By Rieva Lesonsky
It’s surprising how many small business owners you still see struggling with outdated technology—or no technology at all. Have you made a purchase at a local store lately only to be handed a handwritten receipt? Or is your store or office guilty of this practice? If you’re not using technology to run your business, you’re missing out on sales, profits and customers.
A survey last month by Yodle discovered that shockingly few small business owners are taking advantage of all the technology that’s out there to help them. Here are some of the specifics the first annual Yodle Small Business Sentiment Survey uncovered, with a closer look at how technology can help for each.
- 51 percent of small business owners use technology to help with accounting. If you’re still using a paper-based accounting system, you’re costing yourself time and money. Today’s accounting software can integrate with your bank account so your transactions update instantly in multiple places and you always have access to real-time information about your cash flow. Isn’t that better than inputting (or handwriting) the same data multiple times in multiple places and dealing with tons of paper at tax time? Not to mention it helps reduce human error and makes you look more professional.
- 39 percent of small business owners use technology for scheduling and booking appointments. While this may sound intimidating, in reality there are many solutions that let small businesses (like dental offices, hair salons and restaurants) book appointments and reservations, or even allow their customers to book themselves online. Whether your customers are likely to use the latter option may vary depending on your customer base, but you might be surprised to discover it’s not just twentysomethings who like the convenience of setting appointments online. (After all, it eliminates something most of us hate: phone tag.) That said, be sure to provide multiple options for how your customers can schedule with you; sometimes even the hippest techie wants to talk to a live person.
- 34 percent of small business owners use customer relationship management (CRM) software. Smart salespeople have always kept track of their interactions with customers, plus details like that key customer’s wife’s name, hobbies and kids’ ages. But while they used to do it on 3×5 cards or notebooks, now they can use sophisticated CRM systems that make it much easier. CRM sometimes gets a bad rap as complicated to use or hard to learn, but that doesn’t have to be the case if you choose a system that’s built for small businesses rather than enterprise-level customers. Just input the right data and you can get reminders for when to follow up again, automate parts of the follow-up process and access your information from anywhere across all your devices.
- 25 percent of small business owners use technology for point-of-sale systems. This one really shocked me—especially today when so many exciting advancements are being made in mobile payments. There are card-reader systems you can use with your smartphone or tablet to accept debit or credit payments anyplace, anytime. They work whether you’re selling crafts at a local street fair, or upscale clothing at your mall boutique. Now that so many businesses accept credit or debit payments for even the smallest purchases, customers are getting out of the habit of carrying cash—and many are abandoning checks, too. Who wants to miss out on a sale because customers don’t have cash and you can’t take credit cards?
I’ve saved the worst for last: The Yodle study found more than half of small businesses (52 percent) still don’t even have a website. Think about it—when you need to find a business these days, where do you go? Do you drag out a phone book from its dusty hiding place, or do you grab your laptop or smartphone to do a quick search? I thought so. If your business isn’t online, the majority of customers won’t even know you exist. Getting a simple website up and running is easier and cheaper than it’s ever been, costing literally just a few dollars a month.
If you’re not using technology for the processes mentioned above, making even one small change could make a huge difference in your business. Don’t wait—check out your options and start seeing improvements.