While the proverbial playing field between small businesses and big-box retailers may never be completely level, there are a host of new technology tools that at least help make significant strides in that direction. Here are some tips to make sure your business is in line and getting the most from technology.
As a starting point, consider the options on this tech checklist:
• Cloud computing – If your small business is still paper-centric – meaning that you’re flipping the pages of a paper calendar and fumbling through physical filing cabinets in search of needed documents – it’s time to turn to the cloud.
Cloud computing refers to using a third-party network of remote servers hosted on the Internet to store and manage data. Essentially, cloud services are a bridge to your own hard drive in the cloud – which equates to the Internet. Such services have become popular because they are affordable, convenient, and provide ample storage space. Another big plus is that all stored data can be retrieved from any device with Internet access.
Business owners would be wise to look into the many cloud-based and mobile tools that are designed to handle such functions as customer scheduling, price quoting, time tracking, and billing.
• Smart point-of-sale solutions – Physical cash registers may soon become point-of-sale (POS) relics. That’s because tablets and smart phones can now be equipped with apps capable of replacing traditional POS systems. At the center of this POS revolution is Square – a payment-processing app for iOS on iPhones or iPads that enables even the smallest of businesses to accept credit and debit cards.
Other POS advances include e-commerce platforms such as Shopify, which enables small businesses to accommodate both online and in-store shoppers by syncing customers and sales made on the Internet or in an actual retail location. Other platforms, such as Financeit, make it possible for small businesses to offer monthly payment plans.
• Rewards programs – Creating customer loyalty is a cornerstone of business success, and rewards programs have proven to be a key component of achieving this goal. Up until recently, however, only the big players had the resources to institute effective rewards programs.
Fortunately for small businesses, that’s no longer the case. Programs such as FiveStars, Belly, and Perka pave the way to offering mobile-loyalty and digital-card programs at affordable prices.
• Sales plug-ins – Plug-in applications are programs that easily can be installed and used as part of your Web browser. For small businesses, plug-in apps can turn basic functions – such as email – into powerful tools.
For example, a free plug-in called Streak transforms Gmail into a tool that can track customers, prospects, and in-process sales – all from your inbox. Other useful sales plug-ins include: Rapportive paints detailed pictures of your contacts – where they’re based, what they do – right inside your inbox and for free; Yesware is a free add-on for Gmail that tracks and analyzes email communications; and Boomerang, utilizing Gmail, enables you to control when you send and receive emails.
• Phablets – There was a time when advancing technology was shrinking the size of cell phones. Now, however, advancing technology has given birth to the phablet – an oversized device that is a smartphone/tablet hybrid.
Business owners on the go can particularly benefit from this new wave of phablets, as they make Web browsing easier and enable users to do actual work – such as editing documents and spreadsheets – on their smartphones.
Take the time to research some of these items for your business and see what works for you.