How to Invest in Technology for Your Small Business
Welcome to Kabbage’s in-depth technology guide! This guide is approximately 10,000 words (or roughly 30 pages) and contains the information you need on why technology matters, tools for your small business, how to invest in technologies and more.
Fortunately, we’ve broken it up into five chapters:
- Why technology matters
- Tools and apps you need
- Technologies to consider
- Women in tech
- 2020 predictions
Why Technology Matters
The days of a small business owner being able to effectively manage operations with a phone and rudimentary computer skills are long gone. To successfully launch and sustain a growing business, you need to have an ever-increasing range of tech skills that help you online with:
9 basic tech skills small business owners should know
The following nine tech skills are relatively simple to learn, yet incredibly valuable for managing the day-to-day tasks of running a small business. By mastering them, you’ll save yourself time, reduce your reliance on outside help and create new opportunities that generate more customers and sales.
1. Website platforms
There was a time, not that long ago, when you had to call a programmer every time you wanted to make a change to your website. Now, small business owners can log in to their platforms and make design or content changes in a matter of minutes.
Platforms like WordPress, Wix and Squarespace are used to create sites for businesses of all sizes. They’re easy to update and have tremendously useful SEO features that can help you substantially increase your site traffic. There are also countless templates that can be customized to create an incredible-looking site for a relatively low cost.
2. Basic HTML coding
No, you don’t have to be a computer geek to learn HTML, and with a basic understanding of it, you can modify the appearance of texts, links, images and nearly every part of your website or blog. Even if you are using a content management system that has an HTML editor, knowing basic HTML code can help you make quick design fixes in seconds and eliminate the need to pay someone to help you. An HTML cheat sheet of common tags and attributes is all that you really need.
3. Google Analytics
If you’ve invested time and money in a website, content and SEO, you will naturally want to monitor the results of your efforts. While there are lots of analytics tools on the market, Google Analytics remains one of the best tools for small business owners.
With Google Analytics, you’ll be able to check the number of site visitors you’re getting, dig deeper into who these people are, what they are viewing on your site and how long they are spending on each page. You’ll also be able to see how visitors got to your site and what social channels referred them to you. This is all valuable data that can help you determine what works, what doesn’t and what you should be doing to increase website traffic.
4. Email marketing
Nurturing relationships with warm leads and customers requires ongoing communications. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to send relevant content to them on a regular basis. From newsletters and eBooks to coupons and private sales promotions, a brand-driven email campaign can go a long way toward staying top of mind with those who are likely to buy from you.
Email marketing can also be used to introduce your business to new audiences. Mailing lists can be purchased or acquired through a variety of sources including trade groups, industry organizations and mailing list brokers.
Email marketing solutions such as Constant Contact, MailChimp and others are relatively inexpensive, intuitive and easy-to-use. They offer great analytics that will help you determine the success of each mail campaign you launch.
5. Social media
Nearly every business owner thinks that they understand social media communication, yet most are not using it effectively. Far too often, businesses only use Facebook and Twitter channels to promote products and services. While social media can be used for promotional purposes, you cannot build and sustain an online community by simply pushing out content about what you sell. At some point, your followers will grow tired of it and will look elsewhere for content that is more interesting and relevant to them.
Small business owners have a valuable opportunity to build quality relationships with followers by engaging in meaningful conversations with them. Social media is all about sharing and dialog. By treating social media as more than just free advertising, you’ll create loyal followers who will expose their own communities to your products and services.
Search engine optimization experts have a language all their own, and if you’re not privy to any of it, you’ll miss out on some valuable opportunities to grow your business online. Take the time to familiarize yourself with some of the most common terms of the trade such as backlinks, PageRank, anchor text, meta tags, search algorithm, SERP and keyword density.
Even better, take a quick seminar on SEO specifically for small business owners and entrepreneurs. In a matter of a few hours, you’ll gain some valuable skills that may dramatically improve your website’s success.
7. Mobile payment processing
If you take credit card payments from customers, there are many new mobile payment apps and solutions that are easy to use. From Google Pay and PayPal to Square, GoPayment and Venmo, the process of getting paid, sending funds and even redeeming loyalty program points is now much simpler.
Compare several payment processing options before making a decision. All solutions offer specific benefits and features that may or may not be important to your business. If you are in need of working capital to help you purchase the equipment you need, there are several small business lenders who offer flexible funding for business owners.
8. Project management software
If you’re like most small business owners, you’re multi-tasking all the time. Without a way to organize the various projects you’re working on, you’re likely to forget one or more of the many to-do items you’re juggling.
Project management tools, such as Trello or Basecamp, can keep information updated for you, coworkers, clients and other stakeholders. An online project management tool will also enable you to collaborate with others, track deadlines and review projects once they have been completed.
9. Cloud-Based Systems
The internet has dramatically changed telecommunications and has leveled the playing field for small business owners. Even a solo entrepreneur can now have an enterprise-quality phone system with an auto-attendant, multiple extensions, on-hold messages, prompts and more.
Strategic business owners are leveraging the benefits of cloud-based systems such as Google Docs, Box, iCloud and more to save time and money. While configuring a small business cloud system can seem a little confusing at first, the benefits are substantial once you’re up and running.
Don’t get overwhelmed or intimidated by the unknown. Even those with little tech prowess can improve their ability to use today’s tools and solutions. Being a business owner means continuing to evolve, grow and learn. Those who do this the best will ultimately achieve the greatest results.
With some basic tech skills in your back pocket, you will only increase your chances of business success. Check out these specific tools your small business can benefit from.
Big Data for Small Business
The number one most important thing for any business, big or small, is data. Data has revolutionized the way businesses work, and big data has the potential to provide entrepreneurs with massive amounts of information that can fuel their growth. Data can provide a business owner with valuable statistics about his or her customers, locations, and products. Social media, review sites, and online advertising have made it extremely easy to extrapolate data that allows your business to really get to know a customer. For example, Target claims to have so much big data they can predict if a woman is pregnant before she tells the rest of her family!
Big data can be used to predict customer behavior while also increasing your potential revenue amounts from the customer insights you receive. With all the information you can extract these days, it is hard for small business owners to understand what to do with all of it. So, find out how and why you should use big data for your small business with the following steps:
- Gather data.
