April 11, 2017 Helpful Tips

Self-tying shoes, virtual reality, self-driving cars – we’re living in the future. All the new technology coming out is exciting. And technological advances can also help your business! Of course, new technology is expensive, so how do you know what’s worth the cost? Drones are cool but does your bakery need one? So here are some of the pros’ top picks for the tech your small business needs in 2017 for your small business.

1. Smartphones

Smartphones aren’t exactly brand new, but you can’t afford not to have one anymore. They’re not just phones and texting machines – they’re powerful tools that can help you handle your business both on site and on the go. They’re basically mini-computers. Smartphones can dramatically increase your on-the-go productivity and responsiveness, by allowing you to check email, video conference call, and run a multitude of useful apps, among other things.

In addition to keeping you connected, smartphones give you some really helpful hardware options. You can get a portable credit card scanner that plugs into your phone and allows you to take credit card payments without one of those clunky (and pricey!) machines. You can get a scanner that allows your phone to read barcodes so you can ring people up or take inventory. With the right accessories, your smartphone can handle a wide range of business needs.

There are tons of options for smartphones, but at this point they’re all fairly similar. You can choose one based on what kinds of other devices you have or what system you’re comfortable with. Note that some types of apps (like Microsoft Office apps or project management apps) may run better on iPhones than on Androids or vice versa. So make sure to get an idea of how you’re going to be using that smartphone before you commit to an operating system. PC Magazine has a comprehensive review and rating of the top smartphones.

2. Responsive Web Design

We just got through explaining how important smartphones are, so this one follows naturally. In 2017, it’s imperative that all small businesses feature mobile-friendly websites. Your customers, patrons, clients, and business contacts are on the go, and they expect to be able to access your website from their mobile devices. Having a responsive web design can mean the difference between success and failure.

If your current website is relatively new and updated, then you may be be able to make small changes to boost mobile responsiveness. But, if your website is several years old, then you may need to invest in a programmer to help you conduct a full-site overhaul.

The best responsive web design streamlines navigation, simplifies content, and elevates design. Know that creating a responsive site is not just a once-and-done endeavor; you should constantly aim to tweak your site to improve the experience of your users.

Having an updated, sleek, functional website is a crucial investment.

3. Small Business Apps

Apps are for more than just time-killing games. There are tons of apps that can help make your small business more efficient. They can help you manage bookkeeping and inventory, take payments, manage projects, and more. Many of them integrate with desktop programs, so you can get the same information and functions whether you’re sitting at your desk or working from the road. These are a few of the options available:

Wunderlist: A task master and highly-evolved online to-do list organizer. Wunderlist is free, while Wunderlist for Business is $4.99 per user per month.

Rescue Time: Helps you stay on track online. Premium versions allow you to track time and set notifications. The basic version is free, while the premium package is $9 per month.

Toggl: Tracks your time automatically so you don’t have to. Toggl allows you to keep tabs on billable hours.

Square: Allows you to plug-in a portable credit card reader to process on-the-go payments. Square allows you to email or text receipts to customers.

FreshBooks: A simple-to-use accounting app. Allows you to track hours worked, log in your business expenses, and send invoices to your clients.

4. Your Own App

Depending on the type of business you’re in, it may be worthwhile to develop your own app. Your customers can use it to place orders, make appointments, shop, and more. That gives you a couple of benefits. First, your customers are always going to be happier when things are more convenient for them. An app can do that. Plus, it presents your business as serious and professional. Finally, an app allows you to gather valuable data about what your users look at, how they use your site, and what gets them to convert. You can use that data to tweak your products, branding, and marketing efforts and increase conversions.

Note that this won’t be the right option for everyone – designing and developing a professional app can be expensive. You’ll need the app itself, the back-end system where you can gather data, and the systems needed to connect the app to your physical business. The good news is that there are a lot of that kind of app out there, so developers can use “off-the-shelf” chunks of code for a lot of it. That brings down the cost, but it’s still an investment.

5. Social Media Tools

Social media is a crucial part of your marketing efforts, but it can feel a little overwhelming. You have a business to run – who has time to tweet all day or update Facebook? But you don’t have to! There are a number of tools out there to help make your social media management easier. Most of them allow you to put together a lot of posts all at once and schedule them out. So you may spend an hour or two on Monday morning and have your entire social media calendar for the week completed. There are also tools that make it easy for your users to share pages or content from your website or app with each other, which is a great form of word-of-mouth marketing. These are a few of the tools available:

Buffer: Allows you to manage your social media and share content. You can schedule your posts to automatically share throughout the day. Buffer allows you to pre-plan your social media strategy and set up an editorial calendar.

AddThis: Offers ways to target your intended social media audience. Customizable sharing buttons allow you to promote your website and your business with ease.

HootSuite: Consolidates your social media in one dashboard. Also allows you to view analytics.

And The Cool Stuff

We started out talking about drones and self-driving cars, and smartphones and laptops may seem a little drab in comparison. However, those really will help your small business. Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t use some of the cool stuff, too! That may present a way to differentiate your brand. For example, you might use a drone in your bakery after all – to deliver cupcakes to your customers’ tables. If it’s cost-effective, those kinds of quirky uses of technology can help differentiate you from the competition.

Whether you’re working with spreadsheets or robots, you can use technology to make your small business better.

 

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