Cleaning homes may require more elbow grease than computer power, but Greg Shepard, owner of cleaning service Dallas Maids, says technology has given his company a competitive advantage.

The maid service uses scheduling software, Launch27, that allows clients to quickly book appointments and leave feedback online. It also uses a VoIP phone service, 8x8, and supplements its U.S. office staff through freelancer platform Upwork.

“Technology has scaled Dallas Maids to a million-dollar business," said Shepard, who worked in corporate IT before founding the Texas company.

In explaining how he is able to rely on cash flow, rather than borrowing, to fund his technology moves, Shepard said: "I'm so lucky to have my tech background because when you know how to propel your website to the top of Google and have free advertising, the thousands extra (that) other maid services put into marketing can otherwise be put back into your business."

There's no doubt that the technology revolution has transformed entire industries and changed the way businesses of all sizes operate. Company owners enjoy an almost overwhelming selection of apps and other technology that can help them automate and streamline processes, improve productivity and rein in costs.

And increasingly, it's the way companies prepare for and implement that technology that means the difference between success and failure.

Roughly 78 percent of the owners surveyed for City National Bank's Small Business Report agreed that technological advances have proven beneficial for their company, citing cutting costs as the main benefit.

But the survey also showed that some small business owners have struggled with technology, reporting that it wound up hurting more than helping. Approximately 22 percent of those surveyed said changes in technology have hurt their businesses, with the cost of keeping up with new tech cited as the top drawback.

How to Create a Technology Strategy

Having a clear strategy and preparing carefully to manage technology can make a significant difference for businesses in virtually any industry or profession.

When City National senior business banking relationship manager Hermine Chobanyan talks to clients, she finds that the cost and adoption of new technology is always top of mind, no matter what industry they are in.

Start with the Basics

Her clients, even late adopters of technology, are realizing that the internet has drastically changed their competitive landscape, Chobanyan said. Companies that comfortably relied on word-of-mouth to sustain and grow their businesses for years now face pressure from competitors who are more savvy online marketers, she said.

“You'll be amazed how many businesses don't have a website," including multi-million-dollar companies, she said. About a third of business owners don't have a website and 25 percent don't plan to have one, according to the City National Small Business Report.

Shane Skwarek, owner of S-FX.com Small Business Solutions, a New Jersey-based technology consulting agency geared towards start-up businesses, small businesses and non-profit businesses, had a family-owned furniture business as a client. When they started finding it harder to compete, he helped them set up their first website and implement simple inventory-management software to cut down on paperwork.

Within a month, the company got an online order worth a few thousand dollars from a customer who had never seen the product in person. “He saw it online, liked what he saw, and knew he wanted to buy it. They were absolutely floored," Skwarek said.

No matter what kind of business you own, a well-designed and functional website can provide both new and returning clients with added value, give them a way to communicate with you directly and nudge them into choosing your business instead of a competitor.

If you don't already have a website or haven't updated it in a few months, consider making that a top priority. “Small businesses need to realize that having a website, updated computer equipment and modern software is really not just a luxury," Skwarek said. “It is a necessity."

Identify Technology Priorities

Beyond company websites, businesses can invest in any number of administrative and operational technology tools, including marketing solutions, customer retention software and data collection platforms.

Yet all these options can be overwhelming. Companies happy with their technology investments tend to do their legwork first – clearly identifying the problem they're trying to solve, researching their options and exploring the likely effects on employees and customers. It's also crucial to implement the product correctly, said Cathy McKnight, co-founder of New York-based technology consultancy Digital Clarity Group.

For example Kelly McBride, founder and president of Cerritos, CA-based Century Building Solutions Inc., a firm that waterproofs and repairs buildings, recently adopted cloud-based technology to improve efficiency around job costing.

Century Building paid less than $10,000 for material- and equipment-handling software from construction power tool supplier Hilti to electronically tag and track all the jackhammers, grinders, concrete saws, scaffolding and other gear the company uses on jobs.

Separately, Century adopted a cloud-based time-tracking platform, paid via monthly subscription, to handle time sheets and other administrative functions. Crew members use the app to clock in and log their hours, transmitting the data from their personal smartphones into the company's payroll service.

The programs helped Century Building Solutions become better at job costing, which “makes or breaks you in construction," he said. “The more effort you put into the job costing, the smarter you can be going into bidding."

Because he and his team were able to solve a large problem, he said his investment in the programs were worth the expense. “Initially you blanch at the cost of technology and then once you get over the initial adoption investment … you can't understand how you did without it," McBride said.

Establish the Right Team to Implement and Manage

Digital Clarity Group's McKnight stressed the importance of having a cohesive and well-communicated initiative around new tech implementation and maintenance.

“Any technology project is more of a change-management project than it is anything else," she said. Rather than simply adapting the technology to accommodate existing processes, companies should take the opportunity to reexamine roles and responsibilities to maximize potential and efficiency.

For businesses that don't have an in-house IT team or don't want to add headcount, utilizing remote workers is a viable option. Thanks to technology, business owners are able to hire and collaborate with remote workers to fulfill their needs without the burden of staffing full-time employees.

“Technology allows us to offer more value than the established franchises," said Shepard, whose company employs contract workers for such tasks as phone answering, initial recruiting, video production and website development. The tech services his company has adopted are affordable and easy to use, he said.

The companies that have seen technology positively impact their business clearly identify and prioritize solutions based on the greatest potential for positive impact and ensure they have the right team in place to support the proper management of the technology. These businesses also understand how their bank can support their goals throughout the change.

This report is for general information and education only and is provided as a courtesy to the clients and friends of City National Bank. It is compiled from data and sources believed to be reliable however City National Bank does not warrant that it is accurate or complete. Opinions expressed and estimates given are those of the author or the persons named or quoted as of the date of the report with no obligation to update or notify of inaccuracy or change. This report is not a recommendation of any web application, website, technology or business named and the reader must make his or her independent decisions respecting utilization of technology based on his or her own business objectives and financial situation. This report may not be reproduced, distributed or further published by any person without the written consent of City National Bank. Please cite source when quoting.