You can gather data from many different aspects of your business. The most valuable places that you will find data are your customer relationship management tool (something like Salesforce), web analytics from Google Analytics, email marketing data, blog data, social media data, and selling and product data. Once you find all your various sources of data, you will need to organize them and find causal relationships within them. The more you measure, the more you can optimize and streamline your marketing efforts.
- Focus on good customers.
You want to focus your efforts on the demographic that works best with your business and spends the most at your business. This way you will have the best outcome for your data analysis. A lot of what you measure should be what advertisements and links are bringing which type of customers to your website. Which keywords drive high-value customers to your site and which drive low-value customers to do your site? Knowing those answers is one of the main benefits of analyzing big data. You have the potential to target only the best type of customer for your business.
- Test your data.
After you have gathered your data, you can use it to your advantage by testing your efforts. You can run different email marketing campaigns or paid search ads on social media and then analyze and compare the data to come up with the best system for your business. You can use your data in a variety of ways for many different aspects of your business. You can use Google Analytics to find out how long people are spending on each page of your site, where they are coming from, and what your conversion rates are.
- Prepare for different outcomes.
You can never know what information you can gain from the data you pull from your customers until you look at it. When creating a system for data analytics for your business, be sure to set several goals and prepare for several options. Depending on the industry your business is in and the data capabilities you have, you could end up with different results.
- Take advantage of your size.
Small businesses have a huge advantage when it comes to big data. Larger businesses and corporations have such a large amount of data to scrape that often times by the time they have analyzed and organized it to obtain useful metrics, the window of time it could have helped has already passed. Small businesses have the advantage of working closely with their customers and also have an overall smaller consumer base.
This means that you can take action on your data faster than the big guys. Because your business is more localized than large businesses, you can also get better information from your data because it will most likely come from the same area.
New technologies and consumer behaviors had made big data vital to the operation of successful businesses whether they are big or small. There are so many data platforms that any business owner can scrape to gather specific insights about their consumers and how their content, advertisements, and promotions reach and fit their consumers preferences and needs.
Small business owners can use big data to create better relationships with their clients based on more accurate consumer profiles. Getting an education on how big data can increase your sales and conversions while optimizing and streamlining your marketing efforts could be the best thing you ever did for your business.
Tools and Apps You Need
Things aren’t always by the books anymore. To get business done more quickly and effectively, you need to invest in the right tools and applications. Here is a breakdown of tools all small business can use and tools for a few specific industries.
Financial management tools
One of the traditional challenges of running a small business has been dealing with the financial management tasks like accounting, payroll, bookkeeping and invoicing. Managing money is the lifeblood of a small business, but many business owners are still trying to figure out the right blend of financial management tools to keep their company running smoothly.
There are still a lot of opportunities to use online tools to help save time and money when dealing with the day-to-day work of doing basic financial tasks like paying bills. Here are two financial management tools for small businesses.
Xero is described as “beautiful accounting software” that gives small business owners an easy, intuitive system for dealing with the day-to-day financial tasks of running your business, including:
- Purchase orders
- Projecting cash flow
- Managing payroll
- Time tracking
- Customer relationship management
There are five pricing plans for Xero, all of which you can try for free. Plans include:
- Starter: $9 per month
- Standard: $30 per month
- Premium 10: $70 per month (payroll up to 10 people)
- Premium 20: $90 per month (payroll up to 20 people)
- Premium 100: $180 per month (payroll up to 100 people)
FreshBooks is a cloud-based accounting software solution that enables small businesses to quickly track and send invoices via email or mail. It’s a great way to avoid slow payments or unpaid bills because it gives you great visibility into the overall status of your outstanding invoices, and it can integrate with online payment methods like PayPal, Stripe and others – no more waiting for paper checks to arrive in the mail.
FreshBooks offers a free 30-day trial and six payment plans – three for monthly and three for annually. Monthly plans include:
- Lite: $15 per month with 5 clients
- Plus: $25 per month with 50 clients
- Premium: $50 per month with 500 clients
Yearly plans include:
- Lite: $162 per year with 5 clients (or $13.50 per month)
- Plus: $270 per year with 50 clients (or $22.50 per month)
- Premium: $540 per year with 500 clients (or $45 per month)
Time management tools
Time management is important for all businesses, no matter the size. The right tools can make it easier to grow your business and stay productive, organized and efficient. Check out these three productivity and time management tools for small businesses.
Toggl is an online time tracker/timesheet app that keeps track of how much time you spend working on each particular project. The app enables you to sort and create reports by:
Toggl can help you:
- Make better use of your time
- Identify sources of wasted time and unprofitable projects
- Improve your team’s overall accuracy and productivity for billable hours
Toggl offers six plans: three for monthly and three for annual. For monthly plans:
- Starter: $10 per user per month
- Premium: $20 per user per month
- Enterprise: $59 per user per month
For annual plans:
- Starter: $108 per user per year (or $9 per user per month)
- Premium: $216 per user per year (or $18 per user per month)
- Enterprise: $588 per user per year (or $49 per user per month)
2. Remember the Milk
Remember the Milk is an online to-do list and task manager. It lets you:
- Manage tasks from a computer or mobile device
- Get reminders via e-mail or SMS
- Share tasks with other people on your team (assign “to-dos,” etc.)
- Syncs with Google Calendar and Evernote
Signing up for Remember the Milk is free.
Freedom is an app that helps you avoid online distractions by temporarily disconnecting your computer from the Internet. You simply turn on the Freedom app, tell it how long you need to be able to work offline without distractions, and then go to work. Freedom pricing comes in three options:
- $6.99 per month
- $29 per year (or $2.42 per month)
- $129 one-time purchase
Data/document sharing tools
You may have to share documents or data with your employees from time-to-time. You’ll want to do this in a secure and safe way. Check out these three document sharing tools for your small business.
Evernote is a note-taking app that can help:
- Conduct research
- Save information that you find online
- Share sources
- Collaborate with employees
With Evernote, you can clip sections of articles or entire website pages and save them to a designated Evernote folder. The Evernote system easily syncs between your computer hard drive, your mobile devices and the cloud, so you can quickly access any document or piece of information when you’re on the go. Evernote acts like an extension of your brain – but more organized.
