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Small Businesses Must Utilize Online Tools to Stay Relevant

Photo: Courtesy of Blake Wisz

Julie Shields

Interim Executive Director, USASBE

There is no shortage of online tools available to help small businesses and startups compete with larger firms. These tools help level the playing field and allow those with talent, passion and a bit of luck a chance to win a place at the table. However, large businesses have deep pockets and better access to big data and artificial intelligence, which makes it harder for startup and small ventures to keep up.

Driven by the chaos of the competitive app market, diverse but distinct developers have combined forces to mash together individual apps into solution suites tailored to small-business owners.

Utilizing online tools

Small businesses need secure point of sale (POS) systems. Today, these systems are more than just a solution to handle cash and credit card transactions. There are optional apps for managing employee shifts and time cards, tracking customer loyalty, connecting with accounting software, analyzing sales data and even options to beta test new app solutions under development.

Likewise, there are suites of products to help with time management and connectivity. Software that primarily is used to send email and marketing campaigns will also have connections with a calendar system so prospects can immediately request an appointment. These solutions can also be part of larger customer relationship management (CRM) suites too. For some businesses, it makes more sense to start with a CRM suite first.

There are other important tech products to keep in mind once the basics of customers, communication and finances are covered — project management and document-repository suites, graphics solutions, data security and fraud solutions, energy efficiency and optimization solutions, etc.

These suites are very powerful, but like anything, time and intention are needed to set them up. They have great potential, but to unlock that potential small business owners need to invest time to set them up for optimal results. It is no different than training a new employee — they don’t know how the business works on day one, so you show them the ropes and keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t flounder. 

Keeping cost in mind

Also, like an employee, the suites are going to cost money. A suite for emails, calendars and document repository costs $30 a month, a CRM with marketing solutions is $50 a month, a rudimentary project management software is $20 a month, and a POS system for $10 a month that will connect with your accounting software for $30 a month — plus credit card processing fees, of course — will all start to add up. However, these tools allow small startups to compete directly with bigger firms.

Prioritize what your business needs to be competitive, and perhaps prioritize automating as much as possible with various suites of products. They are sharing trends and leveraging their diverse connections to help small businesses compete, and they are compelled to use artificial intelligence to stay competitive.

The next five years will include many changes as AI solutions become viable in the small-business sector. Start digitizing now to make the transition smoother. Use suites of products and invest in the time it takes to make them work for you and your customers.

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