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Small Business Technology Trends for 2021

Andrew Martins
Andrew Martins
Staff Writer

Tech trends that can benefit small businesses include further adoption of big tech and AI, new HR-related technology, digital healthcare, and small business cybersecurity.

As the owner of a small business, you should always be on the lookout for ways to improve your company. Whether you've just launched your startup or you're trying to keep your business at the forefront of innovation, you can take advantage of the new technology constantly being created. We've highlighted some of the new ways you can grow your market, improve efficiency and protect your company. 

Further adoption of big tech and AI

Today's business world is highly connected, with technology playing a major role in nearly every company's daily operations. As our smartphones get smarter and broadband internet broadens its horizons to more rural parts of the country, 2021 should be the year that more businesses become willing to embrace big data and artificial intelligence.

For Biju Dominic, chairman and chief evangelist at Fractal Analytics, the widespread adoption of high-tech business solutions was inevitable, given how quickly we as a society integrated tech into our daily lives. Thanks to that level of integration, he expects businesses will use tech to highly personalize how they interact with customers.

"The dramatic increase in the use of smartphones will accelerate the trend towards mass personalization," Dominic told business.com. "Mass personalization at scale is possible only through AI. AI will move into new orbits to unearth individual-level insights and also to enable personal, real-time micro-communication with the target audience."

As big tech begins using the data it collects to tailor customer experiences for all clients, artificial intelligence will fill in the gaps.

"As AI makes rapid strides into unsupervised learning, one-shot learning and artificial general intelligence, the field will seek inspiration and validation from system neuroscience and computational neuroscience," Dominic said. "The interaction between the fields of AI and neuroscience will help the rapid growth of both these fields of knowledge."

Influencer marketing

Scrolling through your social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, you are almost certain to find promotional and branded content. Today's highest-paid athletes in the world, such as Cristiano Ronaldo, make more on Instagram than on the field. The technique of using a big name to sell something is not new, but social media platforms allow ads to appear on users' screens with far more ease and subtlety than traditional advertising. Instead of your company hiring a celebrity to appear in a commercial, that celebrity only needs to post online about the benefits of your product or service. This new age of advertising presents enormous benefits for your company if utilized well.

So why is influencer outreach important? It's simple: The experience is personalized. You have no choice when you're watching TV as to what pops up during a commercial break. But on social media, consumers have chosen what to follow. Maybe they follow someone because they appreciate their taste or lifestyle, or because they know them personally. When a promotion comes from someone the consumer has elected to see in their social media feeds, all of these attributes cultivate deeper trust toward the brand.

If you're a small business, you probably can't afford the assistance of celebrities or high-profile influencers to grow your product, and that's OK. Micro-influencers (think under 100,000 followers) often have a more loyal fan base and higher levels of engagement. Furthermore, those who follow micro-influencers are more likely to share a niche interest, and with proper market research, you can reach an audience that will be interested in your brand.

Keeping your brand active on social media is also important for those who might discover or further explore your business on such platforms. Just like when you meet someone new and look them up on social media, consumers are constantly checking out new businesses through social media.

Digital healthcare

There are several benefits of the rise of digital healthcare that all small business owners should know about. Not only can it save time and money, but digital healthcare solutions enable fundamental changes to the job market that directly benefit small businesses.

There's never a moment to waste when you're running a small business. Digital healthcare is an affordable way for employees to stay healthy while maintaining efficiency. In the past, if an employee fell sick or experienced any number of conditions, they would have to take time off work to drive to the doctor's office, sit around waiting for their appointment, see the nurse, and sit around some more before finally being treated. This is all changing, as new telehealth companies like PlushCare offer remote services.

This means an employee can see the doctor from their office or home, usually through video. This could possibly expand into virtual reality and augmented reality in the future. Online doctor appointments typically last 15 minutes, with patients receiving a diagnosis and treatment plan, including any necessary prescriptions. By seeing a doctor virtually, employees save substantial time that can be spent working. Furthermore, remote appointments are not limited to a single doctor's hours, and your employees will find it easy to book an appointment with a remote doctor before or after their workday. These appointments are cheaper for your business and your employees while also providing instant access to care.

Digital healthcare solutions make healthcare more affordable for the growing workforce of contractors and freelancers who forgo employer-based insurance. More people can now feel comfortable giving up the comforts of traditional employment, such as employer-provided health insurance, because they have an affordable alternative in digital healthcare. This is highly beneficial to small businesses that cannot afford to give their workers health insurance. Having access to a network of contractors and freelancers saves your company money but also allows you to hire the people necessary to get the job done at a reduced cost. If you are hiring via the gig economy, talk to your contractors about digital healthcare as an affordable healthcare solution, especially if you are not offering health insurance to these workers.