The three packages for Evernote include:
- Business: $14.99 per user per month and comes with a free trial
- Plus: $34.99 per year
- Premium: $69.99 per year
2. G Suite
Google offers business-grade email and productivity tools in a suite of services called G Suite. The productivity software (Google Docs) is cloud-based and stored on Google Drive. That means you can access your files from any computer, tablet or smartphone. Google Docs has a similar functionality to Microsoft Office.
So, if you have clients or collaborators who prefer to use Word documents or Excel spreadsheets, you can easily convert the Google Docs versions to Microsoft format. Google Docs makes it easy to share your work with your teammates, whether they’re in the same office or on the other side of the world. Multiple users can review the same document in real-time.
There are four pricing package options for G Suite, three for companies and one for teams:
- Teams: $10 per user per month
- Basic: for companies, $5 per user per month
- Business: for companies, $10 per user per month
- Enterprise: for companies, $25 per user per month
Box is a cloud-based content management and file sharing service. It can help you:
- Create rich user experiences
- Organize and manage content
- Have complete control of your business
- Develop new applications
Box works from anywhere on any device. You can create automate updates of changes and distribute edits to documents in real time. You can also set actions on folders to automate the process of routine tasks. Box integrates thousands of apps – from Microsoft tools to Slack to Salesforce – to allow to you work with applications you’re already familiar with. There are four packages for Box:
- Starter: $5 per user per month
- Business: $15 per user per month
- Business Plus: $25 per user per month
- Enterprise: Price varies by business size and needs
Remote Work Tools
If you or your employees work remotely, you need to ensure your communication and productivity are just as strong as they would be in an office. Check out these three tools your small business can use to help.
Slack is a cloud-based set of tools and services to simplify communication within your team, making it easier to collaborate on projects and tasks. With Slack, you can:
- Streamline work among team members
- Automate mundane tasks
- Bring context to your conversations
Slack is one of the best communication tools out there, especially for remote workers. It gives you the feeling of working in an office without actually being in the office. Slack offers a free plan, which is great for smaller teams wanting to try it out. However, there are two other plans, which cost monthly or annual fees:
- Standard Plan: $80 per year per active user or $8 per month per active user
- Plus Plan: $150 per year per active user or $15 per month per active user
Zoom is a video and web conferencing service that allows up to 500 video participants and 10,000 viewers for your meetings. It’s easy-to-scale and can make remote meetings that much easier to conduct. With Zoom, you can conduct:
- Online meetings
- Technical support
- Video webinars for marketing events
- Town hall meetings
- Collaboration-enabled conference rooms
- Cross-platform meetings with file sharing
- Video, voice and screen sharing on mobile apps
Zoom’s basic features are free and can host up to 100 participants with unlimited meetings, including one-on-ones. However, each group meeting is limited to 40 minutes. There are three other packages to consider:
- Pro Plan: $14.99 per month per host
- Business Plan: $19.99 per month per host
- Enterprise Plan: $19.99 or more per month per host
Basecamp is an organizational, collaborative tool that combines discussions, tasks, files, schedules and chat in one place. It makes it easy to see what needs to get done, where to find these tasks, who is assigned these tasks and more. With Basecamp you’ll get:
- More accountability
- Quicker communication
- Knowledge of timelines and to-do lists
Basecamp offers a free 30-day trial and comes with an all-inclusive plan at $99 per month. The plan includes:
- Unlimited users
- Unlimited projects
- All tools and features
- 500GB of file storage
Payroll may not be the most exciting part of running your small business, but it is an important part of making sure that your employees are well taken care of. When you’re handling a number of other tasks on a day-to-day basis, it can be easy to neglect your payroll duties or make simple errors that can end up costing you as the fees and fines add up.
The best way to make sure that your payroll is being completed properly and your employees are happy is to use online payroll tools or services. Payroll tools for small business make it simple to complete payroll without having to worry about errors, legal mistakes or any wasted time. Here are five of the best payroll tools available today for your business.
1. Intuit Payroll
Intuit Payroll has a variety payroll service options that offer something for every small business owner. This online payroll service is a great choice for small business owners that are currently using QuickBooks for their accounting as they offer options and packages that work with QuickBooks. For now, we’ll look at the prices for payroll only.
- Basic Plan: currently $24 per month (down from $30)
This package allows you to create instant paychecks for W-2 employees with automatic guaranteed tax calculations and free direct deposit. The basic package also offers helpful extras like free live support and the ability to run payroll from your mobile device.
- Enhanced Plan: currently $36 per month (down from $45)
This offers both paychecks and payroll taxes. This option includes everything that’s available in the Basic package, but it also automatically fills in tax forms and allows you to file and pay taxes electronically.
- Full Service Plan: currently $87.20 per month (down from $109)
All this plan requires you to do is enter your hours, then Intuit Payroll takes care of the rest. They will set up, run and file payroll for you, transferring any necessary data from previous providers.
2. RUN Powered by ADP
RUN Powered by ADP is another online payroll service that can help you save time and money. This service, developed just for small businesses, helps you streamline your payroll so that you can get back to your core tasks. RUN also has a full-featured mobile app that allows you to manage and process your payroll anywhere.
The provider offers three different packages, depending on your construction company’s specific payroll needs. They are:
- Essential Payroll
- Enhanced Payroll
- Complete Payroll + HR
The Essential Payroll option offers all the basic payroll and tax filing services that your small business would need, including:
- Direct deposit
- 1099 forms
- W-2 forms
- Tax filing
- Electronic reports
The Enhanced Payroll option offers the same basic options provided in the Essential package, with additional HR tips and resources to help make sure that your company is compliant.
For more extensive HR services, ADP also offers a Complete Payroll + HR option with more comprehensive hiring and HR management services.
However, prices are not listed on their site. This could be due to prices varying upon business size and needs. You can request a quote, and ADP is offering a limited special offer of the first two months of payroll for free.
If you are looking for something a little more simple and affordable, OnPay might be the right online payroll service for you. Though they do not have the add-ons that other services provide, they also offer a straightforward pricing model that provides the payroll necessities that small business owners need to manage their payroll effectively.
Pricing varies upon how many employees your business has. For example, at $76 per month, you can check printing for up to 10 employees and get unlimited pay runs, tax filings and deposits.
- On-demand payroll processing
- On-site check printing
- Full tax service
- Direct deposit
- Time off accrual tracking
- Seamless integration with accounting software and Guideline 401(k)
Set up is simple, and the OnPay team offers free phone, chat and email support along the way.
