In recent years, tech innovations have led to exponential advances in the ways that people complete their work. While considerable expenses and required labor made advanced technology exclusive to large companies with the deepest pockets, relatively new changes to accessibility have yielded lower prices and further product integrations specific to conducting small business.
Although tech’s rapid growth makes keeping up to date on the newest trends difficult, staying aware of the services you—or your competitors—could use might be the difference between dominating the marketing and falling short of your goals.
Here are some of the most popular tech solutions to help you optimize your small business.
Whether you need to meet with partners from another office or manage off-site team members for internal meetings, the modern workplace relies on effective technology for successful communication. Due to a workforce that increasingly places value on clear and open lines of communication, using the right technology can help foster company culture, which is essential for a happy and productive work team.
Stored on the internet instead of your computer, cloud communication services are one kind of tool that small businesses now use to work between a host of cloud-based tools, foster collaboration across platforms, and allow for more flexible work accommodations for their employees. Also, since businesses who use the cloud require less IT management and on-site hardware, the cloud is an affordable option that can contribute to lower overhead costs.
So, how has the cloud impacted the way businesses and their employees conduct communication, specifically, both with team members and external contacts? One major innovation—VoIP, or Voice over IP—allows small business owners to make high-quality phone calls over the internet by using Private Branch Exchange (PBX) business telephone services hosted on the cloud. By switching to VoIP, your business can benefit from easier call distribution among team members, advanced voicemail management functions, and reduced expenses, especially for overseas calls.
Many CRM (Customer Relationship Management) tools now feature cloud integrations for companies that are seeking migration opportunities, making it even easier for small- and medium-sized businesses to track and record their relationships with customers. An article by Hitachi Solutions, which outlines some of the benefits of a cloud CRM, states that businesses who migrate their CRM to the cloud tend to witness higher productivity and ease of scalability.
Your employees, furthermore, will have 24/7 access to customer records that can be updated instantly for the rest of the company, which helps ensure everyone is effectively communicating any crucial changes the moment they happen. Unlike CRM systems hosted on local networks, cloud CRMs don’t require new hardware or technology when your business is ready to expand, and the only added cost is licenses for new team members.
Larger enterprise businesses are no longer the only entities that should be concerned with protecting their information online. Small- and medium-businesses are just as susceptible to cyber threats—the only difference being that these smaller companies have fewer resources to defend against these attacks. Cyber attacks, ranging from phishing to ransomware attacks, affected 67% of small and medium businesses in a recent poll, with 47% of those polled uncertain with how to prevent cyber attacks and data breaches to their company.
How can your business avoid becoming a victim of cyber attacks in the future? An effective (and inexpensive) place to begin is by making employees aware of actions they can take to protect company information. Small businesses are especially susceptible to data breaches caused by weak passwords, so educate your teams on creating secure passwords to help ensure that hackers aren’t accessing your information through one weak password.
Instead of relying on human memory or a shared document, investing in a password manager—many of which feature two-factor authentication and integrations for both macOS and Windows—helps generate and remember complex, randomized passwords for optimal security.
Phishing attacks are another common strategy for stealing confidential information that your employees will likely experience. These attacks are often disguised as an urgent email with deceptive URLs or attached documents and are especially dangerous because unaware employees who engage with these threats by clicking faulty links or attachments risk losing personal, company and customer information to hackers. Cybersecurity experts recommend staying updated on current phishing tactics, sharing examples of typical phishing emails with team members and using technology like firewalls and antivirus software to remain vigilant against attacks to your information.
Even if you are reluctant to integrate AI into your business strategy, chances are your competitors are looking for ways to use this new technology to become leaders in the space. While only a small number of SMB owners currently implement AI, 51% consider AI capabilities as an important factor when choosing new technology and resources during growth. And with opportunities for data scientists, hometown restaurant owners and everyone in between, AI impacts how you conduct your day-to-day business no matter your industry.
AI and computer learning may seem daunting, but their applications for small businesses are practical. Artificial intelligence is a mechanism intended to engineer intelligence or the ability to make intricate computations in computer systems. Businesses can use AI to acquire and analyze data, which can help recognize patterns and measure the outcomes of campaigns or projects.
Depending on your specific needs, technology that harnesses the computation power of AI can have a place in nearly any department of your business. HR and recruiting teams use AI to more efficiently discover and sift through candidates to find the best fit for your team. By learning your HR team’s hiring methods through algorithms, AI helps small business HR staff discover the best methods of communication, find new and relevant leads and stay in the game when competing for talent against larger employers. Additionally, when it comes to marketing and sales, AI helps SMB owners target their audience for online ad placements and increased conversions.
What started as a wildly popular trend for larger businesses, chatbots are another AI tech tool that’s changing the small business landscape. Used to answer simple or complex questions via chat messaging, these bots allow you to communicate with customers without the need for additional apps outside of chat services. Chatbots could be a simple fix to implement in your business because of its many features, including personalized messaging and greater time efficiency for high volumes of customer interactions.
In general, documents stored on the internet are easier to find due to search functions, can be edited with ease, and can be more efficiently shared across the company.
Start the process of migrating your important documentation to your computers with document management tools, such as digital filing software. Since many of today’s digital document plans include backup capabilities, team task assigning and version control to avoid duplicate content, these systems help you keep track of important information while protecting documents from accidental deletion or theft.
If your business has transitioned to a fully-digitized system of documentation and workflow, digital integration is the next step. Even if you are using the most up-to-date digital tools, you’ll want to make sure the services integrate with one another. When departments use tools that are not compatible, it becomes difficult to collaborate at a company-wide level.
Digital integration is a necessary step in the scaling process, no matter the current size of your business. Since technology equips businesses to foresee changes in customer demands, new products or offerings in the market, and internal areas of improvement, SMB owners can predict what resources, tools, and policy adjustments they will need to ensure success in the future.
Your business may not invest in every technology trend shared here—regardless, it’s important to be aware of each one, especially for changes that more directly affect your line of work. Even if your company finds no use for chatbots, cloud communications, or heightened online security, knowing the tools your competitors may be using is a valuable insight to help you remain a leader of your industry.