“Top Ten Trends” lists abound – but what do they mean for the small business owner? How can someone with a marketing budget of $5,000 or less really benefit from insights that “flexible tablets” will be all the rage in the coming year? Voice recognition software is an emerging market? Great, but what does that have to do with my chiropractor clinic? Everyone is excited about touchscreens, but what does that have to do with my dog walking business?
How about a list of technology trends that small business owners can dig into and see some financial returns?
Small businesses can benefit from the following technology trends:
1. NFC & Portable Payment Processing.
NFC, or Near Field Communications, and portable payment processing untether you from the contractual agreements of the big credit card payment companies, and instead link you up with more agile and less expensive processors. Pay Pal and Square Up are two great examples. Amazon is even getting into the mix. Expect their successes to alter the market place significantly. The “big boys” will follow soon. How does this help you? It lets you process credit card payments through your mobile phone or iPad (so where ever you are, on the road or in a coffee shop or someone’s home) and a free processor that you receive in the mail. The rates are very competitive, there are no monthly fees, and the money gets deposited quickly and safely.
2. The Cloud.
Sure, we’ve all heard about the cloud by now. But what does it mean to your business? It means that you don’t have to be a tech-head to take advantage of the cloud’s benefits. Google, Apple, and Amazon are all offering great cloud products for free or at low cost. But here is one that I like to use for business documents: Dropbox.
You can sign up for a free account in a few seconds. You can access drop box from your home computer (Mac or PC) or from your smart phone (using a free app or through your phone’s browser). When you add a document to your Dropbox account – which is as simple as dragging and dropping it into the appropriate folder – your document is in the cloud. Once there, it is secure and backed up. Did you just spill coffee on your laptop? No worries (sort of) because all your important documents are safely stored on the Dropbox servers and you can access them from any other computer or your smartphone. Did your laptop bag with your laptop and backup drive just get left in a taxi? Your documents are still safely available from your Dropbox account.
Another great perk of Dropbox is that you can create collaboration spaces – shared folders that allow invited friends to take a document, work on it, and repost it, allowing teams to build documents and share ideas from various locations and times while keeping edited versions in check (which email cannot do as well).
I know, this looks like techno-garble. But don’t fade out just yet. HTML5 is important to your small business because it represents the opportunity for your small business to save money. If HTML5 takes hold and really surges as the preferred platform (and so far it has been headed this way), it means that you can rely on it to be the coding platform of choice your developers will use when they build your website and when they build “apps” for your business. You will not have to pay for multiple versions of code because HTML5 will streamline the process. You will not have to pay for longer hours of development because HTML5 brings more functionality to the table in one package. HTML5 – root for it because it is a good thing and means you will get greater functionality across more products (iPad, android, iPhone) for less cost to you.
4. Big Data.
Big data is your friend. It isn’t a new concept, but its implementation is relatively new. Big data is the trend of taking not just the information we are gathering about online use, but also the information about that information, and making meaningful estimates on user behavior, socio-demographic trends, and future behaviors. This might bee vague, so here is an example. Let’s say there are 200 million tweets sent on Twitter every day (there were, as of June 2011). That is data. But since it would take 31 years to read just that day’s tweets, no one can do it every day and provide an analysis of what is being talked about. Enter “big data” Big data is the data on that data – a computer analysis of huge amounts of data with a resulting new set of data which allows us mere humans the opportunity to understand and predict new and emerging trends. In other words, big data can tell us what the trending topics on Twitter were for a day, or month, or year … something that would be impossible without “big data” analysis.
What does it mean for your small business? It means that we small business owners have access to whole new reams of information on customer behavior and demographic predictions – information that would have been unthinkable only a few years ago. We can benefit from computer analysis of trillions of digital transactions to determine what people are thinking about, where they have been spending their money, or where emerging markets and business opportunities might be opening.
Big data – it’s big ideas on steroids.
Yeah, I know. If you read any of the other blog posts on the Web Communications Group website, you’ll know that we love talking about the importance of mobile adaptability and computing. But it’s true! Mobile is important and will have a huge impact on your business. I can write this with confidence, without even knowing what your business is because 90% of the world’s population is now coming online with mobile phones; nothing like this has ever happened in human history and it is going to have an impact on every facet of our lives. You should be thinking about how to position your small business to benefit from this coming tsunami of opportunity.
First, simply make sure your business website is friendly to mobile devices. What are the goals you set out for your business? Are they easily achievable on a mobile device? I don’t mean “can you do them on a mobile device”, I mean are they easily achievable? You want to remove as many barriers to customer engagement as possible. That means removing extra clicks between their visit to your website and their doing whatever it is you want them to do (subscribe, buy, “Like”, etc).
Users will soon (very soon) be able to purchase, recommend (or specifically not-recommend), check-in, deliver, and build any number of consumer goods from previously unthought of places and spaces. Don’t have your business be left behind the mobile trend, especially when it is a relatively simply thing to take advantage of.
In fact, don’t let your small business get left behind in any of these trends. Contact Chris at the Web Communications Group to help you plan to take advantage of these and other important technology trends in big and small business.