Another great feature is that it allows you to assign roles to everyone in your organization to allow access to certain features. The access levels include:
Users can be members of multiple companies and hold multiple access levels. This makes it easy to give your employees the access they need to make sure the payroll process runs smoothly.
Once your business has hired a few employees, the complexity of financial management grows. Now, you have to make sure you have enough money in the bank to make payroll every month, as well as process payroll checks and manage withholding taxes.
Gusto gives small businesses a simple, well-designed solution that enables much calmer, blissful payroll processing. The Gusto includes features like:
- Automatic tax calculation
- Tax payments
- Tax filing
- Reporting new employees for tax purposes
- Paying contractors
- Setting up direct deposit and more.
Gusto automatically files your local, state and federal taxes, allowing you to integrate with your existing accounting software. This payroll tool also allows employees to access their payroll information like W-2s and pay stubs online, even after they leave the company.
Unlike some of their competitors, Gusto does not charge extra for some premium services, making them a great option for construction business owners who are looking for added services at an affordable rate. Some of these include
- Time-off tracking
- Tax form amendments
- Expedited payrolls
- Multiple pay schedules
- Unlimited payrolls
Gusto offers a one-month free trial before you commit to a plan. There are three plans to choose from:
- Core: $6 per month per person plus $39 per month base
- Complete: $12 per month per person plus $39 per month base
- Concierge: $12 per month per person plus $149 per month base
Much like Intuit Payroll, Sage offers different payroll packages to meet your small businesses unique needs. Packages include:
- Direct deposit
- Standard reporting
- PTO and overtime tracking
- Time off management
- Access to an HR compliance center with live support from experts
As your business grows and your payroll needs change, Sage can grow with you. When you’ve outgrown the Essentials package, you can move to the Full Payroll Service. This is priced according to your business size and how often you process payroll. This option also comes with:
- Dedicated payroll agent
- Unlimited deductions
- Check delivery
- Custom reporting
- Benefits administration
This makes Sage a great option for small businesses that predict rapid growth in the near future. While payroll pricing is not available on their site, you can book a demo to see how Sage works and if it’s a right fit for your small business.
Did you know that 75 percent of consumers expect a consistent experience when engaging with a business? How you manage your customer service can make or break your business. Customers who appreciate being heard and valued are more likely to become repeat, loyal customers and potential brand advocates. They’re also more likely to recommend your business to their friends, family and peers. Here are three tools to help grow your customer service.
1. Help Scout
Help Scout is help desk software that enhances customer experience by improving visibility into every stage of the customer service process – from responding to inquiries to resolving issues to viewing customer relationship histories.
Help Scout makes it easy to assign tasks and create workflows among different members of the help desk team, leading to faster resolution of customer issues and building stronger customer relationships.
It comes with yearly or monthly payments. Broken down:
- Standard: $25 per user per month or $20 per user per year
- Plus: $40 per user per month or $32 per user per year
- Company: Monthly and yearly costs vary upon business size and needs
- Lightning Service Console: information that agents need is at their fingertips with a 360-degree view of customers
- Case Management: resolves cases faster with easier visibility to their context
- Service Process and Automation: customizable and automated customer service or approval processes
- Omni-Channel Routing: delivers smarter service through automated case matching to the appropriate agent
- Telephony Integration: instantly log notes when customers call, manage calls within consoles without touching the phone
- Social Customer Service: monitors and responses to customers more quickly on social channels such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and more
- Automation with Macros: automates common, repetitive, multistep tasks to resolve customer issues more efficiently and free up time for support staff
- Asset and Order Management: tracks customers’ assets, orders, support history and more in one place to view a complete history of their activity
Service cloud pricing comes in four packages, all of which come with free trials:
- Lightning Essentials: $25 per user per month (billed annually)
- Lightning Professional: $75 per user per month (billed annually)
- Lightning Enterprise: $150 per user per month (billed annually)
- Lightning Unlimited: $300 per user per month (billed annually)
LiveAgent is help desk software that keeps you in quicker communication with your customers. You can stay on top of your requests from a variety of channels. Channels include:
- Ticketing: All communication transformed into tickets
- Live Chat: Build in, real-time chat messenger
- Phone: Connect any number, receive, route and make calls with unlimited backups
- Support Portal: Self-service for customers with answered provided 24/7
- Social: Answer customers on Facebook and Twitter
With LiveAgent, you have unlimited inbound calls as well as pc-to-pc calls, internal and outbound calls and more. You can access it from your browser, smartphone or mobile app. LiveAgent offers a 14-day all-inclusive trial, with the option to pick a plan later. Plans include:
- Ticket: $12 per agent per month
- Ticket + Chat: $29 per agent per month
- All-Inclusive: $59 per agent per month
With these tools in your arsenal, your small business should be ready to increase efficiency, productivity and brand loyalty. Now it’s time to look at other technologies your business should consider implementing within the next few years.
Technologies to Consider
As technologies continue to expand, it’s important for your small business to keep up. Consider implementing these four technologies for your small business.
The 2017 Equifax hack brought to light the growing need for cybersecurity. To break down what happened:
- Equifax saw a data breach in September 2017
- Sensitive, personally identifiable information (PII) was compromised (names, date of birth, Social Security numbers and more)
- New documents as of February 2018 show that driver’s license state and issue dates were also compromised
- 4 million U.S. consumers were affected (check if you’ve been impacted here)
- Equifax offers free credit freezes through June 30, 2018
Small businesses may not think they’re targets to cyber threats, and 90 percent of them report they don’t use tools and procedures for business and consumer data. However, the issue became so bad that in April 2017, Congress addressed the cyberwar on small business, showing that 14 million small businesses had been hacked over the last 12 months.
If you’re not sure what type of cyber threats are out there, check out these four common cyberattacks:
- Ransomware: The most popular form of cyberattacks, ransomware is malicious software (malware) that takes over computers, threatens your business with harm and denies you access to your data. These attacks can come in a variety of forms (including phishing and social engineering), and hackers will demand a ransom to restore access to their data upon payment (however, they may not always be truthful about that restoration).
- Socially engineered malware: This form tricks users into running a Trojan horse program (often from websites they trust and frequently visit!). The maligned websites will tell users to install new pieces of software in order to gain access, run fake antivirus software or run some form of “critical” software. Essentially, the virus pretends to be legitimate when in fact, it performs rogue actions and are responsible for hundreds of millions of hacks each year.
