By Rieva Lesonsky
Technology is key to so much of our success as small business owners. But with technology evolving at a faster pace than ever before, keeping up with the constant changes is becoming more and more difficult—at the same time it’s ever more vital to your business’s continued success. What technology upgrades are you planning to make in the coming year, and how does that compare to your competition?
Wells Fargo and Gallup surveyed more than 600 small business owners for their most recent Small Business Index, and came back with some useful insights about what entrepreneurs are planning to do to grow their companies in 2018 and beyond. Here’s what the survey found so you can see how you compare to your peers.
What They’ve Done
First, Wells Fargo/Gallup asked business owners what technology upgrades they’d made recently. In the past two years…
- …almost half of entrepreneurs in the survey (48%) upgraded to new computer software.
- …more than one-third (37%) digitized their businesses’ records (instead of maintaining paper-based files and records).
- …almost one-quarter (24%) of small business owners surveyed improved their website’s mobile optimization, either by making it mobile friendly or creating a mobile app.
- …one-fifth of the survey respondents expanded their companies’ e-commerce capabilities.
- …some 15% of small businesses polled began using marketing automation tools.
What They’re Planning for 2018
Looking ahead to 2018, more than half (53%) of small businesses in the survey say they are likely to update their business websites.
However, relatively few (just 29%) say they’re likely to update their business software.
One area most small business owners are planning to invest in: More than half (51%) say they plan to increase their online presence and their social media marketing activities. Surprisingly, however, just 44% of small business owners currently have an active social media strategy in place. (Of those, 53% are on Facebook.)
Even though the majority of business owners aren’t yet making the most of social media marketing, they do recognize its value. Fifty-four percent believe that social media is important to attracting new customers; 53% say it’s important for marketing to both existing and new customers; 52% say it’s an important form of advertising; 49% say it’s important to increasing revenues; and 49% believe it’s an important way to stay in communication with current customers.
Just 26% of business owners in the survey have websites customers can use to order products or services without interacting with an employee.
The survey also found that very few small business owners (15%) plan to hire an IT consultant or other outside advisor to help them assess their technology needs and plan for improvements.
Room for Improvement
While small business owners have come a long way in modernizing their technology, there’s still a ways to go in terms of technology upgrades. Here’s what stands out to me as areas with the most room for improvement.
- If you sell products or services on your website and customers can’t order from you without help from an employee, it’s time to make some changes. With live chat, chatbots, self-scheduling apps and other self-serve options available to even the smallest businesses, there are many ways you can help your customers help themselves.
- One look around you—whether you’re at home, at your office or on the go—will prove how much time Americans spend on our phones. If your business website isn’t designed with mobile use in mind, you’re missing out. (That goes for your business emails, too.)
- Marketing automation tools can reduce or eliminate many of the tedious tasks small business owners previously did by hand. For example, they can trigger emails to send when customers take certain actions, or remind you to reach out to a client in your CRM system you haven’t contacted for two weeks. There are options available for companies of all sizes—your email marketing solution probably has automation features you aren’t even using.
- Hiring an expert to help with your IT may sound like an unnecessary expense. But what’s the cost of making a mistake? Selecting the wrong software or failing to secure your network properly can cost your business far more than a consultant would cost.
What technology upgrades are you planning for 2018?