A competitive small business environment coupled with what seems like an avalanche of new technology products and services can make any small business owner feel overwhelmed. Which types of new hardware or new apps are game-changing enough to purchase right now, and which can wait till the technology matures a bit?
It isn't easy for a small business owner to know which new tech provides a return on investment and which falls into the category of "nice, but not necessary." We spoke with Brian Jackson of ITBusiness.ca about the best ways for small business owners to keep up with new technology without feeling like they have to hop on every tech trend bandwagon.
Tech news and non-tech news have both given heavy coverage to "the cloud" and how it can help businesses of every size. Is it time for small business owners to make that switch to cloud-based storage and applications, or can this wait until the business's existing hardware needs to be updated?
Whether a small business switches to a cloud-based technology or not is still best evaluated on a case-by-case basis. It's one more option that businesses should be aware of and evaluate. The advantage of cloud services for a small business is they don't require any upfront capital costs for buying hardware, and are also very easy to maintain. Most cloud services require paying a monthly subscription fee. There may be some cases where a business wants to maintain total ownership over their own data locally, or could save money from a total cost of ownership perspective by doing an on-premises solution.
Since the Great Recession, the United States has produced a large number of what are called "accidental entrepreneurs." These are the people who started working as freelancers or contractors out of necessity and have found they don't want to go back to being on a corporate payroll. How can these approximately 19 million new entrepreneurs find the tech solutions that will help them the most as they go it alone?
There's never been more Web services and software solutions that cater to personal productivity needs and small business challenges. Look to tech-focused B2B publications to get an objective assessment of what technology can help - or hurt - your business and what trends you should be aware of.
With some small businesses, it is the customer's technical inclination that prompts them to try new technology rather than the business's need for something faster or something new. How can the small business owner gauge what customers are using and what their business should adopt to better serve tech-savvy customers?
Talk to your customers and get feedback about what you're doing. Don't be afraid to experiment with new technologies, but constantly track their adoption and ask customers what they think of them. If there's an opportunity to test something before rolling it out as a new standard for your business, take it. Look at how your customers are behaving and adapt to their needs, rather than expecting they will adapt to the methods you give them to use.
How can small businesses avoid wasting time on tech that may be a passing fad? For instance, in June, Businessweek.com had an article about QR code fatigue. A few years ago, people frequently scanned QR codes out of curiosity. But after discovering that most QR codes simply go to a brand's website, a lot of people decided that scanning a QR code isn't worth getting the phone out of their pocket for. Is there a good way for business owners to separate fleeting fads from genuine tech trends?
Think about what your core business competency is and what your main value as a product or service to customers is. If a technology doesn't help in that mission, then you can probably ignore it safely. It can be hard to predict what tech trends are fads or here to stay, but you know your business and you know what will add value for your customers.
Right now, the three hottest tech areas are social networking, mobile applications, and cloud-based solutions. Do you have any predictions or see any "game-changers" on the horizon that everyone will be talking about in a couple of years?
One trend that's being discussed more often now is "big data". This refers to looking to a large data set involving millions of information points and extracting some intelligence out of it to make business decisions. Thanks to more data being created in digital customer transactions and more available computer power to analyze them, businesses can now analyze behavior on a mass scale and adapt their practices based on the results.
New technology is more available and affordable for small start-ups than ever before. From check-in apps to mobile VoIP, businesses have almost unlimited ways to connect with customers and empower employees. When faced with an enormous tech buffet, it's easy to succumb and buy tech products and services you don't really need. Taking a long view when it comes to tech will help you keep the impulse expenditures to a minimum and focus your attention on tech that actually pays off for your business.
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