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New Tech that will Keep you up During Down Times

By Paul Fitzgerald for America's Backbone Weekly

If you're in the business of growing crops or building houses, the winter months can get pretty quiet. Fields lie dormant in the colder parts of the U.S., and inclement weather (along with slow seasonal housing sales) often slows construction projects to a crawl. However, the downtime experienced in the agricultural and construction industries creates opportunities for evaluating and improving your business. There are plenty of new technological solutions on the market that will allow any small business to stay busy while planning and growing.

Advertising and Networking (social media)

The slow weeks and months are a perfect time to reevaluate your social media presence. It is the time to look back on the past year and see what you did well and what you can improve upon. Did you post often enough? Is there a different cadence for different platforms? Was your content interesting? If you're running a small construction company or farm, engaging with customers, suppliers and the community at large can be a great way to raise your profile. Make sure you post often enough to stay in the public consciousness. Responding directly to comments helps project your image as an engaged stakeholder.

During the off season, you can develop marketing strategies and materials for social media which you'll be too busy to do come spring. Even if you're not going to post them right now, having them in the bank will make things easier once you're busy.

The off season is also a good time to make sure you're up to date with social media trends. Are the sites you're using still popular? A Google search or browse through tech blogs on social media trends can help you determine the best sites. Are there new sites gaining popularity? Winter is the perfect time to do your research and create new profiles if needed. You should also make sure that you're posting the right kind of content on the right platforms. For instance, Facebook is a good multi-media platform for longer comments and videos, while Instagram is better suited for photos and briefer commentary. Twitter lets you take advantage of hashtags to create discoverable content. Easy Lunchboxes, an American company that creates a variety of food storage solutions, is an example of a business that has used social media well. Kelly Lester, the company's owner, sent samples of its lunchboxes to prominent bloggers who created content about her products and linked to her site. This info was then posted on social media sites to raise the businesses profile. Seeing the visual appeal of her product, she focused most of her energy on Pinterest. She now has a Pinterest following of over 77,000 users and over 200,000 likes on her Facebook page.

Accounting and Budgeting

Slow months are not only a good time to catch up on budgeting and accounting, they're a good time to make sure you're using the best tools for the job. Is there software out there that could make doing your taxes or managing spreadsheets easier? These days there is a plethora of software solutions that can make running your business much easier. For example, BillQuick Online, from BQE, is a software suite that lets you manage budgets and projects as well as book keeping and accounting. It's based in the cloud, meaning that there's no software to install and you can access it from anywhere (including smart phones and tablets). You can start with a free trial and after that it you can choose to run the Professional or Enterprise editions, which cost $19.95 and $24.95 per month respectively. Lighter crop production periods are ideal for adopting and getting used to new business management solutions.

Enterprise Management (software)

While we're talking about software, the slower months are an ideal time to evaluate your overall business management, including financial management, bookkeeping, and operational efficiency. There are plenty of industry-specific software packages out there that can be used to consolidate your operations into a single entity.

In agriculture, there are possibilities like the WinField Data Silo, a combined effort from WinField, Google Cloud Platform and Cloud Technology Partners. The WinField Data Silo (price negotiated with vendor) lets you compile and analyze a wide range of data metrics that can be used to run your business more efficiently. For instance, you can track info on equipment inventory and maintenance as well as crop yields and management. The software can provide insights, such as to which crops to grow in particular fields due to rotation schedules and past crop yields.

On the construction side, there are software solutions like Vista (by Viewpoint) which enable complete enterprise management, ranging from accounting, project management and supply chain management, to time keeping for employees, document management and more. It can be deployed onsite or in the cloud. The price of Vista can be obtained by contacting the vendor.

These are just two examples of software solutions in the construction and agricultural industries. There are many more available. You can read about more of them by doing a Google search. You can also speak with industry consultants and vendors to get a better idea of what's appropriate for your business.

Upgrading Equipment

Equipment is another aspect of your business that you might look at upgrading. In the agricultural industry, tractors, harvesters and the like are being designed with high tech capabilities, as are trucks and earthmoving equipment in the construction sector. Not every business needs that kind of tech, but it's something to at least consider. Equipment that's bundled with GPS tracking and/or remote sensing capabilities is becoming more and more common. GPS tracking allows you to monitor the location of your equipment while other remote sensing technologies can provide data on everything from vehicle diagnostics to soil moisture. John Deere, for instance, offers telematic solutions for its agricultural and construction equipment. Applications include location tracking, the ability to remotely monitor equipment diagnostics and machine performance, and even machine guidance and control. You may not need all these solutions yet, but the slow winter months are a great time to start doing some research so you'll be ready to adopt new technologies when the time is right.

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