By Sophie Wilson

Being the owner of a small business can be hard. You don’t have the luxury of time and resource to outsource everything. Invariably, you have to roll your sleeves up, turn your hand to a multitude of disciplines and get stuck in to get the job done. Time is your most precious resource and one to be invested carefully. And yet, although it might feel counter intuitive when there are a million things on your ‘to-do’ list; one of the best things that you can invest your time in is understanding how you can work smarter and not harder.

The big boys know a thing or two about adopting smarter working initiatives to create efficiencies, and it is this very thing that enables them to grow and scale rapidly.

But why should this way of working be limited to corporates?  More and more small businesses are looking to adopt business management practices that can help them to create efficiencies and one such is ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning). ERP is a concept that is now increasingly starting to be talked about within the boardrooms of start-ups and SMEs, having traditionally been the preserve of corporate players.

So what is ERP all about? In simple terms, it is a way of using software to do anything that is repetitive and manual, saving time and money.

In any business, you have a number of different units, each with their own unique set of systems in place to manage their corresponding information. So for HR, you will have employee information, contracts, payroll, holiday planners; Accounting will deal with invoicing, Sales will use prospect databases, funnels and pipeline information and it goes on.

Stakeholders at the top of the business who must have a view across all of these aspects of the business then have to rely on the reporting provided by these different systems and, either mentally or manually bring them together to create the complete picture. In short, the bits don’t talk to each other: it is humans that have to do that. Humans cost money and no time is dearer than when you are the owner of your own business.

ERP is a way of enabling integrations across numerous systems and a way to build a central hub, where the data is in one place and, importantly, under your control. By virtue of having one system in place, you are able to have a quick snapshot of how your business is performing, allowing you to ask the question “what did we build this week?” or “how are we doing against sales targets”?

ERP originated in the manufacturing and ecommerce industries as a way of facilitating the flow of information across vast supply chains, to enable better business decisions. Previously, the older and bigger players such as Oracle and SAP dominated the market with heavy-lifting networked solutions. However, there is a rapid emergence of companies who have been able to mostly commoditise products with smaller business in mind and, as a result, these solutions are becoming increasingly available. These sorts of companies offer off-the-shelf solutions at entry level pricing, making them accessible to smaller businesses. There is also a market for specialist software developers who have created a solution that can be plugged in and tailored to your exact requirements, therefore striking the balance between cost and implementing an ERP solution that works best for you.

Whilst the big corporates have been doing this since the early 90s, smaller business are only just starting to catch up. As less complex and more affordable SaaS based options edge into the marketplace, I predict that even more small business will jump on the ERP bandwagon to help streamline and simplify their business processes.

Automation and business efficiency is a hot topic at the beginning of a new calendar year when many business owners currently ponder the question of how to operate in a slicker, smarter way. ERP offers to disrupt what has traditionally been a manual, challenging process and bring cohesion, simplicity and automation to how small businesses can be run.

Sophie Wilson, B2B marketer and writer