It seems that every sector of the nation - from economists to policymakers and business leaders - has rhetorically invested in the success of small businesses, calling them the "life-blood" of the economy or even its "engine." However, empowering small business means connecting them with more than just capital in the form of loans and grants. It also means creating and developing technology solutions that can help small business increase revenues, save time and money, and better service their own customers.
Technology helps to drive change and grow small businesses through creating new resources, opportunities and strategies. Small businesses that want to stay ahead of the curve and remain on the cutting edge should take notice of upcoming technological trends, because sometimes it pays to be an early adopter.
IT expert Laurie McCabe's blog provides some upcoming technology predictions, offering viable small business solutions for the upcoming year.
For instance, there is rising interest in three primary technological areas - social, mobile and the cloud. Small and medium-sized business (SMBs) looking to take advantage of this "triumvirate," (also known as progressive SMBs) expect to see greater revenue increases (73 percent) compared to those who plan to decrease IT spending (17 percent).
In terms of social, the SMB Group's 2011 Impact of Social Business in Small and Medium Business Study found that around 50 percent of SMBs already use social media, and an additional 25 percent plan to do so within the next 12 months. Companies with interest in social media are referred to by McCabe as "strategically social" because they use more channels and are more satisfied with their results than other companies who are still "throwing spaghetti on Facebook walls" without a proper plan in place. New social media tools will include crowed-sourced pricing and video commerce, and early adopters of these technologies will likely gain ground on those without much interest or knowledge in social initiatives.
The cloud is also poised to make progress this year, as 13 percent of small businesses plan to purchase the technology within the next 12 months. This is far greater than the 7 percent that bought or upgraded their technology in the previous 24 months. The primary areas for cloud gains include marketing automation, business tools and desktop virtualization solutions.
"Demand for anytime, anywhere, any-device mobile access to applications will also accelerate cloud adoption, as many SMBs will want to offload management of mobile applications to a cloud solutions provider too," McCabe notes.
She adds that this "social-mobile-cloud" triumvirate is expected to fuel SMB investments in the coming year, as businesses try to "plow through the growing data avalanche" they are constantly faced with.
In general, however, McCabe found that SMBs are less optimistic about their revenue prospects this year. Specifically, 56 percent of small business owners and 63 percent of medium-sized business owners expect growth in 2012 - a dip from from the 77 percent optimism that both demographics displayed at the beginning of 2011. Companies expect to be more frugal with their IT spending, only shelling out cash to tech vendors with a proven solution to help attract new customers, grow revenue and maintain profitability.
One area where small businesses can leverage cloud technology to improve revenue lies in online receivables management. Online receivables management lets businesses take advantage of cloud storage by saving and reporting on customer records, order and payment histories, and even personal notes like birthdays or allergies in a client database. These customer data management capabilities, combined with automated invoicing and payment acceptance tools can help businesses scale faster and do more with less, by cutting down on administrative chores and paperwork, managing a larger customer base, and improving the cash flow that is critical to business health.