BUSINESS

by Catherine

4 Small Business Tech Trends to Watch

Tuesday 13, Mar 2018

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Running a business can feel like working two full-time jobs; and staying on top of tech news, trends, and products often takes time that you don’t have.

To simplify it for our small business customers, we took a look at what is happening in the world of technology and picked out three bits of info. We will discuss each piece of information and provide links to the best sources for more in-depth reading.

Each of these points takes a look at different trends and news stories that you should be keeping up on, all in one place.

Keep reading to catch up on the programs you must have this year, issues that could affect the online aspects of your business, and the best resources to take advantage of remote-work business models.

Programs: CRM is essential in 2018 more than ever

Studies have shown that word of mouth has become more and more essential to running a successful business.

Consumers, especially younger generations, trust brands that are open, transparent, and have loyal customers that spread the word about services/products. This great article from DIY Marketers discusses this trend in detail and gives tips on how to capitalize on this trend by utilizing marketing and online interactions.

Ivana, the mastermind behind DIY Marketers, had this to say when we asked her for her take on CRM for small business:

“Don’t leave your online reputation to chance.  Use a review management platform like Grade.us to make it easy for customers to leave feedback and for you to respond to feedback.  You can also stream your best reviews to your website and integrate with your CRM. “

Sortly Blog: 3 Tech Trends for Small Business Owners to Watch

Research by the Pew Internet and Technology Research Center says that over 50% of adults in the U.S. routinely check online reviews before making a purchase or engaging a service, and that number is even higher among adults between the ages of 18 and 29. In fact, the study reported that only 4% of individuals in that age bracket claim to never search for reviews online.

While a few years old, these stats are interesting, and the reliance of consumers on reviews has only increased in the past couple of years.

This is where a CRM program comes in. A CRM helps you keep track of customers, potential customers, what you are doing well, and areas that you can concentrate on to improve your brand’s perceived value. As online visibility becomes more and more vital to the growth of a company, a good CRM program is crucial to success as a small business owner.

A good CRM (customer relationship management) program can do so many things to help you add value to your online presence and increase conversion. At the most basic level, a CRM program helps manage your contacts, gathers information about them, and creates a profile for each person. That profile can contain many kinds of information including whether or not they are a customer yet, who on your team has talked with them, and general info such as where they work.

Sortly: 3 Tech Trends Small Business Owners Need to Watch- CRM

There are several kinds of CRM programs that are geared towards different goals. This article from Zapier is a comprehensive guide to CRMs that gives incredibly valuable information about the programs and what they can do for your business.

Because our focus is on simplifying small business, we especially like CRMs that have a social relationship management capability alongside the other functions. They can gather information from your social profiles including mentions, what your followers are interested in, public opinion of your brand, behavior patterns, and so much more. There are options for social-only CRMs like Hootsuite and Buffer. HootSuite now offers extensions that, when added to an account, can manage other aspects of customer relationships beyond what HootSuite has offered in the past.

We highly suggest checking out this page on Zapier’s website if you are serious about finding the CRM that is just right for you.

If you don’t mind spending a bit of time reading, the article gives the ultimate list of CRM programs and discusses the functions of each, along with screenshots from within the programs. You can also download the list as an ebook to take with you and read as you have time!

 

Sortly Blog Post- AI trends for small businesses

Knowledge: AI isn’t just for self-driving cars and robots.

Ivana Taylor had this to say about AI:

When AI first hit the scene it was reserved for companies with big budgets, but now you can find AI everywhere including email, social media and even web design.  When it comes to segmenting, predicting and delivering the right marketing message to the right person on the right topic at the right time — AI is a smart choice.

What does that mean for small businesses? Features like auto-reply on social media platforms are becoming popular with businesses that don’t want to have messages from their customers sit in an inbox all night or over the weekend. One of these “chatbots” can be a great way for you to go home and unplug without having to worry about watching your company social accounts on evenings or weekends.

It is a good idea to be cautious with auto-response programs, however. This article from Business News Daily says:

Many polls have been reported regarding how consumers currently view chatbots. While millennial consumers are consistently the most accepting of chatbot technology, most data indicate the majority would rather speak to a living customer service rep than a chatbot. In fact, according to “The Chatbot Consumer Report,” 71 percent of respondents said they didn’t like using chatbots because they were unable to answer their queries efficiently.

Sortly Blog Post: AI and CRM for Small Businesses

The takeaway from that study seems to be that there is still nothing like a good, old-fashioned conversation with a real person in some cases. Make sure your customers can still talk to a real person if they need/want to! If you can, give your chat responses a personal touch- it goes a long way towards boosting your online reputation!

Email marketing is crucial, and use of AI in email marketing is a fantastic way to convert subscribers and bring existing customers back in again and again. Companies like MailChimp have features to help you target the right “who,” “when,” and “why”s of online marketing. Features like analytics are awesome, and MailChimp can even prompt you to send a message again if it was not opened by the majority of your subscribers.

Sortly Blog Post- Small business email marketing

We took a look at posts by Ivana and the team at DIY Marketers, and we really like this article about the basics of effective email marketing. Once again, they give small businesses the info they need to succeed while also helping them cut down on time spent promoting their business the hard way.

If you want to learn more about email marketing, DIY Marketers has a lot of great resources here.

Online response management and email marketing are just two of many, many ways AI is becoming a tool for small businesses, and we look forward to seeing all of the new options and developments coming up this year!

