There’s no doubt that customer expectations have evolved to include personalized online engagement and the use of digital tools to enhance their experience with your brand. As small businesses move from spreadsheets to digital tools to manage operations, there's an opportunity for your digital transformation project to deliver a competitive advantage to your business by meeting these new demands.
But a successful transformation as well as the integration of digital culture requires some creativity. Inspiration can come from learning about other companies who are leading the way in digital business transformation—and that's exactly what we'll provide here.
In this article, we'll share successful digital transformation examples to help inspire you in your small business digital transformation effort.
If you’d like to learn the basics about digital transformation, check out this article: What Is Digital Transformation for Small Business? It provides a definition of digital transformation and discusses the benefits you can expect as a small business owner.
The examples we’re going to share are each based on one of the five ways we’ve identified small businesses can undergo a transformation. This model below is inspired by Gartner’s report, Digital Business Ambition: Transform or Optimize? (full report is available to Gartner clients only). We’ve adapted it to apply to small businesses.
The least transformative, yet also least disruptive, way of going digital is to sell any online or digital assets you already have. This could include videos of presentations or classes, downloadable templates or forms, music, or farm animals.
A very creative example of re-thinking how to profit from the assets you already have is a small UK farm that hosted weddings and events in the pre-pandemic days and has now made a pivot into the digital age: goats for video meetings. The owner of Cronkshaw Fold Farms, Dot McCarthy, has made nearly $70,000 with this new initiative. If this isn’t inspirational, I don’t know what is.
The next level of digital transformation includes offering a digital experience with a product or service you already provide. Often this is achieved through the integration of IoT (internet of things) devices or smart chips.
A popular example is the digitalization of doorbells, such as Ring. They added a camera and WiFi capabilities to doorbells and have hence transformed the way we think about and use the previously overlooked little device. Who knew we’d all be buying and talking about doorbells as a digital innovation, but here we are!
Metered revenue can be subscriptions to an ongoing series of how-to videos or licensing the use of your digital assets based on usage or time (think streaming services). For example, a yoga studio moving classes online and offering monthly memberships to join, or a videographer selling rights for the use of music, photographs, etc.
Mail seems like a traditional, if not old-fashioned, way to send and get messages but that doesn’t mean it can’t experience digital disruption. Anytime Mailbox is a business doing just that: They convert your physical mailbox into an online one so you can manage it from anywhere, anytime. Anytime Mailbox uses a subscription-based pricing model, so it’s a metered service for a virtually-managed mailbox.
If you don’t have existing online assets, you can create one. Offering a mobile app that uses the capabilities of smartphones (e.g., camera for augmented reality) is a popular approach to this type of digital transformation.
Amy Wax is a professional color consultant and author on the subject who branched out into providing consulting services via her mobile app, Color911. Clients can create their own account to find, design, and share colors and color palettes in the app. The app has allowed Amy to expand her business to support non-professionals and DIYers in their color design efforts.
When you’re ready to start a more complex digital transformation journey, look to the other interests your customers have and find a way to branch into serving those needs. You can leverage your existing expertise and embrace new technology to branch into an adjacent service.
The Game Crafter started as a web-to-print game designer but has successfully evolved to be online and physical game designers, product sellers, production resources, and a community for gamers. They’re an excellent example of branching into adjacent areas of their industry while leveraging the new technology and digital capabilities they already had.
Let these examples be a source of inspiration as you design your own digital transformation strategy. You probably noticed that most of these examples have overlap with each other as far as approach and execution goes, and that’s ok! Your strategy can mix and blend the selling of existing or new digital assets with moving into an adjacent business model. Small business owners are creative and gritty, so don’t be afraid to try something new.
Learn more about how to create a digital transformation strategy in 5 Keys to a Successful Digital Transformation Process.
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