In this digital world, it is important for small businesses to stay on top of technology trends and invest in solutions that continue to support their business models as their industries evolve. In fact, according to research conducted by Nationwide in early 2022, 40% of small-business owners surveyed had invested in new technology in the last year, with the top reason being to improve customer service.1
Let’s look at not only the benefits of small-business technology solutions, but also how to evaluate the best platforms for your business.
Technology evaluation – how to choose a solution
When choosing a technology solution, evaluate key features that may include any of the following or others specific to your needs:
- ease of use
- interoperability – how well it integrates with your other tools)
- innovation – (how much effort goes into continually improving the product)
- ecosystem – how connected the network of users is
- setup costs (direct and indirect)
- license costs
- maintenance costs.
How to create a decision matrix
With so many variables to weigh, how do you decide? Consider creating a decision matrix to compare each solution and make a logical and well-informed choice.
- Using a tool such as Microsoft Excel or a simple whiteboard, create a table of rows and columns
- List at least three software solutions you are comparing within the rows
- List the variables that impact your business across the columns such as price, scalability and ease of use
- Assign a numeric value of 1-5 for how each software option measures up in each category; for example, the most expensive option would score a1 for the Cost category, while the easiest to use would score a 5 for Ease of use.
- Add up each row and the solution with the highest score is the one you should most strongly consider
Common technology needs for small businesses
Technology solutions can help businesses succeed in dynamic ways. Businesses should periodically review their current solutions for operational efficiency, eCommerce and communications, and consider whether it’s time to evaluate the latest options available.
From cybersecurity to communications, small businesses can take advantage of technology to increase operational efficiency — the process of streamlining a business by wasting less time, effort and materials while maintaining a high-quality product or service.
The Small Business Association warns that cybercrimes against small businesses are on the rise because they house a wealth of personal data but often don’t have the same digital protections in place that large corporations do. A Nationwide study found that of the small-business owners who have experienced a cyberattack, 33% experience impacted or jeopardized finances, and 32% took a month or longer to recover.
Cyberattacks come in many forms, such as:
- Ransomware attacks occur when malware or ransomware accesses the computer system and proceeds to encrypt all files and data; getting the encryption key to unlock the files requires a ransom payment in cryptocurrency
- Social engineering scams, primarily phishing, occur when cybercriminals trick people into making security mistakes or giving away sensitive information
- Data breaches involve stolen sensitive information, such as personally identifiable information, protected health information, financial and credit information, and intellectual property, with a data breach costing a small business $178,000 on average
To keep your business secure, consider technology solutions such as Comodo, Microsoft Defender for Business, Symantec, Kaspersky or ESETn.
Project management software
Businesses from tech startups to marketing agencies can use project management software to keep jobs running smoothly and efficiently.
Some small businesses might go with more visual software such as Monday.com, Asana, Trello, ClickUp or Basecamp. Whereas agile project management excels with Jira and GitHub is essential for any software development team.
Data management is crucial for any type of business. The right software can help you regularly back up data and store copies offsite or in the cloud where it will be safe from malware and ransomware in the case of a cybersecurity attack.
Cloud solutions such IDrive, BackBlaze, CrashPlan, Carbonite and Acronis can be invaluable in keeping your business’s and customers’ data safe.
Customer service today extends well beyond face-to-face interactions into any sort of customer outreach. Customer service software such as Zendesk often integrates with customer relationship management (CRM) software such as HubSpot to help your team manage and track all interactions not only to deliver the best experience for current customers, but also to nurture future ones.
You might also consider Front, TeamSupport, Freshdesk or Zoho Desk to manage the customer experience online.
e-commerce platforms and websites for small business
Insider Intelligence predicts that by 2023, “worldwide retail e-commerce sales will total $6.169 trillion and make up a 22.3% share of total retail sales, up from $3.351 trillion and 13.8% in 2019.”
If you’re one of the many small-business owners evaluating how new e-commerce platforms can help you grow, it’s time to identify your business goals and the e-commerce options to help you reach them.
- Squarespace, Shopify, Weebly and Wix can work well for those who want an easy-to-use online solution — especially if you’re new or have a small team or budget to help create your website.
- BigCommerce is a more complex but scalable solution that excels at selling across platforms such as Instagram, eBay, Square and Amazon with a large selection of features and sales tools
- If you have a physical retail presence, then Square Online is a great option for merging your digital selling strategy (especially if already using Square for in-person transactions) with your offline sales
- Magento is a popular yet advanced solution for established retailers looking to offer excellent customer service, especially on a global scale
Communication platforms and remote work technology
Since 2020, businesses have learned that frequent (and often instant) communication is critical in maintaining a happy, productive and engaged workforce. The global shift to hybrid and remote work has magnified the need for effective communication and employee engagement.
Employee communications and messaging platforms
Countless small businesses use employee communication software to help employees stay connected to each other, increase productivity, collaborate and receive timely information for HR and marketing teams. Whether you need chat, video, voice, collaboration or all of the above, choosing the right platforms for your small business is a crucial step in improving operational efficiency.
Platforms you may want to consider to keep your team connected include Slack, Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Google Chat and Spaces.
While shifting away from in-person work has presented numerous challenges for small businesses, it has also leveled the playing field for many. New tech solutions offer opportunities for both your employees and your business operations.
Small businesses like yours are growing by leaps and bounds by embracing hiring (and working) from anywhere in the world, cultivating more work-life equity, uncovering rising star workers (and underperformers), and finding more time for creative thinking.
While the available technology solutions may feel overwhelming, the opportunities for small business growth have never been greater. Visit the Nationwide Business Solutions Center for more resources and tips on growing your business.