Generally speaking, small business are slow to adopt new technology. We all know it: We see the mom-and-pop shop that still takes orders over the phone, writes everything down on paper and doesn’t take credit cards.
In some ways, it’s endearing, they’re old school, and it seems to work for them. On the other hand, customer experience often suffers as a result, and it just isn’t possible for these businesses to grow at the rates of their more corporate competitors.
Now, there are lots of reasons why a small- or medium Add Schemam-sized business may not move from manual processes to more tech-savvy options. Some business owners are content with the status quo—in terms of both efficiency and profit—and don’t see the point in making big investments. Some are worried about security, particularly when it comes to cloud storage and payments. And some just don’t understand what they’re missing out on.
A local car service company likely can’t compete with the likes of Uber and Lyft in terms of technological might and the ability to reach the consumer—though some are trying by developing apps of their own. Ditto for dollar stores that have to go up against Amazon (or even Hollar) for holiday shopping season. But there are some areas where small and medium businesses simply need to step up technologically, especially if they want to compete with peers in their space.
This one is so obvious it’s almost odd to include it, but as of last year, 25 percent of small businesses surveyed by Clutch said their business didn’t have a website. Of those that did have a site, only about two-thirds said it was “responsive,” another word for mobile-friendly.
A website in 2016 and beyond is beyond necessary, it’s one of the first thing any good company needs. It’s like a brick-and-mortar business without a sign on the front of building. It’s the anchor for any effective marketing strategy and it’s part of a larger strategy of presenting your business as viable. People search for a website in order to find out business hours, prices, or even place orders—and will look elsewhere if they can’t accomplish any of those goals right away.
Don’t forget that claiming and setting up your page on sites like Yelp, Google, TripAdvisor and other engines can also help improve your SEO and generally build the impact of your website.
Asset and inventory tracking
The related but distinct processes of fixed asset tracking and inventory tracking are both vitally important to staying in the black, yet both are often overlooked by businesses of all sizes.
Inventory tracking involves following the course of your inventory from raw materials to finished products on the front doors of customers—it’s what helped Amazon become the absolute giant of retail it is today. Asset tracking is monitoring the location and status of the tools businesses use to create income, such as computers or vehicles, and trying to remember when vital machines need to be given maintenance or written off on tax ledgers manually can be maddening.
Related Article: Supply Chain Technology Developments We Look Forward ToWhile the reasons for tracking inventory and fixed assets are different, both can generally be addressed with the same technological update: Tracking systems powered by barcode and barcode scanners, RFID, or other tools that help centralize the information for all your assets in one place. Spreadsheets (much less other laughably out-of-date practices like head counts) are often rife with errors and don’t update automatically, which lead to higher tax bills and even audits and fines from the IRS.
The truth is we are headed rapidly for a cashless world: Countries such as Belgium, France, Australia and Canada have made major strides in eliminating cash payments from business transactions altogether, and while the U.S. is moving in that direction, many businesses across the country are holding out.
But if the customer is always right, and fewer customers than ever are carrying cash, why would businesses not want to cater to them? Missing out on a sale because a customer has one form of currency and the business only accepts another is a brutal way to miss out on making money and potentially creating a customer-for-life.
Using mobile phones and other devices for payments is the way of the future, and small businesses looking to get ahead should consider adding those options.
Time tracking and payroll
Tracking the hours of employees and submitting payments is yet another area where many businesses appear to be stuck in the past. Asking employees to manually track their hours is a recipe for disaster—it often leads to over or underpaying, which in turn opens the business up to future FLSA lawsuits. And even if you don’t fear legal action, are we really still asking employees to take time out of their day or week just to add up their time in the office?
Plus, as we move towards a cashless world, that change should be reflected in the way employees, vendors and others are paid. Just 31 percent of businesses say they use electronic invoicing. It’s easier to track, more environmentally friendly, and better for all parties involved.
Small businesses are often behind the technological curve, for reasons both understandable and perplexing. But small businesses and their medium-sized brethren are the drivers of the U.S. economy—firms with 500 or fewer workers account for over 99 percent of the economy—which makes their deficiencies all the more troubling. Updating their web presence, tracking systems, payment methods and payroll are just a few of the ways small businesses can climb out of the past and into the future.
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