Many small business owners are all too aware of how the ever-changing environment around them can affect their business. This is especially true in the field of technology. In this article, we will look at a number of emerging technologies that small businesses should not only be aware of but think about incorporating into their day to day running to keep their businesses ahead of their competitors.
Over the past few years, wearables have quickly become the latest fad on the technology seen. What exactly is a wearable? Well, think of a smartwatch such as the Apple iWatch and Samsung Gear or even something like Google Glass.
At present, most of the wearables found on the market are aimed at health and fitness. Here they track one’s daily activity in various areas, for example, number of steps walked, distance covered, calories burnt and many others.
Studies have shown that workers issued with wearable devices are far more involved in keeping track of their fitness, leading to a far healthier workforce. The real benefit in wearable products however, lies in their untapped potential. There are many ways these products may be used in the future and this can open a range of business opportunities for small business.
As a small business owner, you may have heard of the concept of cloud computing. But what is it exactly? Simply put, this is an off-site storage system that is centralized. It can then be accessed by any number of devices, for example a tablet, smartphone, or laptop that is internet enabled. Although cloud systems have been in operation for a number of years, they are not fully utilized, especially by small business.
Cloud computing can help small businesses in a number of ways. Not only can it become a central place for storage of all digital assets, but it can also help to improve communication, allowing all important players in the business to access information whenever needed. This results in a collaborative effort instead of single-user access, which is simply archaic. Cloud computing can also help the small business owner with money management. By using online accounting software, daily financial tracking is not only easier to manage but can mean easier invoicing as well. It will also lower the number of mistakes made if regular accounting methods had been used.
Perhaps one of the biggest things to hit the world of technology, augmented reality is exploding onto the technology scene. What is it exactly? Well, augmented reality uses sensory inputs which are generated by a computing device. These inputs can include video, sounds, graphics or even specific location data.
Often thought of the domain of entertainment (in the form of video games such as Pokemon Go), augmented reality can be used by business in a number of clever ways, especially in bringing products to life in unique and fun ways for example. Augmented reality will continue to grow and will soon be available to smartphone users in the form of apps as well.
Business Intelligence Tools
Having access to real-time data can be a huge advantage to any business. This can be in the form of up to the minute sales figures or just about anything in a business that can be tracked and therefore analyzed. Why is real-time data important? There are a number of reasons but perhaps the most crucial is that it allows for informed decision making.
This is where business intelligence tools come in. Not only do they allow for the accurate tracking of data pertaining to a business in real time but this ultimately results in a small business owner seeing the overall picture of their operation at that exact time. High volumes of data from many sources can be analyzed in this way, allowing business decisions to be made at exactly the right time and not after the fact, often when an opportunity is lost. Business intelligence tools come in many guises and some of the more popular include QlikView, Tableau, Birst and LogiXML.
Inventory management is a crucial aspect of running a small business. Unfortunately, studies have shown that many simply do not track their inventory properly and this can ultimately cause a business to fail in the long run. If inventory is not tracked properly it can not only be lost to theft but it can also mean products sit in warehouses or storage areas for too long. For example, a small business involved with food products may lose a lot of money if items in a warehouse need to be discarded because they are past their sell by date. Poor inventory management can also affect cash flow and warehouse management while ultimately, it reduces sales and sales potential.
Luckily, this is easily remedied by using smart inventory systems. These allow all inventory items to be tracked which helps to control levels of stock in a far more efficient manner. An example of a smart inventory system is Fishbowl Inventory.
Customer relationship management
As all small business owners will understand, without customers, a business is nothing. Unfortunately, communication can often either make or break relationships between a business and its customers. It plays another important role, however. Understanding how to communicate effectively can impact a business in a number of positive ways, for example, it can lead to far faster sales. Effective communication is often easier said than done!
This is where implementing a customer relationship strategy and the effective use of customer relationship software can prove vital. This can help provide access to important customer data while keeping all customer interactions tracked. It can also help increase financial opportunities, provide important customer information that is easily accessed, help to scrutinize performance/business metrics and help control sales pipelines as well as sales personnel. Unfortunately, up to 71% of small businesses do not make use of this type of software. Popular customer relationship management software includes Salesforce, Insightly, and Zoho.
New Payment Methods
Giving customers multiple ways to pay for a product can only help to increase sales. Gone are the days when people walked around with wads of cash in their wallet. Debit cards are the norm now, so having point of sale payment options is a must for any small business. However, with the growth of payment technology, there are many other ways customers want to be able to make payments.
This can include using online payments services such as PayPal or Skrill but perhaps the most important to embrace is the use of mobile payment technology. Here, people can use their smartphones to process payments. Once such example of this is Apple Money but many others exist including various forms of e-wallets. These payment methods can either be used for products bought online or in a store and it is imperative that small businesses do not fall behind in this regard otherwise they will lose sales.
Technology is advancing at an incredible rate so it is imperative that small business owners stay up with the trends. In doing so, you can ensure you are aligned with any developments which will impact you, your customers, and your bottom line.