The 2016 Connected Small Business Report surveyed approximately 300 small business owners toward the end of 2016 to determine any insights into the trends toward technology investment in the coming year.
Many small business owners continue to rely on manual processes to store and track customer information as well as handle other aspects of business operations, while many are geared toward making further technology investments in 2017 and beyond. As the same report notes, most of these decisions are based on price, convenience, and compatibility with existing technology.
As a business owner who is most likely in charge of making all IT purchases but who also may not be an IT expert, it may be good to know the types of technology investments that may be practical for your business.
These five technological investments may be for you
#1 Financial and payment processing solutions
The payments environment is rapidly evolving as more businesses and consumers want to conduct transactions online and through their mobile devices, including billing and invoicing. The speed at which transactions can occur is also increasing with money being transferred from one account to another in a matter of seconds rather than days. The payment processing environment also has much more compliance and regulatory issues than ever before, requiring you to invest in new technology if you want to continue accepting payments from your customers.
The new technology means you are ensuring that you are PCI compliant and that you have migrated to EMV/chip reader devices. More customers from around the world may be interested in what you have to offer, so you will need to upgrade your payment processing to accommodate various countries and currencies.
#2 Automation solutions
Some of the biggest challenges for a small business owner, according to this survey, relates to not having enough time in the day and working with limited resources. The challenge could be because so many companies are still resorting to manual processes throughout their businesses when they could be investing in automating many functions. Processes can also include automating marketing and sales processes like social media posts and responses, invoicing and billing, payments, accounting and financial records, and more.
The automated solutions also integrate with other technology being used and involve cloud-based tools so you can use it anywhere. While still under development, it is also a good idea to keep an eye on chatbots and other tools that use artificial intelligence also, to automate and handle some basic, yet time-consuming, tasks related to customer services like shipping notifications, easy questions, and product and business locations.
#3 Security solutions
Although consumers and businesses love the convenience and ease of use of new technology, it is also appealing to criminals that are increasing their cyber-attacks with hacking and data breaches of all types of businesses. Going after financial and credit card data as well as personal data, these thieves cost small business owners considerable money in fees, penalties, lost revenue and tarnished brand reputation. That means it’s well worth it to focus on investing in security technology in 2017, especially concerning payment compliance and the increased need to keep transactions, databases, and other data locations and movement as secure as possible.
Technology investments should include a security assessment by a technology consultant, employee training on security issues and the signs to look out for, and software and tools that add multiple layers of security to your online and offline business. Depending on what you do, the security technology might involve adding tokenization and two-step authentication, or it could mean biometric solutions like fingerprint verification. A security assessment can help shape your security technology decisions based on your business needs and current threats.
#4 Mobile solutions
Every business article and trend report seems to be focused on mobile as the future of business growth, so it makes sense to have a mobile presence whether you are catering to businesses or consumers. That means investing in four key types of technology, depending on your industry. First, you should have an intuitive website that can notice when someone is accessing it from a mobile device so that it switches to a mobile-friendly perspective. Second, it may be of great value to invest in the development of an app, which offers numerous conveniences for your audience, including coupons and promotions, ordering, and more. Third, it’s critical to have a payment method that allows for mobile payments so that mobile device users can pay this way through a digital wallet, app, or tap and pay system. All-in-one devices are the last type of technology that you may need if you have a physical location. These devices assist you with various aspects of your operations like inventory, logistics, and more.
#5 Customer relationship management solutions
The majority of small business owners understand the value of tracking their relationship with their clients, but according to the 2016 Connected Small Business Report, only 12% use a CRM app or cloud-based system while only 9% use this technology for marketing. However, this is an excellent investment, considering the ability to personalize and customize so many sales and marketing strategies to enhance your efforts while also saving considerable resources. There are all types of CRM solutions designed to fit different sized businesses and industries.
Take your time and do your research on what kind of technology is available for your business in each of these areas. Compare solutions, reviews tools, and get advice from other small business owners or consultants on the best fit for your company based on your needs and budget.
Technology will only develop further, so now is the time to upgrade your own systems and watch your business reap the return on investment that some of this new technology can deliver to you.
About the Author:
John Rampton is an entrepreneur, investor, online marketing guru, and startup enthusiast. He is the founder of the online invoicing company Due. John is best known as an entrepreneur and connector. He was recently named #2 on Top 50 Online Influencers in the World by Entrepreneur Magazine and a Blogging Expert by Time. He currently advises several companies in the San Francisco Bay area.