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Guide

An introduction to effectively seeking external digital support

Whether you’re looking to improve the capabilities of your website, automate processes or implement other types of new tech, there are several paths you can take to up your company’s digital game.
External digital support

As a business leader, it’s likely that you’ve already turned your hand to unfamiliar tasks, found your way with new systems and mastered additional skills.

So when the time comes to look at how you can build or improve your business with technology, your first instinct might be to roll up your sleeves and give it a go yourself.

And you wouldn’t be alone. Small Business reported that 49 per cent of small businesses avoid hiring consultants and external experts for projects because of the costs, with 36 per cent steering clear because of a lack of confidence in the level of expertise that can be brought in.

These doubts, coupled with an excess of free resources such as YouTube, Google and various business forums, lead many people down the DIY road.

But, when do these efforts stop being efficient and when is it time to call in the pros?

What to consider when seeking digital support

Your existing digital knowledge

There is plenty of merit in using tools to support your learning. This is especially true when you’re running a new business with tight budgets and are still in the experimentation phase.

But it’s important to be realistic about how far your digital knowledge can take you and what your attention is being diverted from. Being economical with your time as well as your budget is key, so it’s important to assess and plan for what you can do yourself and what you’ll need to get extra support for.

Your company’s individual needs

When you’re looking to learn about digital implementation or train people to use technology, it’s important that the resources you choose speak the language of your business.

Make sure that whether you’re using YouTube videos or consulting with an expert, your company’s individual needs are being met and knowledge is being communicated in a way that’s accessible for everyone.

Also, consider the team members who will be interacting with or supporting the implementation of this new technology. Varying abilities and learning styles require a diverse range of tools, and your staff may have differing levels of digital knowledge and experience.

Alexander Amosu

After a year of working on the website in-house, Alexander Amosu realised he needed external help

“When we originally started three years ago, I created the shopping platform on WordPress. And after a whole year of messing around with it, we realised that wasn’t the right platform to have it on – we probably built the website three or four times. We tried to learn it on our own, but it’s easier to just go and meet the best people in that field and they will tell you what you need to do.”

Alexander Amosu, founder of Lux Afrique

The cold hard facts

The smallest companies actually have the most to gain from digital evolution, according to studies by the OECD. The impact that digitalisation has on productivity is disproportionately larger the smaller the business is.

Common mistakes when seeking external digital support

Not recognising when you need to call in the pros

It might be that you’re more than capable of starting a project, but there often comes a point when you’ll need to hand over the reins to an expert. It might feel like admitting defeat, but knowing when to call time on your DIY efforts is actually a sign of competence.

Lots of businesses realise too late that external support is the only way to progress. By the time they start looking for third-party specialists to bring in, they’ve often already exhausted a considerable amount of time and resources.

And, according to OECD, there’s no time to waste in harnessing the power of digital capabilities, especially when it comes to data analytics. Leading adopters make the biggest gains, while those who trail behind tend to see lower (or even no) net benefits.

So, delay hiring that expert and you could miss out on some of the wins that inspired the journey in the first place.

Underestimating the returns

External support can seem expensive, and the idea of forking out considerable sums of money when you’re not sure of the potential return is daunting.

Talk to peers about the gains that new tech has helped their business make. Try to forecast the potential growth these developments could facilitate within your own company. Perhaps, the expenses will begin to seem less intimidating.

It’s also worth remembering that if you go about this the right way to begin with, then you’re eliminating the need for longer-term, in-depth support later on down the line. So consider the money you’ll potentially save as well as the sums you hope to make.

Oli May, Streetbees

Oli May (left) emphasises the importance of researching your needs first

“Do your research into what you really need before you start trying to build it and don’t be afraid of seeking expert advice. That was our initial point of failure and it’s what we now know you need to do.”

Oli May, co-founder of Streetbees

The cold hard facts

If you want to keep up with the market and support the longevity of your business, then optimising your digital capabilities is crucial. Research shows that 70 per cent of SMEs have enhanced their use of digital technologies due to the pandemic – you’re likely to get left behind if you delay your investment.

Quick wins for seeking external digital support

Define your limits

From our research, we’ve found that SME leaders who understand the limits of their abilities and the value of external support have been the most effective at implementing new technology.

While it’s important to learn, so that you can develop as a leader and choose the correct option, it’s equally key to recognise the difference between understanding tech solutions and implementing them. The experts you’ll be looking to call in have likely dealt with more hiccups, hurdles and niche demands than you could ever foresee.

Being able to recognise when you’ve taken things as far as you can and understanding what value a third-party specialist will bring sounds simple, but is something that lots of leaders don’t get right.

Capitalise on your network

Remember that there are instances of external support that don’t have to come from paying specialists.

Cultivating connections with other business leaders and building on your existing network is a powerful way to learn, access insights and generate ideas.

As part of these mutually beneficial relationships, people are often happy to share their own experiences and talk about tactics that have worked for them. These valuable insights can help you avoid pitfalls and fast-track your way to success.

These sources are also great for gathering recommendations and making new contacts in your hunt for the right resources to support your digital journey.

“I think it’s important to let experts in their fields deal with what they know about – although I make sure that I’m kept in the loop, so that I can give my feedback.”

Jane Gokgoz, founder of the Personalised Gifts Shop

The cold hard facts

Research suggests that 70 per cent of digital transformations fall short of their goals, often having significant impacts on the business. Isn’t it worth giving yourself the best chance possible of succeeding by calling in the pros?