In the new digital era, running a small business can seem much more complex than it used to be. Gone are the days of simply putting an ad in the local newspaper and hoping that people will stop by your business. Now, small businesses run on digital conversions or social media.
America’s small businesses are the backbone of our culture, and we love that Farm Bureau agents are on the front lines helping protect business owners in their local communities. In honor of National Small Business Week, May 1-7, we’re taking a look at the trending technologies that are helping small businesses become successful in 2016.
If you run a small business, you’re probably constantly on the go. A study from the Small Business Authority in 2012 indicated that around 28 percent of small business owners used tablets, and another 45 percent intended to purchase one. As a small business owner, you don’t have time to sit down at a laptop, much less a desktop, to check email, meetings or inventory. Have a question? Your tablet has you covered. You can take it with you while you’re in the car (just please don’t use it while you’re driving!), at home, in the field or walking around your business.
Recently, Apple introduced its iPad Pro that offers its users a stylus. This iPad version has become wildly popular among design-based businesses, as it offers artists the opportunity to flex their artistic muscles. The drawings from the iPad are digital and can be used directly in creating advertisements and other visuals for use online.
Officially, the rebirth of the stylus should be credited to Microsoft when it released the Microsoft Pen alongside its Surface tablet. Microsoft’s stylus works almost exactly like a finger would on its touchscreen tablet. Microsoft hopes to influence the app marketplace by making it easy for developers to enable stylus-use in their code.
While the designers fawn over the Apple stylus, businessmen and women have come to love the ease with which the Microsoft stylus translates their handwritten notes into typed text.
Much like a tablet, smartphones are often a lifeline for small business owners. This technology has allowed for instant updates on the news, stocks, finances and even pop culture. Not only do smartphones provide internet access almost anywhere, but they also allow instant communication via phone calls and text messages. In 2014, it was estimated that 94 percent of small business owners used smartphone technology to run their businesses. The social apps available on smartphones also open up a wide variety of marketing options.
Unfortunately for employees, businesses are slowly moving away from providing smartphones for everyone on their payroll. In 2015, Forbes reported that around 81 percent of companies were providing company cell phones to workers, footing the bill for calls and data. From a business perspective, it was important to give employees access to emails and work-related files if they were expected to respond after-hours and on weekends. Things may be about to change; the cost associated with handing out smartphones has taken a toll on larger corporations. A Gartner report revealed that by 2017, half of employers would require workers to bring their own smartphones, and tablets and computers are next on the list of perks to go.
This simple credit card machine has been a miracle for many small business owners. Some companies rely on events like farmers’ markets and art festivals to make a profit, but before Square, consumers could only pay with cash or check. For a lot of customers, this was an inconvenience. Square (plus a tablet or smartphone) has made it possible for small businesses to accept credit cards in any setting! Not only is Square portable, business owners can receive analytics on their customers’ spending habits and also set up an online store through Square’s Marketplace.
While first-to-market, Square isn’t alone in bringing the point of sale to small businesses. Competitors like Shopify have broadened the market to become cloud-based commerce platforms that work both online and offline. Shopify is now the leading third-party online shopping cart, but it offers something Square doesn’t, a retail point-of-sale system to use in-store that connects directly with a business’s online store.
Project Management Software
It can be tough to keep the ins and outs of a small business in check. Project management software helps business owners schedule out tasks for each employee and lets them know all aspects of a project are being completed on time and within budget. Online project management software companies like Trello, Asana, Basecamp, Microsoft Project and SmartSheet make it easier for teams to collaborate and stay on track, whether the team is working in a central office or across the country.
Every small business is different, and some require different software than others. Invoicing software can allow business owners to track time, request online payments, create recurring invoices, and draft invoices. This type of software allows for a look into the future for small businesses so owners can have a real-time view of their cash flow. Digital invoicing saves time and money by streamlining the process. You can also view the payment status and create reports to track your customers spending habits, all in a safe and secure environment.
Online Payment Services
The development of online payments has forever changed the landscape of small businesses. In 2015, it was reported 66 percent of mobile users have carried out some form of transaction. Companies like Dwolla give small businesses a chance to collect money from an outstanding invoice and send out recurring or one-time payments without a single transaction fee. In other words, you can “pay and get paid” using Dwolla for your small business. In addition to their basic accounts, advanced tools are available for businesses to utilize at a monthly rate.
Online Shopping Cart
In the past, businesses both big and small didn’t have the option to sell online without a fully integrated e-commerce website. Online shopping cart providers such as Shopify have changed the way businesses sell online. Providers like this allow small businesses to set up online stores with a few clicks of the mouse. In 2015, over 243,000 businesses were powered by Shopify, generating over $14.3 billion in sales.
