For over 20 years now, the halcyon future of a remote working life style facilitated by digital technology has been waved just in front of our noses - the digital dream. Could we be working remotely on a Caribbean beach with just a laptop, a smartphone and the Internet? Wi-Fi or 4G that works everywhere would allow me to run my business virtually wherever I am. I would be able to do marketing and selling online, customer service, but also the less exciting tasks that are so often overlooked for digital efficiency: stock management, payroll, tax filing, business banking and finance. So long as the business had a connection, it could be anywhere.
The challenge for most small businesses is that this really is a remote dream. Over 60% of small businesses with 5 employees or less are not digitally engaged at all. Realistically, the island business is not going to be a reality for far more mundane reasons than lack of Internet or cost of travel. But does that mean there can't be a little of the dream built into life for businesses here in the UK? The new not for profit campaign Do It Digital thinks that there can be with just a little bit of investigation.
For most of us, it isn't really about drinking cocktails with little umbrellas while we work; it is about squeezing just a few more minutes out of the day, either for the essential things like dentist appointments, or to allow us the time, energy and often finance to build up the business in the way we dream of.
Digital is a word, which we use to cover a multitude of activities and services - but for the sake of argument, let's say it covers everything we can use the Internet to do. And there is a lot - a lot that can save time and a lot that can save money. Or even make money.
Often the challenge for small businesses is where to start. So why not start with something simple - social media to reach out to your local, national, or International communities to build awareness of your product, service, shop, website or location. It is really quick to start up, free to use and doesn't have to be that time consuming. A little investment in time working out the basics can reap significant rewards. Check out fab small biz Shake Social in Nottingham for some great tips on making the most of social media (and of course, you don't have to be in Nottingham - you can find them online).
What if you don't feel you have time for marketing, but need to cut some costs and save some time? Take another look at online filing for HMRC. It may sound a bit dull, but you can save hours of time, and pounds on accountants, by filing online. HMRC are actively trying to help you do that too. They have webinars and online help to get you started. It is definitely worth giving a go to help towards that illusive small business gold dust, the "free time".
The one downside of the remote business on an island is of course loneliness. It is no fun running your business in the sun with no one to share the experience with, and often pretty scary running a business with no one to ask for help. The same can be said for many businesses here at home. Being a small business can be a lonely experience and the challenges can feel like heavy weights on your chest. Digital can help out here too. There are many small business networks you can join online, and conversations you can join on social media, which will give you invaluable access to other businesses in the same boat. Try out the #hours on Twitter, e.g. #merseyhour - a totally free way to meet other businesses in your area and discuss opportunities, challenges or just meet like minded folks also running their own business.
In summary, don't wait for the island paradise dream to come to you - go out there and get a taste of it now - Check out Do It Digital (www.doitdigital.uk) for lots more ways you can use digital to get you closer to your small business paradise.