious of who’s linking to you and whom you’re linking to. Links from “bad neighborhoods” can harm your rankings.

he good news is, most content management systems (CMS) offer SEO plugins that optimize the content you’re creating by applying the standard HTML elements search engines need to better understand your site.

SEO is a complicated process. Consider reading resources like Google’s Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide and Moz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO, or even taking a class on SEO. There are online classes available, and many local continuing education programs offer them.

Basic social media marketing

You’re not marketing your business effectively if you’re not on social media. Building a social media following equates to building a customer base.

According to Travis Bennett, founder and managing director of Studio Digita, a website development and digital agency based in Bangkok, Thailand, small business owners must know how to post on key social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and how to respond to messages.

Use the information, help or FAQ sections of social media sites to learn how to use them. Here are additional links to help you:

https://www.ncrsilver.com/jumpstart-your-social-media-strategy-and-separate-yourself-from-the-clutter/

https://www.facebook.com/business/overview

https://business.twitter.com/en/basics.html

https://business.instagram.com/gettingstarted/

Cloud computing

christopher hawkins

“The real win is knowing when you need help, so you can delegate a challenging tech task and focus on running the business.” -Christopher Hawkins (Photo: Christopher Hawkins)

The cloud is simply a network of servers housed in warehouses around the world. “Cloud computing” is an umbrella term that encompasses several things. One is data storage.

There’s infinitely more room in the cloud than on your hard drive or your external hard drive, and when you store your data there you can access it from anywhere. (It’s also probably safer there.) Many different companies, such as iCloud, Google Drive, Amazon Cloud Drive, OpenDrive and Dropbox, offer cloud storage for a monthly fee (Dropbox has a free version for individuals). Most come with technical support.

“Cloud computing” also refers to using cloud-based services, including those that offer subscriptions to software and platforms like QuickBooks, Wave, FreshBooks and SalesforceIQ CRM.

Both Bennett and Hawkins stressed the importance of learning how to set up and manage your small business bookkeeping and accounting in the cloud. These articles compare some of the online accounting options:

http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2458748,00.asp

http://www.businessnewsdaily.com/7543-best-accounting-software.html

Photoshop

Photoshop is the go-to graphics and photo editing software for most web designers and digital artists. Knowing how to use it can help you create more engaging social media content, produce your own professional-looking marketing materials and ensure consistency across your business communications.

Learn more about the different Photoshop offerings and how to use Photoshop here:

https://helpx.adobe.com/photoshop/tutorials.html

http://www.adobe.com/products/small-business-pricing/software-catalog._sl_id-contentfilter_sl_catalog_sl_software_sl_mostpopular.html

Spreadsheets

Good record keeping is essential to the success of your business. Spreadsheets help you to record and share important information, from inventory to cash flow to expenses.

“Spreadsheets, whether of the Excel or Google variety, are the flat-headed screwdriver of data work,” Hawkins said.

Search online for free business spreadsheet templates.

Here are links to help you learn how to use spreadsheets:

Excel:http://www.excel-easy.com/basics.html

Google: https://apps.google.com/learning-center/products/sheets/#/list

The non-skill you need

According to Hawkins, a final skill for every small business owner to master is knowing when to ask for help. “All of the above skills are handy for small business owners, but the real win is knowing when you need help, so you can delegate a challenging tech task and focus on running the business.”

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