Many small business owners feel they have very little resources to help them navigate the vast tech landscape, according to a recent study over in the US.
The report, from Brother International Corporation and non-profit SCORE, was conducted by Wakefield Research and covered 500 small business owners with fewer than 100 employees. It revealed that 64 per cent of American small business owners still feel "overwhelmed" when it comes to technology.
That sentiment is apparently not based heavily on financial concerns. For the first time in five years, economic worries of small business owners waned significantly; down to 42 per cent from 58 per cent last year.
Instead, many SMBs feel they have no one to turn to for tech guidance. The majority have no dedicated IT support. In fact, the study shows that 59 per cent of those surveyed said there are "insufficient resources" available in small business communities to help them.
Eager to embrace top tech trends
Mobile devices top the list of the technology that small businesses feel is imperative, according to the study.
"Mobile is crucial for my business," Michelle Fiddler, an independent realtor, said at a gathering to discuss the results of the survey. She lauded mobile tech as allowing her to "be reached easily" as well as giving her the ability to access documents from anywhere.
Lawyer James Abate was even more frank. "We wouldn't be able to exist without mobile."
In addition to mobile devices, small business owners said that CRM (Customer Relationship Management), social media, and cloud services are the top tech tools they feel are necessary for their businesses.
While 49 per cent of these business owners say that tech-related investments are their top priority, they are split down the middle as far as what they perceive to be investment risks. About 50 per cent fear investing in tech too quickly without a good return on that investment. In contrast, the other half fears that not investing gives competitors an advantage.
Easing small business tech worries
For Brother, aiding small businesses without on-site IT means using social media for tech support and baking ease-of-use into its office technology products.
"Our survey shows that while small business owners understand the value of new technologies, they are still a bit overwhelmed and struggle with choosing the right time to adopt them to have the greatest impact on their business," said John Wandishin, Brother's vice president of marketing. "This is one of the reasons Brother is committed to developing printers, all-in-ones, and scanners that seamlessly integrate with leading mobile technologies and cloud-based services."
Outsourcing IT is of great value to many small business owners. "We outsource all of our tech support... I have people come in only when I need them," SCORE CEO Key Yancey said.
Michael Spadaro, an IT consultant for Profound Cloud, said the trend in small business and IT outsourcing was "moving away from having [IT] generalists" toward IT specialists.
Brother's Wandishin also pointed out that "tech can't fix everything." Sometimes the issue is figuring out the business process. "Identifying and outlining business processes makes it easier for small businesses to sort through the best technology for their business needs."
Abate agreed that knowledge of your particular business needs is critical in selecting the right tech. His law firm, for example, uses Google for Business, because Google does not mine emails – a legal requirement to which his business must adhere.
The small business owners also expressed frustration at the endless pitches from vendors and solutions providers.
"They don't even know what my business goals are," said Fiddler when asked about her reaction to email and sales pitches offering tech support to small business.
The main takeaways?
Hone your business processes to understand the technology you do need, and the tech you don't need.
There are tools that can help you understand what channels are driving your business. These include apps like Google Analytics, and also organisations such as the Small Business Administration (SBA) – which is in the US, but at the start of 2014, Labour pledged a UK equivalent when it comes to power, and this is likely something we'll see in the future, one way or another.
Use business versions of consumer apps since they often offer more security options and tech support. If you like Dropbox, for example, look into a Dropbox business account.