National Small Business Week is ending and, again, the annual celebration of small businesses put a spotlight on how much they contribute to the economy. There are roughly 28 million small businesses in the United States, and the SBA says they account for 54 percent of all U.S. sales and provide 55 percent of all jobs in the country.
Earlier this week, Linda McMahon, administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, recognized this year’s Small Business Persons of the Year and other national award winners at a ceremony and reception at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C. (For more on lessons to take away from the award winner, check out this BizTech article.)
Yet what do small businesses need to know about using technology? And how can IT help them become more profitable? A promotes its Technology Coalition, in which small businesses are directed to services offered by large tech companies that are specifically tailored for small companies. These services include content management, file sharing, cloud services, legal solutions, online marketing and customer relationship management.
Tech allows small businesses to grow, but because they often lack the resources of larger companies, small businesses need to approach IT strategically. Google is one high-profile member of the Technology Coalition that has an intimate view of how tech can help small businesses.
Earlier this week, Google launched a series of tutorials built specifically for small business on Google Primer, a free mobile app that delivers short lessons about online and marketing skills; each lasts about five minutes.
Google partnered with trusted entrepreneurial experts to address the issues it hears from small business customers. One of the lessons came from John Jantsch, the author of Duct Tape Marketing and an expert on marketing.
He notes that technology allows small businesses to do many things more efficiently and achieve economies of scale, but that “it’s also the key to providing a better customer experience when employed as a way to free up your human resources to be more human.” Small businesses can take advantage of very low-cost, high-impact IT tools, Jantsch says. “The challenge many small businesses face is that they may not have the luxury of dedicating resources to fully use something like tracking software,” he says.
Small businesses need to prioritize their IT spending and investments. “It’s great to have a tool that can do everything you could possibly manage, but when you can only use 10 percent of the functionality, it might not make sense,” he says.
Unlike many larger competitors, small businesses have one big advantage: flexibility. “If a new tool or platform comes along, they may not be locked into hardware and software and processes that make it hard to switch,” Jantsch notes. In today’s world, small businesses can take advantage of marketing technology that allows them to “gain access to more complete buyer journeys and intent at every stage of the journey,” including competitive listening, search engine optimization, and marketing to activated websites that convert visitors into leads and customers.
Soo Young Kim, group product marketing manager for small business at Google, says there are various ways small businesses can take advantage of IT to connect with customers and run their business as efficiently as possible: for example, build a website, claim the online business listing, and use cloud-based tools.
While larger firms have larger budgets — which allow for more significant investments and resources to grow their business online — small businesses tend to operate without dedicated IT departments to manage technology, Kim notes.
“So the chosen technology must be reliable and easy to use,” she says. Using cloud-based apps like Google’s G Suite (Gmail, Docs, Drive cloud storage and Calendar) helps small businesses connect employees no matter the company’s size, Kim notes. Those tools can also enhance productivity and efficiency. Like Jantsch, Kim notes that small businesses can often be more nimble than larger companies, “reacting to and helping their customers more quickly.”
Small businesses often have a local advantage by being nearby customers. “We also often hear from small business owners who say that building relationships with their customers is one of their favorite parts of the job,” Kim says, and tech like social media and mobile devices can help small businesses stay connected and responsive to customers’ feedback and needs.
Google works with partner organizations across the country to host in-person workshops through the Get Your Business Online program, Kim says, and these workshops provide hands-on assistance to help small businesses improve and manage their digital presence. Businesses hoping to reach customers in their local service area can also use Google My Business, a free service designed to ensure that their online business listing is robust, accurate and includes photos, business hours, and phone number.
Kim says mobile will continue to grow in importance for businesses of all sizes, and that more than half of Google searches are done on mobile phones.
“It’s critical that small businesses can be found in those moments when their customers are looking to learn, discover, find and buy things,” she says. “As consumers increasingly turn to mobile, it will be increasingly important that small businesses have mobile sites that load quickly. Google’s free Test My Site tool provides insights into how well a site works on mobile, and provides an assessment on how to improve performance.”