Running a small or mid-sized business (SMB) is never an easy job, and small business owners juggle many hats. Fortunately, in today's technology environment, strategic choices in your business technology can ease the stress and workload.
In many ways, it's never been a better time to be a business owner with so many business technologies available - typically at very reasonable monthly subscription-based rates - to help manage the business and its functions, or at least aspects of them.
Deloitte's analysis in Connected Small Businesses in the United States found that, relative to businesses that have low levels of digital engagement, digitally advanced small businesses realized significant benefits, including:
Earning two times as much revenue per employee
Experiencing revenue growth over the previous year that was nearly four times as high
Were almost three times as likely to be creating jobs over the previous year
Had an average employment growth rate that was more than six times as high
Were also three times as likely to have exported over the previous year
Even with these potential gains, Deloitte's analysis found that 80 percent of U.S. small businesses aren't taking full advantage of digital tools such as data analytics and more sophisticated online tools.
Here's a roundup of some of the essential technologies for small businesses.
1. Cloud Computing: At the top of the list is, naturally, cloud computing. Secure cloud data storage has become even more vital in the age of COVID, with so many businesses transitioning to remote or hybrid work models where employees need secure access to information from their home offices. Access to data on the go is a must have for many SMBs. Cloud computing is not only more affordable than having a server onsite, it is significantly more flexible for scaling a business. The best part is that cloud computing has become very affordable. Keeping data in an onsite server can be insecure and expensive; whereas, cloud storage has come a long way in being both a secure and affordable option.
For many businesses, cloud computing may already be part of their Microsoft Office package, where OneDrive is included. We've worked with many companies who are paying for a service like Dropbox or using Google Drive and they are also paying for OneDrive as part of their Microsoft Office subscription. We've worked with them to migrate data from one cloud solution into OneDrive.
Some other popular cloud options include Dropbox, as previously mentioned; Amazon Web Services; Google Docs, which many SMBs eventually start with but outgrow; and Hightail to name a few of the more popular cloud options.
2. Hardware: While not the sexy side of technology, hardware is the essential element for most businesses. And, it's where a big chunk of the business technology budget goes. According to Comptia's business technology for SMB research, "In the last two years, 36% of respondents said that their tech purchases are best characterized as focusing on core infrastructure. This means devices such as laptops, desktops, mobile phones, servers, as well as networking equipment, security software, storage etc. Despite the fact that many workloads - think storage, for example - have moved into the cloud, companies nonetheless require the basic hardware and workstation devices that enable their employees to do their jobs every day." A solid managed IT services company - especially one focused on serving the needs of small- to mid-sized businesses - can serve as a great partner to help manage your company's hardware.
3. Business Software: We'll dive into some key function-specific types of business software shortly - most of which are now cloud-based - but let's not overlook the importance of investing in the basics. The goal of all business software is to maintain and control the business. In today's business environment, many businesses - whether PC of Mac-based - rely on Microsoft Office 365 for Business with its suite of core business software that include:
- Microsoft Teams
This powerful suite of software, available for business and enterprise, provides businesses with the foundational business technology they need for security, productivity and collaboration. While cloud-based, it is important to make sure the software is regularly updated and maintained.
4. VoIP: Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is a technology that lets anyone place phone calls over an internet connection. VoIP is a great option for SMBs as it is typically affordable and easy to use. Microsoft Teams offers a great VoIP solution where anyone with Office 365 and teams can make a VoIP call using a Windows PC, Apple Mac/iPhone/iPad or Google Android device using the Teams app.
5. Customer Relationship Management (CRM): At a certain point in growth and evolution, a business needs to invest in a CRM. A CRM will allow you to manage the interactions with your existing customers, past customers and potential customers. The software will allow you to analyze interaction and use the data to better inform your marketing and sales efforts. Some of the top CRMs used by SMBs include:
- Hubspot: Robust in functionality, but can get pricey as you increase your contacts.
- SharpSpring: Similar to Hubspot in functionality, but at a lower price if you purchase a license through an agency partner.
- Zoho: Great entry point for those new to CRMs and a favorite among small businesses.
- ZenDesk: A bargain starting at $19/mo and relatively easy to learn and use.
- Monday.com: Another simple small business favorite with an easy learning curve.