A recent survey found that individuals reported using email over six hours a day, or thirty hours a week. It’s a no-brainer for small businesses to leverage email marketing as part of their overall strategy.
The future of marketing is digital. A 2009 study from Direct Marketing Associates states that the ROI for email marketing was an average of $43.62 for every dollar spent. Sending coupons, specials, new arrivals, announcements and many other features through email marketing allows small businesses to profit without spending a lot of money. These types of campaigns can link directly to a website with online payment services and a virtual shopping cart, bringing everything full circle.
Over the years, email marketing has become simpler for small businesses to manage as the platforms’ automation capabilities have soared. A single email sign-up can trigger a year's worth of emails, complete with a Happy Birthday email. Even large corporations with robust CRM systems like SalesForce have leveraged these email features by automating “How did you like your white paper/report/download” emails, thanking consumers for their considerations and giving them another download link in case they’ve lost it.
This cost-effective advertising option is an excellent resource for small businesses. Advertising can be found anywhere from search engines to social media platforms and blogs. Small business owners don’t need an extensive background in advertising to make money. It only takes some research and practice. Around 70 percent of business owners who advertise on Facebook saw a threefold increase on their return over the amount they spent on their ad.
New advances in digital advertising give businesses the ability to use location-based services to target smaller, more concentrated areas around their business locations. This technology has given rise to “geo-conquesting” where a business owner can serve an ad to a customer who walks into a competitor’s store, hoping to give them second thoughts about their decision on where to shop.
Small businesses can now leverage their location extensions (which show a searcher your office or retail location in a Google search result) by pinpointing a unique set of mobile ads to appear only to customers within a small radius of your store. Now, if you’re the owner of a new coffee shop in town, you can serve an ad to people who are driving by and entice them to come in with a special offer only they receive because they’re nearby.
Online Storage Systems
Small businesses can keep their important files on a massive server farm called the cloud and access them at any time. The cloud creates a safe place to store data, which keeps business owners and their computer networks from getting bogged down with files and data. Online server systems like Adobe Cloud and Google Drive give businesses the same level of security that they would have with an incredibly advanced IT team working around the clock to keep servers updated and running in top shape.
Motion Detector Lights
It seems simple, but going green can help a small business’s bottom line. Saving a little money here and there can add up in the end. Motion detector lights can turn themselves off when they are not in use and save on electricity.
Small businesses that make deliveries directly to their consumers’ homes can benefit from the powers of GPS. Turn-by-turn directions can get delivery people to and from a location fast, saving time, money and gas. A GPS helps make customers and employees happy.
GPS has advanced in the past few years, enough so that delivery by drone is inevitable. In March of 2016, Amazon received permission from the FAA to, “...begin testing a delivery drone prototype for its Prime Air service.” Amazon promises to deliver its Prime Air products in under 30 minutes or less. Unfortunately, when Amazon petitioned the FAA over a year ago it had an approved drone that it planned to use, but the drone company has since gone out of business. However, it’s only a matter of time before drones start to change how business is done.
Social Media Marketing
Small businesses are leveraging social media differently than in the past. While it’s become a “pay to play” world, there is still a place for any sized budget on social media. Without a large advertising budget, businesses still have the ability to increase brand awareness, generate loyal followers and increase overall website traffic by properly leveraging social platforms. Roughly 70 percent of small businesses agree that their social media presence contributes to their overall ROI.
Internet of Things
The Internet of Things (IoT) is what the tech industry has decided to call all of the gadgets that rely on WiFi to operate and send data to users. It’s all the rage this year, and as more devices start connecting and interacting with each other, the excitement surrounding the IoT is sure to build. For small businesses, the IoT means that owners can keep an eye on the activity at their business even when they are away. Smartphones can control WiFi-connected thermostats and adjust temperatures, and security systems can alert you to people entering the building and provide real-time feeds of your locations.
In a presentation covered by Fortune Magazine, Qualcomm VP Raj Talluri stated, “There is expected to be a significant amount of cash flowing through the market in the coming years.” In June, research firm IDC reported that while the IoT market’s revenue reached $655.8 billion in 2014, by 2020, that figure is set to grow to $1.7 trillion. That report followed a claim from researcher McKinsey & Company, which said in December that the IoT market will have between 20 billion and 30 billion connected devices by 2020.”
Protecting the communities where Farm Bureau client/members live and work is our top priority, and we’re proud of the small businesses we serve. Small business insurance is just one way to protect all of the hard work put into running your operation. Are you a current business owner, or are you looking to start a business? Contact your local Farm Bureau agent today to discuss how we can help you succeed!