- Phishing attacks: Around 60-70 percent of email is spam, and most of that percentage are attackers hoping to trick users into providing login credentials.
- Social media attacks: Some attacks can come in the form of phony friend requests or application install requests. Accepting these requests from unknown users often gives more access to social media accounts (whether it be user or company). Passwords can be collected, as people tend to use the same password for multiple accounts.
The cost of an informational attack can break a small business, with estimates ranging between $84K to $148K. So, how can you protect your small business from hackers? Here are eight cybersecurity defenses you should invest in:
- Firewalls to provide a barrier between your information and hackers
- Anti-malware software to decrease phishing attacks
- Training for employees
- Changing passwords every 60-90 days
- Requiring strong passwords (81 percent of data breaches were due to lost, weak or stolen passwords)
- Using multifactor identification on major network and emails products
- Application and patching testing
- AI machine-learning tools to predict and identify threats
Have you ever wondered how you get from point A to point B when you take a commercial airline flight? It’s believed that a pilot is operating the plane for the entirety of the flight.
The reality is that there are only about seven minutes of human-steered flight, and that’s generally reserved for take-off and landing. So, what about the remainder of flight? Well, that’s where artificial intelligence (AI) comes in.
AI is the insertion of human-like intelligence into machines by way of computer systems which make them capable of:
- Visual recognition
- Decision-making abilities
- Language translation
The computer systems developed for airplanes are equipped with specific algorithms made to help automate the flight process and imitate human flight control.
Major airlines aren’t the only ones benefiting from the use of AI technology. Companies, both large and small, all over the world have started using AI for a number of business operation needs. In fact, HubSpot’s annual report found that 80 percent of respondents believe AI improves worker performance and creates jobs.
Here are four ways small business owners are making the most of AI technology:
- Customer service: Chatbot technology is changing the way customer-facing departments operate. They offer a faster, more consistent and cost-effective way of communicating with customers without jeopardizing the customer experience.
- Marketing and sales: By 2020, 80 percent of all marketing executives believe AI will revolutionize the marketing industry. AI can provide better insight into customer behavior, optimize campaign performance and increase brand awareness through a more tailored social strategy. Conversation intelligence is an AI sales training tactic that helps by making sales teams smarter and more efficient.
- Employee hiring and training: Hiring the wrong person can be a costly mistake. In fact, 52 percent of talent acquisition leaders say the hardest part of recruitment is identifying the right candidates from a large applicant pool. AIs, such as applicant tracking systems, help the recruitment process by both saving time by automating the applicant screening process and improving the quality of hires through data-driven job matching. There are plenty of options, so be sure to do your research to find the best applicant tracking system for your business.
- Fraud prevention: By monitoring fraudulent trends and adapting to them, AI and machine learning are helping small businesses in detecting and preventing fraud before it happens. As technology evolves, so will fraud attacks. Machine learning allows businesses to be quick and reliable resources for their customers by delivering intelligent, dynamic protection against various threats across all channels.
Technological advancements over the years have made it possible to have AI quite literally at our fingertips. For example, every time you pick up your iPhone to ask Siri a question or use apps like Uber and Lyft to order a ride, you’re using AI.
Every day, more consumers are starting to depend on AI to simplify daily life, and that same trend is starting to emerge for business operations. If you’re ready to take your small business to the next level, consider adopting some AI technologies to get you there. You’ll want to begin by identifying the problems AI can solve and the tools you’ll need to help you with the process.
For more information on AI, Liam Hänel, founder of Lyra, wrote a three-part series providing an extensive list of AI tools for general SMB and industry-specific companies that you can start using today.
The “Internet of Things” (IoT) has been getting more and more attention in recent years. So, what exactly is it?
IoT essentially gives intelligence to ordinary things that wouldn’t have otherwise been intelligent. By taking every day physical objects and equipping them with processors that enable them to connect to a network, they’ve been made digital. This allows you to control these objects from anywhere through the simple use of the internet.
So, why should IoT matter to you? Well, for starters, think about how smart devices are helpful around your house. For example, you’ve already left for work and halfway through your commute you remember you left the iron plugged in. If you’ve installed smart outlets, which are connected to your Wi-Fi, then you can just get on your smartphone and turn the outlets off. Problem solved, just like that. Sounds nice, right?
Now take that same ease of access and insert it into something you use for work. Imagine if your printers at work could refill their own ink once they’ve run dry or if they were capable of ordering more cartridges in case you’re out. That’s one less cumbersome task you’ll have to worry about getting in the way of your productivity.
IoT was created with the intent of making tasks easier to do which is why many businesses today are embracing the emergence of IoT in the workspace. In fact, almost two-thirds of companies say they find IoT important to their current business, and 90 percent say they believe it will be important to the future of their business.
So, now that we have an idea of what IoT is, let’s check out some of the advantages and disadvantages of incorporating it into your business.
- Automation of daily business operations
- Cost-saving solutions and applications
- Increase in task productivity and efficiency
- Boosts in data collection and retention to better understand trends and business projections
- Enhanced communication opportunities
- Increase in data security and privacy protection
- Job creation in highly-skilled management positions, entry-level and low-skilled jobs
- Device compatibility and integration complications
- Job loss due to the insertion of machines in menial positions (however, job loss will not outweigh job creation)
- Increased dependency on technology
- With so many devices interconnected comes a higher risk of being hacked
While IoT has already drastically revolutionized how we do things, this is only just the beginning. As of 2018, there are around 23.14 billion IoT connected devices worldwide. This number is expected to more than triple by 2025, staggering to 75.44 billion connected devices.
IoT is growing at an unprecedented pace and its future is bright. It’s inevitable that we will see it become increasingly prominent the workspace.
However, before you decide to jump on the bandwagon, be sure to do your homework for a smooth integration. Depending on what your business needs are, consider looking to an IoT company or product to help get you started.
Blockchain & Cryptocurrency
Blockchain is an online ledger where payments made by various cryptocurrency is publically recorded. Cryptocurrency is a form a digitally encrypted currency which can be bought with real currency and then exchanged for products or services online.
