As you read this, somebody somewhere is asking “How did we ever get along without the Internet?”
It’s true that in a relatively short time, Internet-based technology has revolutionized the way we work, live, and exchange information. Few people understand this power better than small business owners, who have harnessed technology’s many facets to reach customers around the globe, collaborate with colleagues and employees, and work from almost anywhere there’s a Wi-Fi signal.
Because the technology landscape seems to shift on a near-daily basis, entrepreneurs need to stay on top of both general and industry-specific trends to determine which ones can best benefit their businesses.
Ramon Ray, Editor and Technology Evangelist for smallbiztechnology.com, cites the cross-integration of cloud computing services as a key area to watch.
“Being able to load a video into drop box and have it seamlessly added to your YouTube account with no manual re-upload is amazing,” he says. “Hosted applications are also doing a better job of talking with each other.”
With social media becomes firmly established as a small business marketing tool, Seattle-based marketing strategist Robbin Block says its effects on consumer behavior should be monitored closely.
“There’s already talk of ‘Facebook fatigue,’ where all these snippets of information lose their novelty,” she says.
On the other hand, the tie-in of social media with mobile devices will likely proliferate rapidly according to Larry Bailin, Founder and CEO of Single Throw Internet Marketing. For example, Foursquare allows customers at restaurants or other local establishments to share information about food and service quality, specials, wait time, etc.
“Go Walla extends this by enabling people to comment on other settings or experiences,” Bailin adds. “These applications help users make decisions about places to go.”
Author and digital media marketing Mike Moran cites the advent of Google Place pages, which he says make sense for any business that relies heavily on location to attract customers. “These services are not needed by every business,” he adds, “but small businesses would do well to note them and see if they apply to their target markets.”
Keeping current with these and other trends can be time-consuming, adds Heather Dougherty, Director of Research for Experian Hitwise, but watching analytics (e.g., online transactions, overall traffic, and sources of visitors) can provide the data needed to prioritize initiatives.
“Also, any channels that provide a voice to the customer—ratings, Twitter, Facebook, etc.—should be monitored regularly for both positive and negative feedback,” Dougherty says.
Ray recommends frequent technology audits that examine security, training, assessment of future needs, and analysis of what tools are currently not working or underperforming.
“It is critical to review your business processes and operations and ensure technology is maximized to assist as fully as possible,” he says.
For help with adapting to any trend affecting the future of your small business, contact SCORE. There, you’ll find a wealth of information resources, training, and free, confidential counseling from business experts. For more information, visit www.score.org.
To learn more, contact SCORE Lakes Region by calling 524-0137 or log on to www.scorelakesregion.org and link to Free Counseling. Experience business advisors are available to offer free and confidential advice. SCORE is a nonprofit organization of more than 10,500 volunteer. Also, if you are interested in offering a small amount of your time by sharing your business experience to others please contact our office.