Small businesses run on technology, whether small business owners know it or not. With customers and competitors alike becoming accustomed to tech-enabled businesses, it’s important that small businesses in 2018 know how to leverage the tools at their fingertips. If small businesses fail to keep up, they risk being out-performed by other stores and leaving a trail of dissatisfied customers in their wake.
Fortunately, there’s more to small business technology than the imminent threat of danger. Every year, more and more business practices are going digital, saving entrepreneurs and business owners crucial time in their days. From keeping your business running using an iPhone to getting new customers in the door, technology means opportunity.
New to the tech-enabled small business world? These are the most important small business technologies to start using in 2018.
Only 71% of small businesses have a website – a surprising statistic considering the web-focused nature of modern consumers. It’s now easier than ever to get a website off the ground, even if you don’t have a background in coding or design. Entrepreneur-friendly solutions exist in the form of website builders, tools that offer pre-made templates that you can customize and add content (text, pictures, videos, pricing) to without ever looking at a line of code.
Some website builders also help walk you through the process of purchasing and connecting a domain for your website. If you’re choosing a website builder for your business, you should consider the complexity of the site you’re trying to build, your level of customization, and the time you care to put into creating a unique website.
Whether your customers pay in-store, online, or both, it’s important that they’re able to pay. Over the last several years, the in-store payment experience has become smoother. The advent of the tablet as a cash register and the decline of cash have, in many cases, made it easier for customers to quickly swipe their credit cards and move on. (Coincidentally, this has made it harder for them to reconsider their purchases as they stand at your counter.) Consider whether your business can go cashless. The price you may pay in credit card fees will likely be made up for by your customers’ happiness and returns to your store.
Your website should also cater to your customers’ payment preferences. Make sure you have enabled PayPal or credit card payments for your products that are quick and easy for customers go through. You website checkout process should be quick and easy, and it shouldn’t induce any buyers’ remorse.
If you’re on the go, consider a payment solution that works with your smartphone. Instead of expecting your customers to bring cash to your farmers market stall or write a check for your services, make their lives easier by swiping their credit card regardless of location.
Tools that Take You Mobile
Speaking of being on the go, there are more ways to take your business on the road than just a mobile payment solution. Download apps that sync your email, to-do list, inventory, and more to your phone directly. If you sell your products and services by visiting your clients, having tools on your phone that update you on your customers, their payments, and your next steps in your day will save you time.
Every growing business requires marketing, but that doesn’t mean you have to do it all by hand. Marketing automation tools exist to help you determine what to post and when on social media accounts, and they can support you in sharing great content with your network. To be clear: this doesn’t mean that you should completely outsource your marketing efforts to robots. Humans, after all, want to know that you’re human, too. However, marketing automation tools like schedulers, content calendars, and content curation tools can make your life easier.
In addition to marketing automation tools, you can also use online design tools that offer templates (similar to website builders) for your social media, website, or even print promotions. Tools like this offer ample resources for you to hone your own skills in addition to templates so that one day you won’t need to rely on them at all!
Finally, you can also use platform-specific tools to analyze your success in social media, search marketing, and website success. By monitoring metrics and your marketing success, you’ll start gaining the insights you need to grow your audience quickly and efficiently.
Email Marketing Tools
Email marketing remains one of the most important tools for small businesses. Using tools online and in your store (like your point of sale system) to collect email addresses is a good way to grow a mailing list of current and potential customers.
As you grow your list, email marketing tools that offer (again) templates are a great way to craft a compelling, easy-to-read email that entices customers to buy. Use email marketing tools to share information about upcoming sales, company updates, or great content that they might find interesting.
It’s important to know where your business stands financially, but it’s not always easy to do so. Bookkeeping software ranges in levels of complexity and automation, so make sure you find a software that matches your skill level and need for data. Consider whether you’re hoping to connect your software directly to your bank accounts, whether you’ll be categorizing each of your expenses manually, and whether you’ll be using financial reports to guide your business in the future.
If you’re lucky (meaning, if you do enough research), you’ll be able to find a software that takes the majority of bookkeeping off of your plate.
Make sure you have the right tools to communicate with. Although it seems straightforward, your business needs a telephone number and email address. Customers must be able to find you when they look. Think critically about the hardware that comes with this, though. You may not find everything you need on an outdated “dumb phone”, so consider in investing in an up-to-date smartphone that offers you the functionality to move around with your company. For in-office technology, make sure your computer hardware is reliable and up-to-date.
If you’re managing a team, consider what technologies will enable their success, too. Using internal chat tools, for example, is a great way to make sure your employees can ask questions and give updates quickly.
Finally, you may want to join the increasing number of small businesses relying on cloud-based technology. By storing your information in the cloud (I.e. not on your personal computer that could crash or have water spilled on it at any moment), you make your crucial business documents and tools accessible from anywhere, just using a secure password. Rather than hosting your tools and info directly on your local hardware, centralize as much of it as possible in the cloud. Just be sure to find a cloud service provider that is highly secure. That way, you won’t have to worry about ever losing your information.
If you don’t yet have these technologies (or even if you do), make sure you put a plan in place to update. The time you’ll save by leveraging technology will far outweigh the time it takes you to get started.