The most recognizable form of cryptocurrency is Bitcoin. Bitcoin is a peer-to-peer payment network that is done digitally. Essentially, it is known as a cryptocurrency because there is no actual exchange of digital notes or tokens. Instead, the consumer updates a public transaction log to transfer bitcoin currency to the seller.
Although it had been previously conceptualized, blockchain technology made its debut almost ten years ago. The first implementation of blockchain was made for Bitcoin where its role is to work as the public ledger for all transactions made with the cryptocurrency.
In the short amount of time since its launch, blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies have propelled into popularity, and the market continues to grow. In fact, by the end of 2020, the banking industry will derive $1 billion in business value from the use of blockchain-based cryptocurrencies according to Gartner.
So, what makes blockchain technology so appealing to businesses? It’s simply designed to be more secure and permeant in nature. Once something such as a transaction has been recorded and verified in the database network by way of techniques using mathematical encryption, it can’t be changed or altered in any way. Here are a few reasons businesses are turning towards the use of blockchain:
- Security: A blockchain is a network of data comprised of “blocks” creating a “chain.” Each block is encrypted with the use of a complex mathematical equation. If a hacker wanted to change data logged in a blockchain, they would need to make the change to not just one block, but every block connected through the chain. In order to avoid being caught, they’d need to solve each associated problem. Because of this, blockchain is almost impossible to hack.
- Smart contracts: These unbreakable contracts are automated, encrypted computer programs set to carry out the terms of a payment contract. They tend to be more reliable in terms of fraud prevention and accuracy by automating input of contract terms. Smart contracts are also able to bypass regulatory laws, which helps small business owners eliminate their dependency on lawyers, brokers or other financial agents making them a cheaper option. Ethereum is one of the most widely used platforms for smart contracts.
- Payments and transfers: By using blockchain, payments and money transfers can be securely sent with the click of a button to almost anywhere in the world without the use of financial intermediaries at an almost nonexistent fee rate.
As more companies start to draw towards the appeal of blockchain technology, it possible you’ll find yourself among the crowd. However, before you jump the gun, be sure to pinpoint where you’d like to incorporate blockchain into your business and get familiar with the different types of blockchain applications out there.
The most used form of blockchain is enabling money payments and transfers. This is where Bitcoin comes in. Although Bitcoin is known to have rather low transaction fees for the most part, 2017 showed a much different side. January started out with transaction fees as low as 30 cents on the dollar, but by the end of the year, Bitcoin users were looking at fees of up to $40. And that’s not even the highest users have seen since the digital currency’s inception!
While the transaction fee scare has pretty much mellowed out in 2018, there are still some things that people worry about when considering if they should start using Bitcoin or not. Let’s look at some of the pros and cons of Bitcoin:
- Merchants typically accept bitcoin because its zero to one percent transaction fee is smaller than the typical two to five percent credit card fee.
- Users tend to like the anonymity aspect of paying with Bitcoin. While amount paid can be seen, personally identifiable information cannot be seen.
- Making international payments are much quicker and much easier than when using traditional currencies.
- Unlike debit or credit card payments, Bitcoin transactions cannot be reversed. Once a payment is made, it is set in stone and cannot be tampered with in any way.
- One of the major questions surrounding bitcoin usage is whether it is technically legal, as it is not supported by any government agency or most big businesses, and how accepting bitcoin could affect taxes for businesses.
- Another key worry for those contemplating the use of bitcoin is its fluctuating exchange rates that change based on total bitcoin usage amounts and country of purchase. For example, the current exchange rate for Bitcoin is around $8,000 USD. When compared to Bitcoin’s peak in December 2017 when it reached a whopping $19,000 USD, you can see why users could get frustrated with such a dramatic drop in the currency’s worth.
- Fraud has also become a topic of consideration for those contemplating the use of bitcoin. You’ll want to avoid falling victim to fake exchange scams. False invoices could find their way to your customers who use bitcoin if your bitcoin information is compromised, and those payments could be sent to a random account where they will be exchanged for cash.
While they may seem daunting, these technologies can help your small business keep up with, or even step ahead of your competition. However, not all in the tech world is glamorous. There is a major gender gap regarding women in tech. We break it down below (and show some awesome success stories!).
Women in Tech
For women with STEM skills and aspirations, choosing to become an entrepreneur in the tech sector may seem like the perfect fit. Unfortunately, women in this field are often at a significant disadvantage. Check out some of the stats:
- Female-led startups receive 50 percent less venture capitalist (VC) funding than male counterparts
- In fact, in 2016, $1.46 billion was invested in women-led companies whereas male-led companies earned $58.2 billion in VC funding
- However, they generate a 35 percent higher return on investment (ROI) than companies led by men
- Average earnings for women in tech are 29 percent less than male counterparts
And these are just a few of the stats.
Fortunately, efforts to address this issue (e.g. in 2015, Intel pledged $125 million over 5 years in tech startups run by women and minorities, and in 2014, Google allocated $50 million to its Made with Code initiative), there is a dire need for more role models to motivate girls and women to pursue a career in tech.
No matter where you’re at in your entrepreneurial journey, there are women who can relate and have advice to offer. Here are five of their stories below.
Founded in October 2006, SlideShare has become the de-facto way to present and share slideshows over the internet. Back in 2013, SlideShare averaged 60 million unique visitors per month and over 200 million page views.
Named as one of the most influential women in Web 2.0 by Fast Company in 2008, Rashmi Sinha is the CEO and co-founder of Slideshare. Leveraging her PhD in Cognitive Neuropsychology, Rashmi realized early on that in-person presentations could easily transition to an online format and reach and educate even more people.
“Web 2.0 is also the right mix of the social and the technical so that women can prosper,” she asserts.
And thrive she did. In 2012, LinkedIn acquired her professional content sharing platform for $119 million and kept Rashmi as CEO of SlideShare.
2. Lanmark Technology
Headquartered in Virginia, Lanmark Technology (LMT) is a woman- and service-disabled, veteran-owned small business that provides IT and administrative support to clients in the public and private sectors.
What makes LMT’s story stand out from that of other IT contractors is that LMT started as a one-woman operation. A former U.S. Naval Intelligence Officer with recognized tactical intelligence expertise, Lani Hay started out with $6,000 in savings and credit card charges.
She turned LMT from a threat analytics firm (e.g. detecting explosive devices) to a multi-channel government contractor.