6. HR and Payroll Software: For most companies, employees are their biggest asset. The right human resources software can help automate many routines HR functions and empower employees with access through self-administered features. HR software can alleviate many pain points small businesses have including no dedicated HR staff and record-keeping and regulatory compliance as well as help with employee attrition. A fully-featured HR platform should offer all or a majority of the following features:
Applicant tracking and onboarding
Compensation and succession planning
Mobile access through an app
7. Accounting Software: Most companies use a cloud-based software for accounting and there are many great options to choose from. Gone are the days where Quickbooks was the only option and you had to update the software on your computer. Cloud-based accounting programs take the hassle out of keeping the software up to date. Quickbooks, of course, has a cloud option. Other popular accounting software for SMBs include Sage, Harvest and Freshbooks. Some benefits to these tools include:
- Automate: Create automatic workflows that save you time such as entering your vendor's information into the system and creating a workflow that automatically pays that vendor on the due date each month. Or set-up reoccurring invoices.
- Real-time data: Connect to your business bank account to track inventory, sales, and expenses for real-time data.
- Access from anywhere: Since cloud-based software is accessed via the internet, you can check your company's financial information from the office, your home or even via your mobile device.
- Collaborate better: Provide access to your accountant or others on the team and assign user roles.
- Improve accuracy: With all of your financial data stored in the same place, you lower the risk of costly accounting errors.
- Tech support: Cloud-based accounting offers chat and/or phone technical support in case you run into challenges or have questions about how to use the software.
8. Collaboration Software: With more and more companies shifting to remote work or hybrid models, the need for virtual collaboration tools in the workplace has never been greater. As part of Office 365, you and your team will have access to Teams, our favorite tool for online collaboration, project management and more. Of course, there are many other popular tools to explore. The goal is to select a tool that best works with your company culture and needs. Most employees will require training as well to make sure that the software is adopted and widely used. Here's a great roundup of the best collaboration software options from PC Magazine.
9. Proposal Writing Software: Many companies rely on PowerPoint to create sales proposals. But why not take it up a notch and knock out your competition with proposal-writing software to create beautiful, branded and persuasive proposals? Proposal software also known as proposal management software, proposal writing software, or proposal automation software allows users to develop proposals, presentations, and responses to RFPs. Here's a good round-up of proposal software with reviews and details about each option.
10. Social Media Management: Regardless of your business or industry, every company needs a presence on social media these days. Posting individually to different platforms can be time-consuming and tedious. Social media management tools like Buffer or Hootesuite make it easy. You can schedule a batch of posts and content at once across multiple platforms. If you are using a marketing automation tool like the CRMs we discussed earlier (Hubspot, SharpSpring, etc.), many of these tools have social media management tools as part of their suite of services.
11. Electronic Signature and Agreement Management: DocuSign is the leader in this space. With DocuSign you can securely upload a file such as a proposal and send it by email to one or multiple recipients for signature. You can set the signing order as well as manage all of your signed agreements in one central location. You can also download the signed agreement to store in your cloud data system. E-signatures by Adobe is another popular option that obviously works well with pdf files. Both are inexpensive and you can tier-up as you grow and need more agreements, called "envelopes" in DocuSign-speak, per month.
12. Chatbots: Chatbots are cheap and can often deal with humans better than... well, humans can. Chatbots are software applications used to conduct an online chat conversation through text or text-to-speech in place of providing direct contact with alive customer service agent. Chatbots allow SMBs to offer a higher level of customer engagement and interaction to compete with larger competitors on the customer service front. Here's a great round-up of the best chatbots for small businesses.
13. Video Conferencing: It goes without saying that video conferencing is a must-have software. Many businesses use Zoom, however, you may have video conferencing already available in a tool like Teams. We're big fans of Teams for the value you get for its numerous functions and features, including video conferencing. In Teams, you can both record and transcribe (and make the transcript searchable). This is a nice feature for missed meetings or meetings you want to record for training or documenting purposes.
14. Payments: If you are an eCommerce business, you will definitely need a payment processor. Good payment software is the first and last line of defense when it comes to processing the money going in and going out of your business. Professional payments tools make it easy to issue and collect all forms of payments and manage deductions. Popular payment platforms include PayPal and Square.
15. Integrate Web Applications: More and more businesses find themselves in need of connecting different web applications that they use to run their business. So long as the app has an API and allows for third party integration, many apps can now be connected to work together. Tools like Zapier are low-cost and relatively easy to implement to achieve app integration. Here are some Zapier web integration alternatives to also consider.