By Bevil Wooding
Using computer and Internet-based technology for business can bring major benefits. However, making the right technology choices can be a bit like a minefield when you’re navigating all of the options that are out there. The following basic guide should help you to the right choices for your business.
Used properly, the right technology can help to differentiate your business in the eyes of your customers, reduces paperwork, automate tasks, improve efficiencies and generally make your life easier.
It can also be very challenging for small business owners to keep pace with the dizzying stream of gadgets, online services, and tech products. The following points should help better consider the tech computing options for your small business.
Assess Your Needs
New technology options such as smartphones, tablets, cloud computing and high-speed Internet options are becoming more affordable, and easier to use. Small businesses today have the option to use powerful technology tools once reserved for larger enterprises, with deeper pockets.
But selecting the right tools first requires you to think carefully about your environment, what you want to achieve, and how technology can meet your needs. For example, if you are always on the go you’ll need lightweight devices, like a smartphone, and easy access to information that may be stored at your home base. If you work primarily out of a fixed location, you can consider tech, like a desktop computer and a large screen monitor.
Weighing the Tech Computing Options
Business technology evolves constantly and rapidly. You only need to look at a phone from two years ago to see how quickly devices and gadgets can become archaic, or even obsolete. Here are some basic tech computing options divided into four very broad categories:
Desktop PCs, or “computers”, as they are generally referred to, can be more powerful, and offer more storage and functionality than their more mobile cousins –laptops, tablets and smartphones. Their large size and shape mean they mostly stay in a fixed position. But if you spend a lot of time typing and operate out of a fixed location then these can be your best bet.
Laptops are generally very similar in power and functionality to desktops, but are smaller, more lightweight and therefore, more portable. This makes them ideal if you are constantly on the go. Recently, laptops manufacturers have been including touchscreens, allowing the same touch-swipe-pinch experience typically found on smartphones, but with the benefit of a build-in keyboard. A new class of laptops called ultrabooks, also offers thinner, lighter weight, longer battery life to users who don’t want to lug around the heftier models they are replacing.
Tablets, such as Apple’s iPad, Microsoft’s Surface and Samsung’s GalaxyTab, are the fastest growing category of portable computing devices today. They do not have the raw computing power of a laptop, but their intuitive touchscreen user interface, instant-on ability, wireless connectivity and long battery life make them a mobile worker’s dream. Tablets also typically come with multimedia tools built in, such as a camera, microphone and external speakers, negating the need to lug around loads of equipment. Add easy access to special software known as mobile apps, and a world of possibilities opens up to small business users. Apps bring life and functionality to mobile devices by providing software tools and easy access to information when on the go. With a proper Internet connection, tablets can be used for video conferencing, phone calls over the Internet, file and document sharing, remotely accessing computers at your home or office, or a host of business critical uses. Tablets can be an essential tool for personal productivity and mobile access to your important data.
Smartphones are typically smaller versions of tablets but with the obvious added ability to make traditional phone calls and send and receive SMS text messages. With so many options available, smartphones models distinguish themselves in these areas: battery life; screen size; storage capacity; number of available mobile apps; camera quality; processor speed and even design aesthetic.
Similar to tablets, built-in functions, such as the camera, speaker, microphone and video recorder, mean that you can snap pictures, record sound bites and capture videos on-the-go. The quality of multimedia capture on a high-end smartphone means you don’t have to spend money on additional tech gear like digital cameras or dedicated voice recorders.
Keep in mind that a smartphone investment should not be looked at as “buying a phone.” With a smartphone, you are buying a pocketable computer that can also make phone calls. Invest wisely.
Embracing Social Media
Social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are the most popular, and most obvious social media platforms for business of any size. As print and other traditional advertising models lose ground to the Internet, Internet-based social media is an effective method of marketing, giving global reach at a very low cost.
Adopting an effective social media strategy can do wonders to rapidly enhance a company’s branding and visibility. However, the interactive nature of social media is a two edged sword. Social networks help you interact almost real-time with your audience around a specific company messages or offers. But it also allows customers to share their satisfaction, or dissatisfaction with your products or services almost real-time and very publicly!
To choose the right social media platforms, first identify the online platforms and communities where you are most likely to find your potential customers. Next, create a strategy to engage with their interests and offer them useful, compelling content and interaction they can’t get elsewhere. Next execute, and be sure to invest the time and resource to sustain your social media presence.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of small business technology options. There are a number of other considerations, such as cloud computing, data security, online marketing, Internet service options and online training that can enhance your business, grow your reach and improve your relationship with your customers.
We will be looking at these over the next few weeks.
Bevil Wooding is the Chief Knowledge Officer of Congress WBN (www.congresswbn.org), a values-based, international charity and the Executive Director of BrightPath Foundation, a technology education non-profit organization. Reach him on Twitter @bevilwooding or on facebook.com/bevilwooding or contact via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.