Are you feeling overwhelmed by business technology and wondering how your small business can best benefit from new tech tools like apps, cloud computing and mobile devices? The latest Small Business Social Series video sponsored by Bank of America, How Small Businesses Can Take Advantage of the Biggest Technology Developments, livestreamed on November 5, covered just this topic.
Moderator Carol Roth and small business experts David Solis, National Sales Executive, Bank of America Small Business; Jason Teichman, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Web.com; and Steve Strauss, small business columnist for USA Today, shared their insights and tips on how small business owners can implement business technology to increase sales and profits. Here are some of the takeaways.
Q: What are the most basic technologies that small businesses can implement to make a big difference?
- If you only do one thing, build a website. A website is essential for credibility and legitimacy today. “The number-one place prospects go to find out about a business, learn about its products and services or figure out how to get to the business is through its website,” Teichman warns. “If you don’t have one you’re missing out.”
- Make your business life easier by finding the right apps. “There are so many apps, it can be overwhelming,” Strauss says. “Do some basic research, find out what other [businesspeople] are using, and try them out.” Finding just a few apps you like will help you save time, save money and be more efficient.
- Try social media. Pick the social channels where your customers spend time. This not only cements relationships with customers, but also exposes your business to others like them, so you can expand your fan base. Consistency is key: “Social media is a great way to get your name out there, but you must maintain it effectively in order to enjoy a high ROI,” says Solis.
Q: Once you’ve covered these three basics, how do you take business technology to the next level? What are the emerging technologies that can give a small business a big edge?
- Mobile matters. Tablets and smartphones provide flexibility and freedom to run your business, as well as enabling your customers to find you in real-time and act quickly. “Two years ago, the number of searches on mobile devices exceeded the number on desktops for the first time,” notes Teichman, who says it’s essential to make mobility part of your online presence.
- Put your head in the cloud. Cloud computing provides the ability to access technology services on demand at a moment’s notice. “The cloud is changing how businesses big and small are doing business,” says Strauss.
- Think outside the box. Strauss points to 3D printing as an exciting technology that can bring ideas to fruition faster than ever before, providing the opportunity to create very customized products for customers.
Q: How can small businesses embrace big technological trends, such as big data, on a smaller scale?
- “Focus on the data that’s most relevant to you, allows you to understand more about your customers and is actionable,” Solis advises. “For example, Bank of America’s new Clover system not only takes payments, but can also collect data that helps you understand your customers better.”
- “Keep it simple,” Teichman agrees. “Focus on: ‘Where am I making money? How much money is my website generating? How much money is social media generating?’ That way you know where to invest more or less.”
- The big data a small business should be concerned with is their financials and their customers, Strauss says. “Talk to your customers, find out what they’re thinking and quantify it. [Look at] your website analytics.”
Q: How can small businesses without a dedicated IT staff make sure business technology isn’t a drain on their time, money and resources?
- Get help. “Hiring a part-time IT person or even an intern lets you concentrate on finding customers, making sales and growing your business,” says Strauss.
- Partner up. Partnering with a company that has core competence in technology, like Web.com, lets you focus on running your business.
- Do your due diligence. Teichman advises spending the same amount of time evaluating potential technology partners as you would evaluating a potential doctor, attorney or accountant.
Q: How do you know when it’s time to upgrade your technology, and how do you do it without breaking the bank?
- Run the numbers. “Speak with technology consultants to understand what the tools will deliver for you. Also explore the best way to pay for it—financing? Leasing? Speak with your banker about this,” Solis advises.
- Think of it as an investment, not an expense. “Will it help you make money, save money or save time?” says Strauss. “If the answer is yes, then the technology is worth it. Yes, it will cost upfront, but in the long run it [pays off].”
- Have a plan. Invest in technology that will further your business plan—but make sure you also have a plan for how to get the most value out of the technology, Teichman cautions. Partnering with someone who has technology expertise can help in this area.
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Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media and custom content company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship. Email Rieva at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Google+ and Twitter.com/Rieva, and visit her website, SmallBizDaily.com, to get the scoop on business trends and sign up for Rieva’s free TrendCast reports.