Ask any group of small business owners about their challenges, and integrating technology is probably near the top. In fact, an article published by Entrepreneur asked small business owners and founders about their main obstacles. Shifting to online sales and implementing digital processes made the list’s top four challenges.
However, that doesn’t mean small businesses aren’t already looking for new ways to use tech solutions. This includes both the tried-and-true and evolving, cutting-edge applications.
According to a Capterra survey of small business owners, 80% use finance and accounting software. Another 75% of these owners use some type of network security measure. Small businesses indicated that finance and accounting, information security, project and customer relationship management, and HR software are critical.
But with limited resources, it’s sometimes difficult to choose between payroll software for your small business and sexy AI applications. To help you make more informed decisions, here’s a look at the types of technologies small business owners are embracing.
Laying the Foundation
Remember that list of crucial applications for small businesses? Some of the technologies a business needs to run efficiently fall squarely into those categories.
HR and Payroll
Manually keeping track of new hires and current and former employees can be cumbersome. Figuring out who has completed onboarding and which workers are missing time cards requires superior organization and follow-up skills. Errors and oversights can easily happen.
This is where comprehensive small business payroll and HR solutions can lend a hand. These applications enable employees to keep track of their benefits, pay rates, and PTO balances. They can make vacation and sick leave requests that automatically get routed to managers for approval. Staff can access and print digital pay stubs and W-2s and change their tax withholdings.
HR and payroll software can deliver virtual onboarding and track the time hourly workers accumulate each pay period. Let the application make automatic payroll deductions for insurance plans, taxes, and 401(k)s. Direct deposit paychecks into employees’ designated accounts and get expert support for staying in compliance with new laws.
These are just a few of the tasks HR and payroll software can accomplish for a small business. Some solutions are customizable and can scale up as an organization grows.
It’s not just large organizations and corporate conglomerates that become targets for hackers. Any business in the digital realm is vulnerable to malware, phishing, ransomware, and data theft. Security packages for small businesses can protect multiple devices, including laptops, desktops, tablets, and servers.
Anti-malware and anti-spyware are typically included in these solutions. The software can be set up to regularly scan each computer and remove malicious programs. Firewalls and spam filters can block intrusions and undesirable emails, including those that contain suspicious links.
Cybersecurity software may also have features that verify the safety of email attachments and files. Such software can also manage passwords. With login management options, unique passwords can be randomly created for each employee. Those who need access to computer systems can receive new passwords according to predetermined intervals, such as every 90 days.
The great thing about password managers is they can store credentials that are hard to remember. They can also automatically fill in passwords when employees need to access different applications. This can prevent less secure practices like writing passwords down on sticky notes or storing them in email applications.
When more than one person or team is responsible for deliverables, project management software ensures everything stays organized. These applications facilitate communication and track which tasks are complete or still outstanding.
Project management software can help managers and teams create lists, assign and prioritize tasks, and send automated notifications about upcoming deadlines. Such tools can bring remote teams together and help employees who physically work together see the big picture.
Some project management solutions are packaged with other business cloud applications like Office 365. Others are available as standalone software and can be customized for particular industries, such as advertising.
Customer Relationship Management
A business won’t foster relationships with (or repeat sales from) its customers if it can’t keep track of them. CRM applications separate converted customers from leads, record what they end up purchasing, and store crucial contact information. More importantly, this type of software manages customer outreach and lead nurturing through behavioral insights and automated communications.
Small businesses can automate and record email interactions within a CRM application. Employees who reach out with phone calls or snail mail can log these efforts.
The data gleaned by CRM applications can help small businesses resolve big issues. Recorded customer loss, for example, can indicate larger problems with a product, a service, or a competitor’s activities. Likewise, leads that end up not converting can signal opportunities to improve messaging or marketing.
Embracing the Innovative
Just as small businesses need the basics to stay competitive, they can also benefit from emerging and disruptive tech. Some of the trends owners need to know about include artificial intelligence, chatbots, and the Internet of Things (IoT).
Artificial intelligence is present in a variety of applications, from virtual assistants to social listening tools. Businesses of all sizes can utilize AI software to perform more repetitive jobs. According to Capterra, AI tools can be classed as either narrow or general.
Narrow AI handles a single, repetitive task that can be scripted according to clearly defined rules or parameters. Virtual assistant applications that answer basic questions are one example. Software tools that translate text between two or more languages are another.
In contrast, general AI can replicate a wider range of human emotion and thought processes. Good examples of general AI are best seen in science fiction shows like the TV series “Humans.” Self-aware robots that can act on emotions are still a future possibility.
Chatbots are a form of AI that can free up customer service outsourcing company staff from having to address simple questions. Younger generations are acclimated to chatbots and prefer to use them for some forms of self-service.
Contactless shopping and service experiences assisted by chatbots and QR codes are on the rise. Customers are demanding more efficient and personalized interactions. Although small businesses are often known for personal service, limited staff can lead to problems with efficiency.
Customers are put off if they have to wait to speak to a rep or explain a problem to more than one person. Chatbots can still provide personalized sales and support while alleviating some of the burdens for employees.
IoT devices, also known as smart technology, can help spot equipment problems and enhance performance. Family farms are using these devices, along with wireless network connections, to monitor crop yields and irrigation needs. Manufacturers are using them to detect machine failure before it occurs.
Although smart devices are still in the growth stage, 5G and broadband internet expansions will likely speed up their adoption.
While this isn’t an exhaustive list of technologies small businesses can use, it represents the categories many business owners find important. There’s a good chance the most ambitious and growth-focused companies already have plans to put these tech trends to use. Do you?
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