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Small business technology: what to look for, what to avoid

Written 19 August, 2019, 4 minutes to read

When you work with limited resources, you need to choose your tools very carefully. While it’s easy to fall for software promising “fix-all” solutions, as a small business the last thing you want is to invest in technology that offers a ton of irrelevant features you don’t need. Every app subscription should pull its weight and be flexible enough to scale with you as you grow. Before you buy any small business technology, make sure it fully satisfies these eight conditions.

1. Scalability

As a small business, you need tech that can bend to meet a sudden influx of employees, clients and contractors. Likewise, if you’re facing a quiet recruitment or sales period, you don’t want to be paying an unnecessarily high threshold for an extended period of time. Small business technology needs to be inherently agile – scaling as you grow rather than locking you in. Look out for subscriptions plans that offer flexible seating bundles and a tailored approach to features.

2. Automation

Automation is the simplest form of competitive advantage going. It lets you outsource low-value admin and free people up for the meaningful work that actually drives your business forward. True automation is still relatively nascent, since it requires AI and machine learning. But that doesn’t make it inaccessible – in fact, there are a ton of ready-made AI tools made specifically for small businesses. They let you automate specific parts of your workflow without committing to an expensive infrastructural overhaul.

3. Usability

There’s no point in investing in heavy, onerous technology if it introduces loads of new inefficiencies into your workload. On a tight budget, the tech you adopt needs to offer ROI within a fast turnaround time. Uncomplicated, non-invasive, easy-to-learn tech is the way to do this. Look out for intuitive design and customization options. Ultimately, you want to spend as little time in your tools as possible. It’s a good idea to track the time you spend in all your work apps, to ensure they’re not becoming a time drain.

4. Training

Any business technology you take on should involve a very small learning curve. To that end, look out for self-service technology that provides a straightforward, painless onboarding process. The best tools provide comprehensive training materials to get everyone up-to-speed quickly. Video demos, walkthroughs, “how-to” articles and a direct chat line are the bare necessities to look out for. You can even contact a tool provider to see if they would be able to provide a training session for your team.

5. Integrations

New apps and tools should be able to talk to your existing ones right off the bat. If the software you’re considering doesn’t mention integrations, beware. As a small business, you’ll likely be investing in very specific tech that does one thing very well, but in order for your tools to work as a united whole, it should be easy to share data between them. Look out for data exporting options too, to make sure they are compatible with your existing reporting set-up.

6. Security

Malware and breaches are a serious threat to small businesses: two-thirds of SMBs have suffered a cyber attack in the past 12 months. Avoiding these have become a top priority for any small business putting data out into the world. On top of that, if your business handles customer, supplier or employee data, you’re legally obliged to ensure its safety – so utilizing technology that complies with strict data rules is non-negotiable. Make sure the solution you foster takes those security responsibilities as seriously as you do.

7. Cloud-based

When your teams can access, edit and share documents anytime, from anywhere, they’re able to do more together – and do it better. Cloud-based technology lets you make updates in real-time and get full visibility over team collaborations. It also offers global access, which is particular important if your workforce works remotely or travels frequently for work. Better yet, clients, stakeholders and employees can usually have some form of access to your tools without necessary installing the software themselves.

8. Support

No matter how easy something might be to use and integrate, there’ll no doubt be questions down the line from the team or issues that crop up. It’s essential your tech provider offers direct support like FAQs, live chat, phone, email or support hubs to answer them. Since you may want to change the terms of your agreement – scaling it up or down – as your business develops, having a direct contact is essential.

Ultimately, the key is to know your core needs inside-out. It stops you from getting duped into buying software you don’t really need or tools which demand more maintenance than they’re worth.

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