In 2012 LMT grossed $35 million in revenues and in 2013, $40 million. Her secret? She claims, “a small business really can deliver better work at significant savings to the taxpayers. That’s always my pitch.”
Alexandra Pierson is the founder of Springpop, a Philadelphia-based company that developed an app that compiles content geared toward specific readers’ interests. She has been running the company for more than two years and says her success is due in part to her ability to not let the naysayers stop her.
“The truth is, being an entrepreneur means facing rejection almost every day, especially when you are first starting out,” Alexandra says. “Behind every success you hear about are thousands of hours of hard work and disappointment, so the key is never giving up and not letting setbacks stop you.”
If you’re currently trying to build a company, Alexandra says that it’s not all about doing everything yourself.
“Sometimes entrepreneurs can feel like they can or need to do everything in the company at first, but I’m a strong believer in surrounding yourself with people who are better than you in some sort of capacity.”
This includes everyone from family and friends who think you’re doing something that you shouldn’t be to people in your industry who turn down your ideas. It’s important to truly believe in yourself, she says, and turn any problems or hurdles you face into motivators instead of roadblocks.
Beyond that, she says her “advice to women who want to be entrepreneurs is to never give up, and to develop a thick skin. If you believe in your product or service, then work hard. At some point, something has to give, and hard work always leads to something fruitful, whether it be lessons learned or success.”
There are a lot of challenges that come with starting a business and getting it off the ground, but money is usually number one. If you, as a business owner, can control your finances, you’ll have a better chance of being able to take your business to the next level. That’s just what Lori Cheek, founder and CEO of Cheekd, a geo-based dating app headquartered in New York City, found out after she launched the app in 2010.
Lori went from a 15-year career in architecture, where she was making a comfortable six-figure salary, to struggling to get her business funded.
“The financial struggles have definitely been the most challenging aspect of my business,” Lori says.
So, to help get things off the ground, Lori decided to take her business to the Shark Tank investors. After being denied by all the Sharks, she received thousands of emails, app downloads and was even contacted by people interested in investing in her business.
“We’ve raised five times the amount I’d sought on the show, and I’ve gotten a CTO on board who’s helped facilitate and finance the new face and technology behind the new Cheekd,” Lori says.
While securing capital for your business is certainly important, Lori says the most important advice for any female entrepreneur is to fight for your dream.
“If you truly believe in your idea, give up excuses and doubt, surround yourself by a trusted and talented team, bulldoze forward and don’t look back,” she says.
In 2014, Chrissie Gorman and Mike Krzyzewski (yes, that one – the head coach of Duke University’s men’s basketball team) founded PowerForward, a leadership development platform based on Coach K’s strategies. And the biggest thing she learned was not to listen to everyone around her – but instead to trust her gut.
“My gut told me to follow my passion and leave my comfortable job to pursue PowerForward, which ended up working out,” Chrissie says. “If you are feeling apprehensive about something, it is important to at least think through why and assess whether your apprehension is worth listening to. It often is.”
Women are often instructed to go with facts and figures in business instead of their intuition, especially because the world – particularly the tech world – is so data-driven. While this isn’t always a bad thing, it’s important to remember that not every business decision can come down to hard facts. Sometimes you simply need to follow your “gut” in leadership.
Beyond following her intuition, Chrissie also says that, while she was building a company by partnering with a big name in the sports world, she was nervous because there’s no guarantee that the support (both financial and emotional) will come in.
“I left a very comfortable consulting job to start PowerForward without a salary or a sense of how long it would be before I had a salary again,” Chrissie says. “I basically became an entrepreneur of myself during that time while also launching PowerForward.
Whether it’s a content-sharing platform, IT services company, ecommerce site or smartphone app, these women-owned tech startups prove that women are ready to meet and exceed the needs of the tech industry.
Getting your foot in the door
Most entrepreneurs battle with funding their business, as you’ll note from some of the experiences the women leading their own tech ventures mentioned. As you work to build your new business, you’ll certainly have expenses to pay for, which can be challenging when you’re putting a lot of money into making your dream a reality.
One way that you may be able to help your budget in the process is by using cash back credit cards to pay for materials you may need since you’ll reap a financial reward for your spending.
Business credit cards are one option for funding. Often times, you can get sign-on bonuses, a percentage of cash back or points for each dollar spent. However, these can come with annual fees and higher interest rates depending on the card.
Another option to help get your business some cash flow is taking out a small business loan. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) offers small business loan programs they act as a guarantor for, although none are particularly designed with women in mind.
If none of these options seem right for you or your business, perhaps you can look to crowdfunding sites or see if any of your friends or relatives would be interested in helping you fund your business. While this may be one of the easier routes to help you raise money, as you already have access to these people, it doesn’t come without risks. Make sure you document all the fine details of the money. Ask yourself:
- Is this a loan I’m paying back and, if so, what are the terms?
- Is it a gift?
- Are there any expectations either party has? Do they want part of the business? Do they want updates on a regular basis?
Getting all this outlined ahead of time will certainly pay off down the road.
There is definitely a lot to think about as you venture out on your own with a business. Luckily, as the advice above attests, there are plenty of reasons to stay motivated when the going gets tough and as technologies continue to advance into 2020.
2020 is supposedly the next big year for technological evolution. We already covered some predictions for current technologies in the third chapter. But here are four technologies experts see coming for 2020 and beyond. These can help further streamline your small business, increasing efficiency, productivity and customer satisfaction.
1. Internet of Everywhere
IoT is predicted to be in 95 percent of electronics for new product designs by 2020. Adding IoT features to products will become cheaper and cheaper each year. Of course, security challenges must be handled, but businesses should still start thinking about how to implement IoT to their operations and consumer-facing products. Security budgets will also be more focused toward IoT by 2022. This will be toward fault remediation, recalls and safety failures.
2. Real-time education and training
Technology is expected to help employees gain the skills and training to adapt to real-time industry changes. Widespread access to training will be done through online and on-demand courses. This means employees will regularly update their skills, education and training while they work, which means they can be more productive and relevant in their industry.
3. Rise of bots and AI
Chatbots are expected to become the face of AI, with more than 50 percent of enterprise businesses are predicted to spend more per year on bots and chatbots than mobile apps. By 2021, individual apps are likely to be faded out – or at the very least, just another one of many options for consumers to access your business. AI will also create 2.3 million more jobs (while also eliminating 1.8 million) by 2020.
