How Technology Is Empowering Small Businesses to Thrive
The technology landscape is accelerating at an ever-quickening pace—and with dramatic impact. It’s reshaping customer expectations, changing employee requirements and attitudes, and disrupting business practices, models and entire industries.
It’s often tough for small businesses (1–100 employees) to keep up in this fast-changing digital world. But those that put technology to work can reap big advantages over less agile peers. Amidst the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, small businesses with digital transformation initiatives underway were three times more likely to report year-over-year revenue increases from 2019 to 2020 than small businesses with no plans—and more than twice as likely to expect revenues to rise in 2021.
Automate and future-proof with cloud business solutions
Cloud-based business solutions can help you take the friction out of getting things done so you can focus on growth. Even the smallest company can take advantage of powerful cloud applications to automate business processes, get organized and operate more professionally. The cloud model offers flexibility, ease of use, speedier deployment, and financial and budgeting benefits over traditional on-premises software. You can use cloud solutions to replace clunky spreadsheets and manual processes with automated solutions for almost any business function.
The benefits don’t end with automation. Cloud solutions offer a consistent, real-time view of the business, so everyone can stay up to date with the same information—anytime, anywhere—and often on mobile devices, as well as on the desktop. Vendors are also turbo-charging their solutions with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) capabilities to improve efficiency and to supply intelligence to help identify trends, spot anomalies, anticipate customer needs and more.
Here are a few key areas where cloud solutions can help almost any company improve performance.
About two-thirds of SMBs are still using spreadsheets, old desktop software or brittle client-server solutions to manage the books.
If you are, it’s probably time to switch to a modern, cloud accounting solution. Whether you’re a confirmed solopreneur or on the fast-growth track, there’s a solution for you, including FreshBooks, QuickBooks Self-Employed, and Wave for very small businesses; Xero, QuickBooks Online, and Zoho Books for growing companies; and Sage Intacct and NetSuite for rapidly scaling businesses.
These solutions let you keep close tabs on cash flow, automate repetitive processes, such as billing and expense reporting, and keep your books shipshape should you want to apply for a loan.
If you don’t want to do this yourself, no problem. Online bookkeeping services from Bench, in Dinero, QuickBooks Live and others can do it for you.
Online payment apps—from PayPal to Square to Venmo—are becoming essential to getting paid and getting paid faster. If you don’t accept them, customers may shop elsewhere: According to a report by Accenture, digital payments will account for almost 420 billion transactions, valued at $7 trillion, by 2023. With this payment method you get paid right away (unlike with most credit card transactions or invoices). These apps also help speed up ecommerce checkouts, reducing the odds that a customer will abandon their shopping cart.
If you need to manage payments in conjunction with other processes—including orders, inventory, loyalty programs and more—consider a full POS system. Companies including FIS, Shopify, Square, Clover, QuickBooks and others let you easily process credit cards, checks and invoices and others.
Relying on email to share and collaborate is outdated and inefficient. Online file sharing systems help you to stay organized, find what you need when you need it, and maintain version control. Solutions from Dropbox, Google Drive, Zoho Workdrive, and others let you share documents internally and with external clients, partners and other stakeholders to keep everyone in the loop. Many offer eSignatures, so people can sign documents online, instead of using pen, paper and faxes. eSignatures can help you to close sales deals faster and speed up the signing process for complicated contracts.
Communication and collaboration
Communication is the one thing that almost every person, in any business, does every day. As your business hires more employees and contractors and adds more customers, you’ll hit a wall if you’re relying on disconnected software tools to communicate and collaborate. Unified communication-as-a-service (UCaaS) platforms combine voice, video, email, chat, text, calendars, document sharing and real-time presence into one solution. That means you can access different tools for different situations without having to jump from one application to another. UCaaS providers such as Zoom, Nextiva and Ring Central also build security features, such as multi-factor authentication, single sign-on, user access permissions and controls into their solutions.
If there’s one thing we’ve all learned during the pandemic, it is that what, where, how and why customers want to buy can change on a dime. Customers are shopping, purchasing and accessing support online, and small businesses that want to grow need to offer a great online customer experience.
Your website is often the first encounter a customer has with your business, so it’s important to keep it updated and fresh to provide a better user experience and improve traffic and conversions. Solutions from WordPress, Wix.com and Squarespace offer easy-to-use tools to build a website and/or an eCommerce storefront.
CRM vendors such as HubSpot, Keap, Salesforce and Zoho offer customer relationship management solutions specifically built for small businesses and provide email marketing, social media tools, pipeline management and customer service. These solutions help you organize and automate processes, so you can follow up quickly and stay close to your customers.
We’re all tempted to think that what we’re doing is “good enough.” But the rate and pace of technological and business change will only continue to accelerate. Now is the time to make sure that you’ve got the solutions you need to for your business to thrive.
Deciding where to start or which area to tackle next doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Evaluate which processes are creating the most drag on the business and tackle that beachhead next. For instance, if you missed an opportunity to get a PPP loan or to become a supplier to a large company due to a lack of solid financial statements, maybe you need to update your accounting solution. If you’re spending too much time chasing down clients to get paid or turning away customers because you can’t process their preferred payment method, a new payments solution is the logical next stop. And if too many leads and opportunities are falling through the cracks, it may be time for a CRM solution.
No matter where you are, stay focused on using technology to empower your business with streamlined workflows and the real-time information and visibility you need to make better decisions.