by Jessica Moser, senior vice president, Small Business Solutions in MetLife’s Group Benefits business
It’s no surprise that technological innovation has vastly improved the economic opportunity for American small business owners over the past 20 years.
However, the accelerated rate of change in the technology ecosystem keeps industry standards in perpetual motion, making it difficult for small business owners to know if, when and how to adapt.
But there’s a real advantage when they get it right. The MetLife and U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business Index found that small business owners who incorporated technology into their day-to-day operations experienced increased confidence about the state of their business.
In fact, 32% of small businesses that are in good health report being ahead of their peers when comparing their technology usage practices to other businesses in their sector. The businesses that are more technology savvy expect to increase revenue, are more comfortable with their cash flow, are more likely to report increasing staff in the past year and plan to increase staff in the coming year.
From smartphone apps to artificial intelligence (AI), technology is everywhere. But incorporating technology into daily operations can seem daunting for some small business owners. Here are seven ways small business owners looking to overcome that confidence gap can leverage technology to help to keep their company growing:
1. Another Day, Another Dollar
Payment technology allows small business owners to accept payment for goods or services anywhere, anytime, without being tied to a cash register or a traditional credit card terminal. They can now make transactions with a tap or swipe on the road.
To serve customers as quickly and efficiently as possible, whether you’re a food truck owner or a jewelry vendor, instead of spending time accepting traditional payments or making change, explore taking advantage of services like Square or Shopify. Mobile credit card readers like these work with tablets or mobile phones, and keep lines moving.
2. Make Marketing Bloom
It’s widely acknowledged that an online and social media presence is necessary these days, but maintaining an online presence can seem overwhelming for some small business owners. Research shows 26% of all small businesses have no online presence or don’t maintain what they first started.
The good news is having an online or social presence doesn’t have to be difficult.
For the local florist that’s been in business for years, a website and social media presence can attract new customers. There are low-cost, user-friendly website platforms like WordPress or Squarespace, to get a new or revamped site up and running in no time.
Promote your services and build a social presence by using a social media management tool to pre-plan and schedule posts featuring your creations on Facebook and Twitter.
3. Entrepreneur’s Helper
Small business owners work almost twice as many hours as the average worker, but you might find some more downtime because technology can keep your days organized.
For the busy hair salon that needs to take inventory of supplies, schedule client appointments and maintain employee schedules, an online personal assistant could be a real timesaver.
Personal assistant devices, like Amazon Alexa for Business or Microsoft’s Cortana, act as an intelligent assistant and allow small business owners to use their voice to help with tasks such as managing calendars, searching for information or controlling conference room equipment.
4. Hold the Phone
We use our mobile devices to do everything, so why not use them to help grow your business? In addition to mobile pay, there are many apps geared toward better business management.
For example, say you’re a small IT consulting firm that travels around the state helping other businesses solve their IT problems. While you’re busy servicing clients, you often don’t have time to stop at the bank.
Mobile apps, like those from Chase for Business or QuickBooks, let you scan and deposit checks, create and email estimates, invoices or sales receipts and access your accounts on the go.
5. Keep Your Head in the Cloud
Constant software updates are a thing of the past with the advent of cloud computing. With your work stored and processed in the cloud, you can improve efficiency without needing to worry about necessary updates or space for your administrative files on a server.
With cloud computing, a local accounting firm can forget about their office server crashing, since all their work can now be saved in the cloud, providing peace of mind. Additionally, the cloud clears the way for employees to work from home, which is an attractive option for many employers whose employees are looking for more flexibility.
6. Inventory Management
In the past, inventory management could be a tedious process where you manually counted rows of product and recorded product totals before inputting the information into a spreadsheet or management system. If you use a tablet to track your inventory from the beginning, you maximize time efficiencies.
Because you are tracking as you go, you eliminate the need to write things down to update the system.
To further increase productivity and better track inventory in real time, small businesses can implement a barcode system. There are mobile apps, like Scout topShelf, that allow inventory products to be scanned directly from a mobile device. Now, small business owners can know where a product is from the moment it arrives to the moment it is sold, leading to more accurate insights and decreasing the chance of potential mistakes.
7. Wearable Technology is Fashion’s Future
Technology is constantly evolving, and small businesses can benefit if they make an effort to explore and adapt to new technologies that make sense for them. For example, wearables are mainstream in the consumer world, but are still a new opportunity to many small businesses.
A local gym could leverage the fact that many members wear FitBits to create a friendly fitness competition or a local coffee shop could increase visitors by running a promotion where they offer customers paying with a wearable device, like an Apple Watch, a 5 percent discount.
Technology opens doors for small business owners, and can be a differentiator for the innovative ones, so look for ways to incorporate it into your day-to-day operations to grow your tech savviness and your business at the same time.
Note: Mention of any brand name is for illustrative purposes only, and does not constitute endorsement by me or my employer.