Ask any small business owner for a list of their biggest troubles or most aggressive goals, and there are undoubtedly a few things that will be on every entrepreneurs list. Almost all small business owners suffer the same basic hurdles as they work to gain their share of the market. These hurdles are most commonly: Staying in touch with what competitors are doing, staying in touch with customers, effectively marketing goods and services, and finally, staying organized and communicating their ideas and needs to vendors, investors and customers.
Luckily, small businesses are returning to the landscape in full force as big corporations continue to struggle in a lagging economy. This shift from mass-employment to entrepreneurship has spurred on many low-cost and easy to use advances in technology that make today’s small business just a little bit easier to manage and grow. Here’s a list of my favorite geek-chic tech gadgets you cannot live without to help your small business get a leg up on the competition (and maybe even make some of those big box stores a little jealous).
Getting Smart With SmartPhones
Smartphones have taken the pocket-toting media world by storm with their ability to store music, take photos, watch YouTube on the bus and play games on airplanes. But have you considered putting your smartphone to work for you?
I fell in love with the Motorola Droid and HTC Droid earlier this year, and just as other small business owners can attest, when you learn to use the apps effectively they can make business a whole lot easier. Jam packed with thousands of application options, I’ve got a short list of my personal favorites where it comes to managing a small business.
First, the instant access to the internet on Verizon’s 3G network makes comparison shopping a breeze. It doesn’t matter whether you find your supplies at a warehouse in the industrial district, or pick up your fare at garage sales, using Google – or better yet scanning product bar-codes – to see what prices are being charged elsewhere will give you a leg-up when it comes to negotiating the best prices. Another great feature is the ability to check your business mail while on the go. No need to hunt for WiFi or lug around a laptop when you can read and compose e-mail with a device small enough to fit in your pocket.
My next favorite feature, particularly with the Motorola Droid, is the easy to use GPS and navigation system. All it takes is a car-dock and a few taps of the screen to get you going in the right direction without having to purchase a separate GPS unit. Great for small business owners who are always working in new territory, the ability to map and navigate on the go saves a ton of time and aggravation.
Facebook and Twitter Marketing Tools
One of the biggest leaps in small business technology is the ability to connect with customers, vendors, clients and investors without having to leave your desk. Social Networking is a new marketing concept that is taking businesses by storm because of its ease of use, low cost and tangible results.
Not only is setting up an account for your small business easy, it’s most often also free. Unlike traditional marketing campaigns that advertise on a broad scale hoping that consumers are listening, social networking gives small businesses a platform to announce new products, news and announcements directly to customers where they are paying the most attention.
Don’t have a big marketing budget? No problem. I have spent the last several months playing with marketing on Facebook and have discovered that there are multiple strategies that work for small business owners trying to attract the attention of consumers. First, if you’re willing to learn the ins and outs of Facebook and Twitter, you can attract customers to your page simply by interacting with them yourself and being available to answer questions and comments in real-time. If instead you want to integrate a true marketing campaign, Facebook Ads allows you to tailor fit a marketing campaign to you that can be as broad or dialed-in as you want. I was able to create marketing campaigns that only reached people within 50 miles of my business, within an age range that I determined, that had a set of keywords that I chose, and the end result was a campaign that resulted in over 30,000 impressions for a little over $11.
Skype is a concept that has been slow to bleed into the business world, viewed by many as simply another way to chat online with friends similarly to how Yahoo and MSN chat have been used in the past. Skype is now starting to turn the heads of small business owners as they continue to add new features and capabilities that can be integrated into businesses for free that were once only available to huge businesses with expensive infrastructures.
Not just for internet phone service any more, Skype now also allows small businesses the opportunity to use V-Calls for free. Reducing the need for rented meeting spaces, travel and time away from customers, V-Calls allow small businesses to video conference over a high quality video system that is smooth and detailed enough for displaying charts and graphs as well as talking “face to face”.
Skype has also introduced Conference Calling services, a product that has previously been too costly for many small businesses. Using conference calling allows business owners to connect simultaneously with customers and business partners when working on large projects and conduct phone meetings with multiple employees or vendors at once. For a negligible fee, conference calling can even be used with landlines and mobile phones so you don’t have to manage getting everyone set up with Skype before the meeting.
Traditional chat is also available, as well as file sharing, screen-to-screen sharing for presentations or providing customer support, and a laundry list of other products. The wide variety of useful tools available for free or very inexpensive rates makes Skype a perfect communication tool for small business.
Keeping organized between meetings, sales presentations, accounts payable and receivable and all the other day to day activities of a small business can be a daunting task, and the technology sector has responded with inexpensive ways to stay organized and keep small businesses Green.
One of the many great Green-Tech products that come in handy when working in the field are Digital Notepads. Although they look just like any other clipboard, digital notepads like the ADESSO CyberPad automatically saves everything that you write on the surface. Great for keeping track of meeting notes, digitizing sketched designs and inspired doodles, the ADESSO CyberPad dramatically reduces the amount of paper that you have to keep track of. Instead of having stacks of paper on your desk with notes and sales records that have to be manually entered into the system, digital pads save every pen stroke as an e-file that you can later download to your computer.
As small businesses continue to pop up everywhere, these great tech gadgets are certainly some you cannot live without and will help to propel you ahead of the pack. The best tool that any business owner can have is the ability to change and adapt to match customer needs. More than ever customers are looking for businesses that are easily accessible, have a firm grasp on what is going on in the industry they represent, treat them like people and not customer numbers, and marketing in a way that is friendly and non-intrusive. Applying the technology mentioned here, as well as other tools and services designed for small business will help your business to not only stay afloat, but to prosper.