Small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) haven’t always hit the employment radar in the same way that corporate conglomerates do.
Larger companies have traditionally been more likely to attract employees because of things like higher pay and benefits, attractive office buildings, and technological innovation.
As with many things being disrupted lately, SMBs are experiencing a lot of change too. They’re becoming an employer of choice due to their attractiveness to the millennial generation who either want to work for one or start their own. It makes sense that this generation born into a technological world and growing up in a shaky economy would be more likely to start their own businesses than their predecessors who put more trust in larger employers.
Couple this generation’s tech-savvy and entrepreneurial spirit with the ease and availability of software as a service (SaaS), and it’s no wonder that SMBs have begun to embrace technology in a big way. So, what tech investments are budget-conscious small businesses making? Here are some of the most critical.
Making Mobile a Must
With so many businesses having and growing their online presence, it’s important to have a mobile option so as not to risk losing customers or losing out to mobile-first websites on search engines. More than 50% of global web traffic comes from a smartphone, which means it’s essential that businesses are mobile-friendly. SMBs should be sure to incorporate mobile technology, including websites, apps, payments, and the use of all-in-one devices.
Going mobile doesn’t have to be a huge time or capital investment. Many content management systems like WordPress or Shopify offer mobile-ready technology where companies can build custom websites that look professional but don’t cost a bunch. And mobile app technology has moved commercial as well. With the help of a mobile app as a service tool, SMBs can use visual drag and drop builders to quickly put together a working mobile app without hiring a developer.
The adoption of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software and marketing automation software that integrates directly with the company’s technology has changed the marketing game for small businesses. Companies can now communicate and foster relationships with their customers seamlessly, at the right time, and without a lot of human manual labor.
Perhaps more important than the ease of use of these products, CRMs and MA tools can target marketing to reach the right people and offer exactly what that customer wants based on buying history and habits. This means that marketing efforts and resources are spent where they will have the most impact. And since the marketing process is largely automatic, SMBs don’t necessarily need to hire a large team of marketing pros.
Another cost and space saver for SMBs is cloud storage. Rather than housing and maintaining server rooms and hardware onsite–where they are subject to natural disasters and the uptime schedule of available tech services, many companies have moved their storage to the cloud. This move brings many advantages, including the requirement of a smaller IT team to maintain the company’s data, and storage limits and pricing can be adjusted monthly depending on the company’s changing needs.
Even more important to SMBs in today’s economy is the safety and cybersecurity afforded by cloud storage facilities. The big cloud storage companies like Amazon and Google have the resources to provide inexpensive storage services with enterprise-level security and backups. Look for features like server redundancy, encryption in transit and in place, and emergency backup plans.
Team Collaboration Tools
Collaboration tools are a great way for teams to stay in touch from anywhere, anytime. When so many SMBs have a virtual or partially virtual workforce, having a communication tool that ensures everyone stays connected saves time and money on travel, keeps projects moving along on time, and reduces the likelihood of someone dropping the ball because they were uninformed.
Consider subscribing to an instant messaging service, video chat, VoIP, and project management software that includes document storage and collaboration features. Look for real-time document collaboration, video conferencing, and task and notification management tools to help the entire team stay on the same page and on task.
Business Intelligence (BI) shouldn’t be limited to the Fortune 500. Its benefits are many, including cleaner data, enabling better decision-making, more efficient processes and potentially significant cost savings. Consider starting out with a dashboarding tool that connects with other business software to visualize progress toward company goals, and work your way up to a more advanced tool that provides predictive analytics to help your team work smarter.
It’s especially important for SMBs to look for BI tools that integrate directly with their current technology including CRMs, ERPs, human resources software, field service software, and customer service help desks. These tools run the core of the business, and direct connections to the BI tool will mean less time spent aggregating and cleansing data and more time digging into company insights.
A hot issue these days, cybersecurity is bound to remain one of the largest areas of concern for small and large companies alike. As SMBs continue to ramp up their use of technology, they’re going to want to be able to protect their data. Find security products that detect threats quickly and respond to a security breach as soon as possible.
If hiring an internal IT security specialist is out of your price range, consider contracting with an IT consulting service that will manage the most critical security points. Have them help your team set up basic security measures like two-factor authentication for company accounts, VPNs for secure internet use when out of the office, and data encryption for sensitive customer and financial information.
The days of setting up shop with a cash register are long gone. With everyone wanting the option to pay with mobile and fewer people carrying cash, bulky and expensive POS hardware that require a team of technicians to install and maintain is becoming increasingly less common.
Everyone from our favorite food trucks to our hairdressers now provides the ability to pay via tablet or phone, meaning that if you’re not doing this, you may begin to frustrate or even lose customers. Most POS solutions provide both hardware and software for payment processing, and many include or integrate directly with valuable employee resources like scheduling and time tracking software.
The rise of cybersecurity issues, the use of data technology, and a more mobile world, have all changed the way we do business. As small to mid-sized companies continue to grow, it’s imperative that business owners look for technology solutions that combine tools, make their jobs easier, and ensure security for the company. Consider making these critical tech investments to ensure their position in the marketplace.