Human resources tech

Thanks to the COVID 19 pandemic, companies have had to change how they do things. One area that's seen significant tech adoption in recent years – and at an accelerated rate in 2020 – is human resources. HR professionals have had to adapt to a large portion of American workers doing their jobs from home. According to Rhiannon Staples, CMO of Hibob, that change could mean a larger role for HR in the workplace tech stack.

"HR leaders are beginning to look beyond tech as a system of record, but instead seeking a system of engagement, and HR tech tools that serve not only HR teams, but also the organization as a whole – used by everyone from HR to employees to managers and executives," Staples told business.com.

Moving to a more dedicated HR platform, she said, could not only help companies deal with the tail end of the COVID-19 pandemic but also modernize HR departments' responses to future crises or make remote work easier to maintain each year.

Another area that a more centralized HR platform could help in 2021 is remote onboarding, as it could still be months before it's safe to go back to a semblance of normalcy. Since companies will still hire new people over time, Staples said 2021 could be the year that more businesses rely on tech to ease newcomers into their new roles. [Does your business need HR software? Check out our recommendations for the best HR software for small businesses.]

"Technology that ensures every step of the onboarding experience is planned and orchestrated professionally will help companies make sure their new team members feel welcome," she said.

Staples believes businesses will invest more resources into technology that helps people understand their company's organizational chart so they can familiarize themselves with the relevant connections they need to make outside of their immediate team.

Video conferencing

Among its many other claims to fame, 2020 will be remembered as the year "Zoom," as in the video conferencing platform, became a verb. The two COVID-19 vaccines are expected to take a while to reach critical mass, so businesses are likely to continue depending on platforms like Zoom to stay connected.

"The pandemic has taught us that we can be productive remotely, but we still need human connection," said Mike Morini, CEO of WorkForce Software. "The video connection has brought our virtual teams closer together, and people are becoming more laid back about what they look like on camera and just being themselves. As some people start going back to the office, hopefully, in 2021, we will want to maintain this closer connection with our virtual colleagues, so I see the increased use of video as an ongoing trend moving forward."

This continued reliance on digital connectivity could force companies to invest in upgrades to their technological infrastructure. Along with changes to how hourly, onsite workforces will have to be handled in a post-pandemic world, Morini said, this will require accommodations for long-term remote and hybrid work models.

"The pandemic has added new safety requirements, unpredictable staff availability, and changing regulations, which are driving businesses to upgrade their antiquated tools," he said. "Companies need technology that can support their growing requirements and evolve with their business. The pandemic has increased the adoption of new digital technologies, which can save organizations money by increasing efficiencies and improve the experience of their employees."

Cybersecurity

The importance of cybersecurity cannot be understated. As we usher in 2021, the operations of big and small businesses alike will continue to move online. New software solutions are being developed to unify the functions of companies, allowing smoother communication across integrated platforms.

While this process is great for business overall, such centralization also increases the need for cybersecurity measures. According to research from BullGuard, nearly 60% of small business owners believe it is unlikely they will be the victim of a cyberattack. Unfortunately, 61% of cyberattacks are launched against small businesses, and the average cost of a small hack is $86,500, according to internet security firm Kaspersky Labs. While such a cost might not hurt a major corporation, it could be devastating for your small business.

You can take these steps to protect your business from cyberattacks:

  • Regularly update your software. Installing new software as it becomes available is critical to protect your data. Delaying even the most routine updates can have catastrophic effects.
  • Ensure point-of-sale systems are safe. Businesses that perform transactions online should invest in end-to-end encryption software. This not only safeguards your business, but also protects your consumers and their trust in your services.
  • Teach employees how to spot malware and phishers. You must be proactive in the protection of your company, which includes looking inward at risks for human error. Hold a seminar with your employees to discuss how dangerous malware might manifest.
  • Hire an IT expert. If your company can afford it, hiring an IT expert is a must as the world continually shifts into the digital age. As a business owner, you don't have the time or knowledge to do everything on your own, and no one can help keep your tech safe better than an IT expert.

You can set your business apart by being in the know about the different technological channels you can utilize in 2021. Promoting and growing your brand via influencer marketing grants you access to a concentrated market of potential consumers. Maintaining efficiency and affordability while keeping your employees healthy sets you up to have highly satisfied workers for less financial investment. A cybersecurity approach that protects your company against data breaches and hacks ensures all aspects of your business are high-functioning. Small businesses with a comprehensive approach and knowledge of the latest tech trends are positioned to outperform those that take a narrow approach in 2021.

James Wantuck contributed to the writing and research in this article.

Image Credit: Halfpoint / Getty Images
Andrew Martins
Andrew Martins
business.com Staff
Andrew Martins has written more than 300 articles for business.com and Business News Daily focused on the tools and services that small businesses and entrepreneurs need to succeed. Andrew writes about office hardware such as digital copiers, multifunctional printers and wide format printers, as well as critical technology services like live chat and online fax. Andrew has a long history in publishing, having been named a four-time New Jersey Press Award winner.