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Overcome digital literacy challenges in your small business

Unlock the power of digital literacy: A guide for SMBs.

6 min read

Digital TechnologyMarketing

Small retail business owner


This post is sponsored by Adobe.

It is becoming increasingly challenging for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) to remain digitally literate in today’s fast-paced digital landscape. Digital transformation is hindered by socioeconomic factors and continued reliance on old ways of working, including poor technology and paper-based processes. Adobe’s Future of Time Study of over 1,000 global small business employees found that just over half (55 percent) said that at least half of their company’s work is still paper based. 

With many small businesses still relying on outdated processes, it’s no surprise that workers’ digital literacy is struggling to keep up. And with technology advancements like generative AI reshaping the workplace, there’s the possibility of falling too far behind to catch up. 

Most SMBs recognize the value of promoting digital literacy and understand the need to invest in new technologies, but few are equipped with the resources to do so effectively.

“Technology is a top priority in everything I do, helping me streamline operations, increase efficiency, and reduce costs. As a Neurodiverse small business founder, I use technology to stay on track and not lose focus,” said Peter Shankman, Founder of Shank Minds. “By using cloud-based software, social media, and e-commerce platforms, I can improve my customer reach, enhance my online presence, manage, and analyze data better, as well as boost sales. Overall, technology helps me stay ahead of the curve and keep achieving long-term success.”

The digital divide

What’s the digital divide? Look at it this way: a near majority (85 percent) of SMB workers know that technology plays a critical role in helping them work faster and smarter, so that they can focus on more impactful work. And yet, 88 percent say poor technologies are hurting their company’s productivity. There’s a barrier between technology and productivity. 

The digital divide stems from three roadblocks: availability, affordability, and adoption. Small businesses don’t have the cash flow that enterprises do, so often, it comes down to affordability. But as all leaders know, there’s an important cost and benefit scenario to consider. 

More than half of SMB workers (58 percent) say they lose between two and four hours a day in productivity due to bad technology. Those hours add up. For example, take the documents process. Workers use documents daily to create contracts, collaborate on marketing materials, take and fill customer or partner orders, etc. If an employee is losing 10-20 hours per week on inefficient technology, they could be missing out on sales contracts, timely marketing campaigns, new customer orders, partner invoices, and more. Late fees or lost revenue directly affect a business’ bottom line, not to mention reputation if word gets out about bad or slow service. 

Small business leaders must weigh the cost and benefits of efficient workplace technology and consider the financial impact of quicker, more efficient operations. Mika Kleinschmidt, a Tampa realtor, designer and HGTV star, works with her husband, developer Brian Kleinschmidt, to build dream homes for clients on HGTV’s 100 Day Dream Home.

Along with their Dirt 2 Design team, they work with home buyers, contractors, and vendors to bring a home build to life seamlessly. Using Adobe Acrobat, the team streamlines communication by sharing design inspiration, mood boards, client invoices, contracts, and proposals to stay efficient, ensuring no time is wasted to meet the 100-day deadline.

Overcoming digital literacy challenges

Adoption is another roadblock that leads to the digital divide. More than half (52 percent) of SMB workers take personal responsibility for their productivity, but they need the tools to do so efficiently. Workers often struggle to use technology and opt to give up entirely and revert to the process that’s familiar – which makes the investment useless. 

SMBs need to think from the top down and become role models when it comes to digital literacy. It is important that they demonstrate that they are keen on driving change and interested in doing so.

Small business leaders can improve adoption by nurturing the digital literacy of their workforce with these strategies, and it starts with getting over the fear: 

  • Overcome a fear of technology. The right technology will allow a business to grow, to become more competitive and to develop the skills of the workforce.
  • Engage with employees. Before solving a digital literacy gap, it’s critical to assess what areas of the workforce need help. Is it marketing? Is it communication? Is it basic computing? SMBs need to engage with employees to assess their levels and needs and then build a plan.
  • Focus on employee training. Empower employees by giving them the knowledge to perform their roles more confidently and effectively by making it fun, speak with employees to get ideas and understand pain points.
  • Offer employee incentives and rewards. Support training through incentives or rewards and recognition to encourage the workforce to improve the process.

Co-founder of Rewired Talent agency Jason Tartick recalls when he and his partner first launched, they used “spreadsheets and sticky notes” for contracts and invoices that were vulnerable to human error. By using Adobe Acrobat, they minimize the risk of human error when signing contracts and deals.

 “We originally got Acrobat for e-signatures, because such a big part of our operations involves getting contracts signed and invoices out the door,” explains Tartick. “But we realized that Adobe Acrobat has many other functionalities. It’s truly an all-in-one platform that we can use for every stage of our business.”

The path to digital literacy

Maintaining digital literacy is crucial for SMBs to thrive in the modern business landscape. By recognizing their challenges and taking proactive steps toward digital transformation, SMBs can bridge the digital divide and unlock new opportunities for growth, efficiency, and success. 

Learn about the types of apps small business owners should look for to enhance productivity here

About Claire Darley: Claire is a transformational leader. Through her 30+ years in Tech & Telecommunications, Claire has demonstrated the ability to drive big-scale change through collaboration, pragmatism, and creating true “fellowship.” She currently serves as Senior Vice President and runs worldwide field sales for Adobe’s Digital Media business, in addition to leading the worldwide Customer Support team who handle millions of calls and chats per year.