Good Earth Cafe

October 03, 2007 09:00 ET

Three Ways Technology Can Help Your Small Business Cut Costs

Good Earth Cafe saves franchise owners a full day a week by using server technology to automatically input sales information into its accounting system

TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - Oct. 3, 2007) -

Editors Note: A photo for this release will be available on the CP picture wire via CCNMatthews.

From connecting sales and customer information to creating professional looking documents and automating business reporting, technology can help today's SMB cut costs and stay competitive.

However technology can often appear daunting - companies may worry that they lack the resources to make effective purchase decisions, while others want to avoid incurring another operating cost. Although technology can seem like a sizeable investment, businesses owners need to understand that it is not a cost centre. In fact, technology investments, when made with the help of the right technology partner, can help small businesses determine the best technology 'fit' and how to achieve the most return on those investments.

"A common mistake that SMB owners make is not using technology to automatically connect and share their customer and sales data across the business. A recent Microsoft Canada and Ipsos Reid survey found that 43 per cent(i) of SMB owners are still relying on a rolodex, filing cabinet and paper filing system to keep track of their business information," says Elspeth Murray, Associate Professor & Director, Queens Centre for Business Venturing and CIBC Faculty Teaching Fellow in Entrepreneurship. "This could actually hinder competitiveness. Today's SMBs are competing with big box stores and global brands. Technology can help owners streamline and leverage their internal business processes, which can ultimately help drive revenue and competitiveness."

Good Earth Cafe has been serving mouth-watering coffee and wholesome healthy food to Calgarians since 1991, and owners Nan Eskenazi and Michael Going had dreams of building a superior coffee chain in the Calgary region that could rival the likes of Starbucks and Second Cup. In order to meet their goals they began to franchise their brand, expanding into Red Deer and Edmonton. Like many Canadian small businesses, as their expansion plans became a reality, so too did the realization that they needed the right technology to manage their growth.

"Our staff was spending at least a day manually inputting sales information from our point of sales software into our accounting system. Also, as we grew we would try new coffee and sandwich promotions and would spend a day programming all the point of sales systems at our 13 locations. This was time intensive and we couldn't tell if the promotions were successful until a month later. We wanted to see this in real- time," says Eskenazi.

Working with IT Matters, a Microsoft Small Business Specialist and technology partner, Good Earth Cafe moved away from its mix of technology systems to an integrated platform based on Microsoft Windows Small Business Server (SBS) 2003 R2 that would automate key business processes. The impact of this technology investment was studied by The Strategic Counsel, a Toronto-based research firm, and they found that within days, Good Earth Cafe saved its franchisee owners five to 10 hours a week by enabling them to automatically input sales information into the accounting system. It also saved eight to 10 managerial field hours by automatically updating new menu promotions versus sending someone to each location to make the change manually.

"Our people now spend their valuable time analyzing and talking about performance, and taking action on that information, rather than spending time inputting data and producing reports. When it comes to menu changes or additions, instead of worrying about how to program the point-of-sale system, we can now focus on the bigger issues," says Eskenazi. "Our technology has empowered our people to try new things that will help grow our business. We have also saved time and money, which is priceless."

Many SMBs don't know where to turn to find the technology that's right for them. There are a number of technology consulting firms that can help, and Microsoft Canada has Small Business Specialist Community Partners across Canada who develop solutions designed for small business needs.

In addition to working with the right technology partner here are some additional tips on how SMBs can use technology today to help cut operating costs and save time:

1) Automate - Stop spending time inputting sales and customer data into different charts and systems - use server technology to connect this information.

2) Create real-time business reports - Are your staff pulling data from different sources to get the big picture on business performance? Use technology to give you an all up view in real time instead.

3) Connect business information and staff - Make sure your staff has access to the information they need whether they are in the office or on the road so they can offer customers the personal touch.

"Small business owners need to remember that technology doesn't have to be an either/or decision - it can pay for itself relatively quickly. In today's competitive business environment can an SMB afford to not be using technology? I don't think so," says Murray.

More than ever, small business is big business. Investing in technology and finding the right IT partner will help SMBs thrive, save money, work more effectively and remain competitive.

(i) Ipsos Reid poll conducted on behalf of Microsoft from August 10-August 27, 2007

Sidebar:

Technology Resources for SMBs:

- The Queen's School of Business provides tips and high-value, high-impact advice to Canadian small businesses: http://business.queensu.ca/centres/

- Ministry of Small Business and Entrepreneurship provides tips from the government on how to start your own business: http://www.sbe.gov.on.ca/

- Microsoft Canada Small Business Corner offers small businesses expert advice and "how-to" content on ways small businesses can get more value from their technology: microsoft.ca/smallbiz

- The Canadian Small Business Show is a site that helps SMB owners get a sense of how technology can benefit their business: www.canadiansmallbusinessshow.com/

- Microsoft Small Business Specialist Community helps you find the right solution and technology partner: www.microsoft.ca/solutionfinder

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