 

Sortly: 3 Tech Trends for Small Businesses to Watch- Cyber Security

News: internet security concerns are growing

Cyber attacks on small businesses almost tripled between 2011 and 2015, and the numbers keep rising. Hacking tools and programs are becoming more easily accessible, and the number of different types of threats has grown as well.

This article from Stickman is a fantastic resource for small business owners. The author discusses ten main threats and how to minimize the risk to your company.

Sortly: 3 Tech Trends Small Business Owners Should Be Aware Of

Here are a few of the cyber security threats mentioned in the article:

Many of the threats can often be avoided by proper use of passwords and other common-sense practices. In the day-to-day operations of a business, it can be easy to forget to continue to be diligent in protecting your accounts, but it is more important than ever to be careful with passwords and other login info.

Creating a set of policies regarding online activity protocol and providing proper education to employees are important steps to protecting your business from cyber attacks. A strong malware-protection system, restricting access to questionable sites, and safeguarding network and server information are also good ways to protect your business.

Many risks involve employee negligence. Not following policy, weak passwords, password sharing, and opening suspicious emails are just a few of the ways a simple slip-up can leave a business vulnerable. This is one of the reasons why Sortly Pro has an easy to use, customizable permissions panel. By limiting the access and editing capabilities for users, you can help reduce the risk of mistakes or damage done if an unauthorized individual is able to gain access to your account. Using permissions settings in as many online aspects of your operations as you can is one of the best ways to minimize this type of risk.

Sortly: 3 Tech Trends for Small Business Owners to Watch

This article from Information Age is another great list of issues to watch for and how to protect your business. The article suggests taking precautions like avoiding storing sensitive data when no longer needed, having strong anti-virus and firewall software, segmenting your network, and making sure to update software regularly.

 

Trending: remote work and team management

Sortly: 3 Tech Trends for Small Business Owners to Watch- Remote Team Management

Working remotely is a growing trend that isn’t going to go away.

The results of a workplace survey conducted by Staples say, ”Only 32 percent of employees spent all their time working in, or at their office this year, the flexibility to work remotely has evolved beyond an occasional perk, with 43 percent of employees saying it’s a must-have.” and “43% of employees say the ability to work remotely is a must-have, yet only 38% of employers allow it.”

Sortly Blog Post- Quote from Steve Strauss "Mr. All Biz"

Steve Strauss (Mr All Biz) had this to say to Sortly readers:

“The biggest tech trend I see these days is the rise of remote working and the many tech tools that are fueling this tectonic shift in the way we all work. It was actually the #2 small business trend in my annual USA TODAY trends roundup. Work is changing fundamentally, and mostly for the better, because of technology.”

We highly suggest checking out his USA TODAY roundup! He wrote about both remote work AND cybersecurity, two topics covered in this article. His takes on AI, Bitcoin, and generational workplace change are definitely worth reading.

Remote work is something for business owners to seriously consider adding to their business structure:

Allowing employees to work remotely from a home office can greatly improve morale and boost productivity. Many companies recognize this, and some even offer a bonus to help employees set up a home office that is comfortable and enjoyable to work in. The ability to work in an environment that makes them happy is extremely important to employees.

Sortly: 3 Tech Trends That Small Business Owners Should Watch- Remote Work

This article from Small Business Trends discusses working with a remote team. They suggest that offering opportunities for professional training can be a huge incentive for employees, in fact, they report that 76% of millenials hold the opinion that professional training is one of the top benefits that they look for in a company. The writer also suggests that tracking results instead of time makes workers feel trusted and that they are 35% more productive when they feel that they are not being monitored. Setting aside time to catch up on casual topics during meetings,  communicating clearly, and making remote team members feel that they are valued are several other methods suggested to keep a team motivated and efficient. The article also includes a great infographic.

Sortly: 3 Tech Trends for Small Business Owners to Watch- Working Remotely

There are many aspects to keeping your business running smoothly with a remote team, but there are several great apps to simplify the process and increase productivity. Here are a few indispensable programs to organize your team:

Team management programs like Asana, Slack, and Trello are great tools to keep everything on track. They allow you to keep track of progress, organize your team, send direct messages, have group chats, send files, and more.

File share programs are another must-have. Many team management apps have file-sharing capabilities, but there are a lot of other options out there. Google Drive is great due to the sharing, commenting, and range of functions available when using Drive.

Sortly Article: 3 Tech Trends for Small Business- Remote Teamwork

Time tracking needs vary from business to business, but there are several great programs to manage time reporting. Toggl is easy to use, and popular due to the ability to customize workspaces and assign tasks. You can also export reports for your records. Harvest has many features in common with Toggl and is also a popular choice.

Video and audio meeting programs are essential, and there endless options to chose from. We like Zoom, but Google Hangouts is also popular and is an easy choice due to already being available with a Gmail account. Skype and EZTalks are also popular, and all of these programs support conference calls and screen-sharing.

We searched through too many articles to count and curated these useful and relevant bits of news to share. Keeping on trend is an important part of keeping up with a growing business and an evolving market. The good news is that, as new programs are introduced and information is shared, it is becoming easier to streamline your day-to-day operations.

All three of these topics are things that small business owners have to be cognizant of, but the information in this article, along with the linked articles, should quickly get you up to date on three of the most important, current tech trends.

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