Stay ahead of the competition with these innovations
There has never been a more exciting time to be a small business owner: more than ever before, small business owners have the tech and the organizational resources to run with the big dogs on a global scale. Here are a few of the biggest game-changers your small business will need to adopt to stay competitive.
1. Cloud storage and project management
If you’re still swapping email attachments within your organization, or experiencing miscommunications and scheduling conflicts, you’ll save time and money by sharing information in the cloud. The best-known cloud storage service is Dropbox, but Google Drive, Box.com, and SugarSync all provide competitive alternatives.
If you need a simple, low-stress interface that won’t take any training to use, Dropbox is still the clear standout—you can just drag and drop files into a shared folder that is accessible over any number of devices. However, if you do video or photo editing and need a lot of space, you should probably go with Google Drive instead—you’ll go through Dropbox’s free 2 GB very quickly, and their paid service isn’t cheap.
2. Free VoIP calling
Especially if your small business requires salespeople, telecommuters, or other workers to call in frequently from remote work sites, paying for internal calls can be a huge waste of money. Instead, connect all your employees via Skype Mobile, FaceTime, or Tango if you’re running a larger small business. I have worked for small businesses that took advantage of VoIP to hire and keep in touch with employees across eight US states, the UK, and Canada—which allowed them to hire from a colossal talent pool, instead of whoever walked into the office with an application.
Even if your employees have different cell phone providers or plans, anyone with a data plan and an iOS or Android device can use Skype Mobile for free international calls; and for $4.99/month, you can host group video meetings to create a more personal, connected work environment. If you don’t want everyone connected via cell phone, check out a home phone adapter that can route Skype Mobile through a landline.
3. Mobile card readers
If your small business still operates on a cash-only basis, you’re losing the huge segment of the population that almost never carries cash anymore. The ability to swipe a credit card and accept online payments demonstrates professionalism, but it also allows you to close the deal quickly, instead of sending potential customers to an ATM.
Most credit card processing services provide the mobile app and card reader free with a merchant account, and then the processing fee (2.75% for Square, 2.7% for PayPal and Intuit) is simply deducted from the sale price. Empowering your representatives to accept payment immediately after meeting with a customer increases sales, and contributes to a low-stress experience for everyone involved.
4. Cheap Tablets
Supplementing your traditional, one-on-one sales pitch with a Prezi about your product can make a huge difference to clients—it presents an air of professionalism and authority, and your prospective client can actually flip through the presentation for themselves. With tablet PCs now available for less than $100, it can be a great investment for any staff who meet directly with clients or customers.
Tablets are also a great way to issue estimates and invoices, take inventory, or have clients fill out applications or requests. That way, you don’t waste or misplace loose papers, and information can be added to your database without a data-entry middleman.
Aimee Watts is a staff writer for Going Cellular. She has spent ten years telecommuting full-time, and loves spreading tips and advice for fellow work-at-home parents. She loves gadgets, new ideas, and skiing with her two favorite people: her husband and teenage son. They live in Evergreen, Colorado.