When it comes to using technology, one thing is clear: Small businesses that embrace it are growing faster than those that don’t. From mobile applications to social media, and cloud computing to data management, “new” ways of doing business centered around technology are taking hold and becoming the norm for millions of small and mid-sized firms nationwide.
Here are 4 tech trends that are reshaping how the most successful small businesses are facing the future:
1. Mobile Adoption Soars: A new study by the SMB Group, which tracks technology adoption by small and medium businesses, shows that mobile use continues to skyrocket. In the last two years, the number of small businesses using mobile-friendly websites has nearly doubled, from 18% to 35% according to the SMB Group study. Meanwhile, the use of mobile apps for employees continues to increase, as does the number of small businesses using mobile commerce solutions.
Business owners are also spending more money on mobile. On average, a small business spends about 11%-20% of its technology budget on mobile. And two out of three business owners expect to spend more on mobile next year in areas such as devices, applications, security and consulting services.
The big problem, however, is that most small firms still struggle with how to manage the explosion of mobile devices, apps and the so-called “bring your own device” (BYOD) phenomenon, where employees are asked to use their own smartphones or other mobile devices for business purposes.
In the past year alone, use of mobile apps for employees – including email, calendars and customer relationship management (e.g. SalesForce) – has jumped 20% among small businesses. And the number of businesses adopting BYOD policies for employees has more than doubled.
As you embrace mobile, however, be careful to track how it’s actually benefiting your business. It’s not enough to embrace mobile solutions just because everyone else is. Look for areas it can really make a difference for your business, such as inventory tracking where mobile devices offer huge time savings.
2. Social Gets More Serious: The percentage of small businesses using social media continues to rise, up to 58% from closer to 50% just a year ago. Still, only about one in four small firms use social media strategically to pursue specific business goals. Most others take an informal, ad hoc approach, without any specific business goals in mind.
But the social bar is rising. More business owners want to ensure that their increasingly time-sensitive investment in social media pays off and are developing plans to map their social efforts to specific business outcomes, such as increased sales.
To make your efforts in social media pay off, consider using an outside service such as HubSpot (www.hubspot.com) that offers all-in-one web-based software for attracting leads and converting them to customers, through social media and other channels.
3. Cloud Cover Expands: Cloud computing – essentially, using web-based instead of PC-based software – has quickly become the “new normal” for millions of small business. There’s a cloud application for nearly anything your business needs to do, from accounting, expense tracking, data backup and storage, to time tracking, project management, document signing and hundreds more.
Working “in the cloud” simply makes sense for small businesses. It lowers your cost (no software to buy and install, although many cloud services require a fee), is far faster to deploy and gives you access to the kinds of computing power that once belonged exclusively to bigger businesses.
4. Information Overflow Drives New Data Solutions: The mobile-social-cloud triumvirate that emerges from the first three trends is generating unprecedented amounts information that few small businesses can manage, let alone put to use. This data fire hose is at full blast, and isn’t likely to abate. Businesses that figure out how to harness and turn some of this information (customer wants and needs, for example) into useful insights will gain a big competitive advantage.
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About the Author: Daniel Kehrer, Founder and Chief Content Officer of BizBest Media, is a senior-level leader in digital media, content development and online marketing with special expertise in startups, SMB, social media and generating traffic, engagement and leads. He holds an MBA from UCLA/Anderson and is a passionate entrepreneur (started 4 businesses), syndicated columnist, blogger, thought leader and author of 7 business and financial books.