Women Business Owners Buy and Use Technology Because It Helps Them Multi-task and Be More Efficient
Tech-buying tips for women business owners
Typically, women business owners buy and use technology differently than their male counterparts — they adopt technology because it helps them multi-task and be more efficient.
Women-owned businesses are multiplying. Nearly half (48%) of the country's privately held companies in 2004 were at least 50% owned by women, a total of 10.6 million businesses, according to the Center for Women's Business Research, a Washington, D.C. - based organization.
Nearly two-thirds of those companies are majority-owned by women (51% or more), employing almost 10 million people and generating $1.2 trillion in sales. What's more, between 1997 and 2000, the estimated growth rate in the number of women-owned businesses was nearly twice that of all businesses (17% vs. 9%).
The pace of women-run enterprises is triggering other changes as well, almost under the radar. Despite perceptions that technology remains the province of geeks and guys, women owners and consumers are increasingly early adopters of new digital products. For instance:
Female consumers now account for more than half — a whopping $55 billion — of the annual $96 billion spent on electronics, according to the Consumer Electronics Association.
Plus, nearly nine out of every 10 women entrepreneurs (86%) say they use the same office equipment and services at home as they do in their business. With women initiating fully 75% of all consumer electronic purchases, their interest in digital products is clearly on the rise.
Finally on the Microsoft Small Business Center website the first bit of advice to women wanting to get ahead themselves in business under the heading tech-buying tips for women - “To help women business owners like you make better spending decisions regarding technology products, keep these bits of advice in mind…….”
Tech-buying tips for women
To help women business owners like you make better spending decisions regarding technology products, keep these bits of advice in mind.
1. Join a women's business organization
Being a member of a women's industry or professional group offers a range of benefits. You learn how peers handle the same challenges you face. There are bound to be members who know a technological thing or two (if not tons) that you don't. Most such groups also offer discounts on products and services as well as access to training and seminars that are well worth the price of annual dues.
2. Review your needs — inside and out
Technology options for small businesses usually can be divided into three categories.
- Core business functions
- Customer services and marketing
- Administrative and internal functions
By looking at areas one by one, it's easier to calculate how you might get a better bang for your technology buck.
Start by assessing software or services that can most meet your needs. For instance, if internal reporting is essential, Microsoft's Small Business Financials offers inexpensive, integrated financial management capabilities, including sales, purchasing, inventory, and payroll and reporting functionality.
If sales leads and customer service is key, consider simple but effective solutions made for small businesses. For example, besides Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Publisher, the Microsoft Office Small Business Edition 2003 includes Outlook with Business Contact Manager, which lets you consolidate and manage customer data and contacts via the Outlook application.
3. Stay close to an IT adviser
"It's easy to get overwhelmed about technology and hard to know what you must have and what's too much," says Michele Miller, an author and advertising executive who publishes Wonderbranding.com, a blog about marketing to women. "Working with an adviser lets you take it step by step."
Instead of jumping to a custom solution, for instance, a knowledgeable pro may recommend an off-the-shelf solution, points out Miller. In addition, when a consultant understands your business and your system, he or she can suggest upgrades or alternatives at the right time. Having that relationship means the expert is around to ensure that installations work with your older, legacy systems, too.
4. Build consensus before you buy — and don't forget training too
In 1995, when Margaret Smith decided to leave her law practice, the Domus retail business in the San Francisco Bay Area presented just the right opportunity. She bought the 35-year-old housewares shops from the founding family. Today, three regional Domus stores and Domus Online carry more than 33,000 products, ranging from kitchen gadgets to cookware and stationery, employing about 50 people and racking up annual sales of $5 million.
"When I bought the company, inventory was checked by someone walking the floor, seeing where holes on the shelf were and guessing which products had been there," Smith says. She quickly installed computerized systems for payroll, inventory and fulfillment. "The inventory controls alone streamlined operations and pushed profits up 5%." Now Smith is ready for the next stage. She is franchising the Domus brand and installing more sophisticated automation. Next year, on advice from her IT consultant, she will implement the Microsoft Smarter Retailing Initiative, can boost business by delivering better access to product and customer information and by cutting operational costs.
Beforehand, however, she tapped the advice of her staff. "IT decisions are made by me and my committee, the four managers responsible for implementation," Smith says. "Those are the people at the cash register who know whether or not the system can work." In addition, Smith will invest in training staff and managers on the new system. "One of the reasons I chose Microsoft," she says, "is because I knew I could count on support. And it works with my other back office systems."
5. Stay up-to-speed, but don't get ahead of yourself
"When it comes to technology, if you don't keep abreast, you'll lag behind," says Kathleen Diamond, owner of Language Learning Enterprises, a 24/7 telephony translating service based in Washington, D.C. Language Learning Enterprises has 20 employees, including a full-time IT director, network administrator and network programmer, and annual revenues of $3 million.
Diamond says her biggest challenge is finding technology vendors who understand that her operation must work, perfectly, round-the-clock, nights, weekends, every minute. "It's almost like doctors," she says. "They talk about your arm, but they forget you also have a leg." As a result, "before making a final solution, I do a rigorous cost-benefit analysis but it's sometimes hard to figure out exactly what vendors can and can't do for us," she says.
She also finds herself reining in her male IT trio. "Men seem to like bells and whistles," Diamond says. "They constantly want to upgrade and switch. And I keep saying, 'But it works.'" It comes down to a balance, she says. "Sometimes you need to upgrade, but I tend to be persuaded by my experience."
6. Learn the jargon — and how to negotiate
"When it comes to purchasing technology services," says The Body Shop's Naficy, "you need to be well informed, have sound reasoning behind your position and some leverage." How do you get there? By building strong relationships with vendors and providers.
In the end, the best advice is to listen to your inner voice, despite any sales pitch or techie siren call. When running your own show, you're the best judge of when you need to build a bigger stage for technology.
About the Aouthor
Joanna L. Krotz writes about small-business marketing and management issues. She is the co-author of the "Microsoft Small Business Kit" and runs Muse2Muse Productions, a New York City-based custom publisher.