4. Immersive customer experience
Visual and voice search is expected to continue growing. By 2021, the digital commerce revenue will grow from the two by 30 percent. Visual and voice search help marketers gather even more information about consumer habit, which will, in turn, provide higher conversion rates, revenue, customers and customer satisfaction for early adopters of voice and visual.
We also asked small business owners how they use technology for their small businesses and where they see it growing by 2020. Here’s what seven small business owners had to say.
5. Stacy Clements, Milepost 42
“The two technology tools I’ve implemented in the past year that have saved me the most time are:
- Integrated invoicing, payments and accounting system
- An online booking system
Setting up automated invoicing and having online payments automatically added into my accounting system has been a definite benefit – and impressed my accountant, who recently praised me for being extremely organized when I sent my records for review before filing my taxes.
Another time (and aggravation) saver for me is an online booking system I set up a few months ago. Now instead of having to email back and forth to find a good time for a phone call, the client can check my booking schedule and find a time that works for them. When they book an appointment with me, my calendar is automatically populated, so I know what I have on the schedule.
My prediction for small business and technology is that the need for cybersecurity will continue to increase and become even more important for small businesses, as they become more dependent on technology to run their businesses. In addition to the need for small businesses to find technology solutions that help streamline their processes, they also need to remember to update their business continuity plans to account for the potential disruption of the services they use.”
6. Mark Oman, Xtra-PC
“Technology has enabled us to compete in the global game. Because of the many SAS apps that we utilize the ShippingEasy and Shopify, we can have a small business in a small town and sell to every country in the world. I predict that technology will continue to empower the small business owner and enable them to compete with anyone, anywhere.”
7. Adam Amrine, Adro Solutions, LLC
“The tools and apps available have helped me run and operate my business in a more efficient manner and wisely use the time that I have available. For example, I can send professional invoices at a minimal fee and no upfront setup cost. I use a free CRM to manage my customers, contacts opportunities and deals. This is incredibly useful since I run my small business on the side, and time is a very important asset. Since I’m in the software development fields, there are free versions of Visual Studio for application development and Visual Studio Team Services (for source control).
I feel like technology is going to make the barrier to entry for a small business much lower. I can see the number of small businesses and freelancers growing over the next several years.”
8. Jessica Starks, J.D. Scribes
“Technology has been amazing for my business. Being that I specialize in digital marketing, tools and apps are pretty essential to what I do! Whether it be social media apps like Facebook and Instagram, post scheduling tools or online tax software, these things really have made my life as a small business owner much easier and organized.
I believe that technology will become an even bigger asset to small business, especially when it comes to reaching customers that are a greater distance away. As technology advances, I think it will make it much easier for small businesses to connect with business owners from all over the world and make it easier for them to interact with their customers in a more positive and meaningful way.
Although I believe technology is a wonderful asset, I would like to note that I do not believe that it will ever replace the value of genuine, real-life relationships and networking. I don’t believe anything will ever be able to top that.”
9. Michelle Garrett, Garrett Public Relations
“Technology saves me time in my business. Here are some examples:
- Buffer: When I schedule social media posts using Buffer, it saves me a lot of time. It also helps me by posting during times when I’m not at my computer, like overnight and on the weekends. This helps me grow my audience. Buffer has a free version, too.
- Pablo: I use this to create images to go with social media and blog posts. It’s a free tool. It works nicely with Buffer (Buffer created Pablo).
- Wave: I use this for accounting. It has free versions.
- MailChimp: I use this to send out a monthly electronic newsletter. It’s free, up to 2,000 subscribers.
- Grammarly: I use this to edit my writing. They have a free version (I use the paid version). There’s also Hemingwayapp and ProWritingAid that are similar. Both also offer free versions.
As far as what I see for the future, I see more integration coming. So, for example, small businesses would be able to use a tool that would schedule meetings, handle invoices, provide CRM and more from one dashboard. There may be a few apps like this, but I see them becoming more sophisticated and easier to use.”
10. Anna Knezevic, M&A Solutions Ltd.
“One of the most helpful technologies to me is the GCP (Google Cloud Platform). I have it set up so that my regular desktop and my development environment (Jupyter) for data are easily accessible for prototyping from any point in the world. I can deal with large datasets and choose any machine specification I want in order to run this. This enables me to fit technology to my needs, and I really can’t explain to the fullest what a powerful thing this is.
Considering my level of technological sophistication, I think this is going to be an increasing trend; the more complicated stuff like AI and machine learning are going to become increasingly accessible to the wider layers of the population. Hopefully, they will change the way the news is consumed too, in order to give people more unbiased view. However, we are still a long way away from that.”
10. Steve Benson, Badger Maps
“We use Slack at Badger to always stay connected with the different teams and across our offices in Spain, San Francisco, Utah and the Philippines. It helps us to quickly communicate important updates, share files and improve internal communication and employee engagement.
We organize all documents and spreadsheets for our projects in Google Drive and sort them by department and topic etc. It makes it very easy for the whole team to work together on projects even if they’re not in the same office and stay on top of the progress. This helps us scale processes and work more efficiently.
The most important trend I see is what I call the ‘Small Business-izing of Technology’. Cloud-based technology is bringing enterprise-class business software to small businesses, which 10 years ago was only available to large companies with big technology budgets.
In the past, the big tech companies like IBM, Oracle and SAP focused on high quality and high expense solutions to Fortune 500 companies. Today, even a small business with just a handful of people can get fantastic software to run their business. You can use Gusto for your payroll, Base CRM for your Sales Team, Hubspot for your Marketing and Google Apps for your collaboration and email. You don’t need to buy a data center; you can run your technology assets in Amazon Web Services and consume a ton of services via the many APIs available today.
This lowers the barriers to entry of starting a company because it takes so much of the complexity and costs off the table and clears the way for small businesses to innovate. Because of this technology, we were enabled to start our company on our savings and a shoestring budget, and over just five years, grow into the #1 routing app for salespeople in the App Store.”
Congratulations on making it through our detailed tech guide! If your small business isn’t as tech-savvy as you’d like it to be, don’t worry! This guide can help you start incorporating more technology into your business. If your business is already pretty-well integrated, but you’re looking to do even more, our guide can help with that as well. Feel free to go back through and see how you can incorporate even more technologies to prepare for 2020.
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