Over the last 100 years, technology has shifted faster than ever before. We’ve gone from horse-drawn carts to rocket ships, and futurists predict the average person could soon own a driverless car, household bins will order our groceries and shopping trolleys will automatically pay for us.
The change can be quite intimidating for small business owners trying to stay efficient, relevant and up to date with how their customers are consuming technology, says tech expert and speaker Andrew Jones from G2 Innovation.
“The speed and pace of change has never been as fast as it is today in our human experience,” Jones says.
“Business owners or entrepreneurs are now experiencing the advancement of technology faster than it has ever been and that causes a little bit of unrest and uneasiness unless they have a strategic approach to innovating and keeping abreast of it.”
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So how can small business owners start to plan for even greater shifts in technology and what do they need to look for to create the business of the future?
Technology has never been more accessible
When it comes to tech there’s the more ‘sexy’ variety such as robotics, virtual reality and 3D printing, but there’s also much smaller and cost-effective innovations that will save small businesses time and money – cloud accounting, digital marketing platforms as well as apps and programs that offer all levels of automation.
Jones says all of it is worth investigating – but it must primarily benefit the end user.
“We talk about user-centric innovation – if you can add value to your end user and create things, offer things or allow them to do things quicker or easier with a better experience then they will reward you for it over and above the competition,” he says.
“That’s how you compete. So technology isn’t going to disrupt in a negative way, it creates opportunities.”
Alex Louey, Managing Director and co-founder of digital agency Appscore, says small businesses are in a great position right now – tech has never been more readily available.
“There is so much tech out there for small businesses that it’s crazy, the other thing is that it’s so cheap,” he says.
“Whether it’s a mobile ordering system, rostering software, inventory, drop shipping, there is plenty out there.”
He agrees that, although tech can make business operations run smoother, it’s wise to keep the customer front of mind. He predicts the biggest shift in the future will be around consumer experience.
“Customer service is going to see a massive overhaul in the next few years,” he says.
“How customers interact with companies is constantly changing. It used to be face-to-face and on the phone. These days it is a combination of face-to-face, on the phone, live chat and bots.
“As bots and artificial intelligence gets more intuitive and smarter, I think people are going to be happy to interact with companies more.”
All hail the mobile
Mobile phones are now indispensable for small businesses both to manage staff and reach consumers, says Louey, and that is continuing to increase.
“Mobile is the norm these days as it’s made our day-to-day lives easier and kept us more connected,” he says.
“Business owners should look at it to make the jobs of their staff easier or provide a better customer experience. Both are things that will keep you ahead of your competitors.”
This could mean a mobile app that scans customer products in a store so they can easily pay via Apple Pay instead of a register, or staff being able to manage their work schedules and rosters via an app.
Jones says keeping abreast of how customers use their phones is essential.
“I think we have just hit that peak where most searches are done over a mobile device and more purchases,” he says.
He says it’s also knowing how comfortable customers are with giving you access to data such as their geolocation, and knowing how they want to interact with you, whether it’s via text message, email or mobile notifications.
Five tips to stay tech-ready
There are plenty of ways small business owners can stay on top of tech shifts in order to be competitive. Here are five top tips from Louey and Jones.
- Do your research – whether it’s finding a blog that offers industry-specific tidbits, watching to see what your competitors use or attending conferences, knowledge is power.
- Choose technology that has been tried and tested – you’ll get more support, better experience and reliable software.
- Don’t jump on the bandwagon – not every flashy new tech will work for your business.
- Think outside the box – tech on its own isn’t always the solution. Small companies can use tech and a good idea to their advantage to create disruption on new services, products or experiences for their customers. For example, Uber took an existing tool in Google Maps, created an app and a business model that consumers loved.
- Do as much training and induction on new systems as possible – that includes you and all your staff.
AGL is dedicated to supporting Australian small businesses. We have a number of packages that can be tailored to your business’ specific needs. Visit us at agl.com.au/business to find out more.