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19 min read

Gaining digital skills

Making any changes to your business can be quite daunting, let alone when it’s to do with technology. But if you spend some time learning about different digital tools and how they work, evolving your business inline with technological developments will become a no-brainer.

Why are digital skills important in business?

“Digital skills”

“Digital marketing”

“Digital tools”

For years we’ve identified and emphasised when something is digital or not. But pretty soon the “digital” part of these business terms will be dropped. In the near future, we will assume that what we are referring to is undoubtedly digital.

Of course, there will always be offline elements to every business but the reality is that so much of what we do is now online and this will only continue to increase.

“It’s clear the workforce of the future is becoming more confident about navigating its way around technological change.”

Peter Tufano, Dean of the Saïd Business School

Our first encounter with any business is often checking their website or looking up a review on social media. If you’re not a digitally savvy business, you lose the ability to have any control over these interactions. As the market evolves, customers have expectations that communications and transactions will be able to be done digitally, in a fast and secure manner, and are likely to go elsewhere if this isn’t the case.

Similarly, when trying to recruit new talent or retain staff – they’re not likely to be impressed if the processes and resources used at work are very out of date. Implementing just one or two new digital tools, and creating a digital marketing strategy, could see your business benefit from big cost and time savings and can also help you to retain staff and be seen as leaders in your industry.

Embracing technology and overcoming any fears

The better that we understand technology and the advantages it can bring then the less scary it becomes. We should embrace the positives – it’s easier than ever to make connections with people and to find information.

Of course, there is the potential for ‘robots’ to replace humans in some lower-skilled jobs, but technology is also creating many new jobs, like content marketers, as well as the ability to find jobs and retrain more easily. As opposed to taking anything away, technology gives you access to more and will allow you to do more of the things that you want to do by automating and speeding up things that you don’t.

Here are four excuses for not using technology and how to get around them…

  • “It doesn’t come naturally to me.”

    No one automatically knows how to use anything. It comes from a willingness to dedicate a bit of time to practising and learning. And these days you can learn in whichever way suits you best – attending courses, reading books or blogs, watching videos on YouTube or listening to podcasts (to name a few).

    Also remember, if it doesn’t come easily to you, it won’t do for lots of other people, so making small changes could easily set you apart from your competitors.

  • “I’m too old to embrace new technology.”

    Adopting a ‘never graduate’ mentality and remaining curious is good for your happiness, health and your business.

    You don’t have to do everything, start by adopting one tool that will make the most difference to your work.

  • “I don’t need digital tools.”

    Technological advancements are nothing new and they will not stop coming – from the telephone to the radio, to cars, computers and the Internet.

    For most people, these days digital skills are a job requirement and in some cases a legal requirement (for example, the secure storing of personal data for GDPR or Making Tax Digital).

  • “I don’t have the time or money to learn.”

    There are countless free tools, trials and methods of learning. The best way to learn is to start using things on a day to day basis and figure out what functionality you like and what you don’t.

    You may need to invest a little extra time in the beginning but in the long run, you will save a lot.


Video: Why you should treat the tech you use at work like a colleague

by TED

Nadjia Yousif is a technology expert. In this video, she explains why we often fail to take advantage or embrace the technology available to us.

What are the different types of digital skills that I need to succeed in business?

  • Women using social apps on iPad
    Social media

    Even if you don’t use social media channels to post your own content (and even if you do), you should definitely use digital channels to listen and monitor – get feedback, find out what competitors are doing and what’s trending. Listening is way more important than broadcasting and by doing this you’ll get to grips with what works, what doesn’t, and what you like before you try to force sharing your own content.

  • Newsletter notification

    The number one skill a marketer should have is to try to understand what the customer likes and then tailor products and campaigns around this. By studying reviews, buying habits and history, content can be personalised. Basic design skills are helpful (try using a tool like Canva), as well as being able to use an email service provider like MailChimp and have an understanding of how paid search works on Google and social media, building an online presence and creating campaigns.

