By Beverly A. Prohaska
Small business is the backbone of the U.S. economy and the driving force behind economic growth in our region. Thus, to say we are dependent on the success of small business is an understatement. They are our favorite restaurants and coffee shops, where we go for local services, and are run by our friends and neighbors. In short, they are at the foundation of our community.
Despite this, small business has been on the decline for some time, struggling to compete with larger enterprises and tech giants. Among the many challenges that small companies face is knowing how to keep up with the ever-changing world of technology. At the same time, tech is also the best opportunity for small business to compete and to accelerate growth. This means they must understand where to invest in technology to realize the benefits and to prevent it from holding them back.
This all may seem daunting. After all, the Internet of Things, 3D Printing, Robotics, Advanced Analytics, Augmented Reality, and the “gig” economy are just some of the examples of where technology is disrupting the status quo. The good news for small businesses is that they don’t have to invent the next big thing. Implementing the right technology can make small business nimble and more competitive.
The important part is to get started. Here’s how:
- Leverage affordable, easy-to-use technologies where small investments can reap big rewards. WiFi has turned coffee shops into office space and homes into classrooms. Etsy and eBay are just two examples where small businesses can be big in ecommerce.
- Make the most of the “freemium” software movement. These offerings allow you to use cloud-based software for free while your business grows. If and when you need more features, you can upgrade to paid versions. Google, Zoom, Slack, Calendly and others all offer free, limited feature options for small- to-medium sized companies or a team.
- Rent out the Backoffice. QuickBooks from Intuit is the market leader but Xero has been gaining ground, with great customer support and strong mobile products at a lower price point. Expensify, ZenPayroll, and Zenefits all integrate with both products.
- Implement technology to enable remote work. We all know that the best companies have the best people. Small business owners should be asking if offering remote work options will allow them to attract and retain top talent – who may desire or even require flexible work options.
- In addition to your website, get Social. During the pandemic, time spent on social platforms has increased exponentially. You’ll want to take advantage of this as over half of consumers made purchases based on social ads in the past month, according to Forbes magazine.
- Take advantage of online marketplace apps. Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and OfferUp all enable quick buying and selling of almost anything. Combined with digital wallets like PayPal and Venmo removes the risk of not getting paid.
What’s the next step for small business?
To succeed, small business must make better use of technology than the competition. The combination of cloud, data, social, and mobile offers small business opportunities to be agile and competitive by investing in technologies that can be implemented quickly and relatively inexpensively. If done well, small business can build a customer experience that is difficult for larger companies to achieve. What’s important is knowing how to capitalize on the technology and, as importantly, the willingness to try.