  • Graphic designer at work

    Tools like Squarespace, Shopify and Wix have made it simple for anyone to build a nice looking website that’s affordable and search engine optimised. It might take you a bit of practice but you’ll learn loads in the process and the beauty is that you can keep changing and tweaking your web pages as much as you want to because you built it. This also means it will be easy to keep it up to date with regular updates and blog posts which are great for customer engagement and search engine optimisation (SEO).

  • Charts on computer
    Data analytics

    Release your inner geek (everyone has one) by delving into some data analytics. There’s no point spending your time on any marketing activity unless you’re going to track if it’s worked or not. Think of your digital marketing tactics as case studies – what can you learn from them? You’ll find brilliant analytics dashboards on your social media profiles, in your email service provider and if you have your website hooked up to Google Analytics (and if you haven’t this should be a priority).

  • Calculations at computer
    Cloud accounting and bookkeeping

    From April 2019 all businesses earning over £85,000 a year will have to submit tax returns online. But it makes sense for all businesses, regardless of takings, to try and go paperless when it comes to accounting as it’s a much more accurate and efficient way to keep track of your money.

How can I use automation to be more effective?

Should small businesses fear or embrace automation? Digitally automating some of the simple but laborious tasks that your business has to perform is one of the obvious ways to free up time to do something else. Or maybe you can automate tasks that you haven’t been doing to make your business run more smoothly or create added value for customers.

Here are some examples of things you can automate for your business:

Emails Increase conversion rates by automating emails for actions like an abandoned cart or asking for referrals.
Database management Automate your email sign up process to grow your database.
Buying things Set your printer software to order new cartridges when they run out and use Amazon Dash buttons (or the virtual ones) to re-order your highest use items.
Saving work Google for Work has an autosave function so you’ll never lose work again.
Social media posts Tools like Buffer, SocialBee and MeetEdgar make it easy for you to schedule content for your social networks and they can even help you curate and write posts.
Analytics reports Get analytics delivered daily, weekly or monthly directly to your inbox with stats on things like your productivity, email marketing performance, website and social media traffic.   
Time tracking Use an app like Timely to track how you spend your time or split it between clients or projects.  
Mileage tracking Motus automatically tracks and calculates mileage rates.
Expenses Use an expenses tracker app to take photos of receipts and have them automatically categorised and calculated.
Chasing payments Automate emails that are sent when payments are late.
Customer service Automate sending customers a net promoter survey after they have completed an action or transaction and design a process for customer service where people are directed to the right person straight away.
Appointment reminders Make sure meetings are never missed with automated appointment reminders that go to you and the other attendees. You can also use Doodle to find the most appropriate time for a meeting for everyone involved.

But don’t automate everything! There’s nothing more annoying than receiving a ‘thanks for following’ auto message on Twitter and there are times when the human element remains an expectation or an advantage. Choose automation that saves you time but doesn’t detrimentally affect the customer experience.

What skills might I need in the future?

LinkedIn has published a list of the soft and hard skills that companies are most in need of in 2019. The hard skills list is predominantly made up of purely digital competencies with the other ones on it, like journalism, rising up in popularity again due to the way that the digital landscape is evolving with businesses prioritising great content and storytelling.

Top 25 hard skills needed by businesses in 2019

  1. Cloud Computing
  2. Artificial Intelligence
  3. Analytical Reasoning
  4. People Management
  5. UX Design
  6. Mobile Application Development
  7. Video Production
  8. Sales Leadership
  9. Translation
  10. Audio Production
  11. Natural Language Processing
  12. Scientific Computing
  13. Game Development
  14. Social Media Marketing
  15. Animation
  16. Business Analysis
  17. Journalism
  18. Digital Marketing
  19. Industrial Design
  20. Competitive Strategies
  21. Customer Service Systems
  22. Software Testing
  23. Data Science
  24. Computer Graphics
  25. Corporate Communications

Whatever business you’re in, have a think about what digital skills would have the greatest effect on what you do day-to-day and start planning your digital marketing strategy. 

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