With over 23 million of them in the U.S. alone, small businesses have become big business. And technology is making them competitive with larger, more established companies.
Think about how different people work today as opposed to ten years ago. IT costs to set up a domain and server? Gone. Now you can use your smartphone to access your email, share documents, videoconference, access your calendar and much more. And with mobile and virtual solutions, small businesses can operate from anywhere in the world, professionally and efficiently.
Mobility Is A Game Changer
Next time you’re in public, look around you. Notice how many people are either using their handheld device or a tablet. Sure they could be texting a friend or playing Candy Crush, but many of them are working. Those handheld computers are allowing small business owners to not only work on the go, but do more and spend less—especially if they take advantage of the plethora of available business apps.
Take Quip. This collaboration tool enables users to draft and edit documents and share changes with employees, partners and clients. There is a chat option to notify work groups on mobile devices as projects change and evolve. The app also works with attachments, and allows you to create and work on documents--even when you're offline.
Then there’s Yammer, a new social network for businesses that combines collaboration software with business applications. That way employees can collaborate across departments, locations and teams to share information and organize projects.
And while there are many GPS apps, a few of them stand out. It’s hard to beat Google Maps’ routing reliability, but Waze is fast becoming a close second. In addition to voice-activated navigation, the app allows other drivers to share real-time traffic and road information. And by logging into Facebook, people can coordinate their arrival times even as they are en route.
Virtual Solutions Redefine “Small”
Your headquarters may just be an office in your house, but your small business can now become a global operation—without adding much to your overhead—with virtual solutions. It’s pay-as-you-go technology on demand, without the long-term infrastructure investments that larger companies have to deal with.
A live virtual receptionist can take care of administrative tasks, like answering your phone calls, so you can concentrate on growing your client base. Virtual Receptionists can be U.S.-based and industry trained to manage incoming calls, provide outbound services (lead generation, appointment scheduling, follow-up calls, surveys and market research, third-party verification services), scheduling, and conference-call assistance. This way small businesses can save time and money without the need for a heavy-duty telephone infrastructure.
Renting virtual offices, whether it’s a local space or an office in Asia, is a low-cost way of going global. With over 950 business locations around the world, virtual office locations can provide business addresses, mail-forwarding services, lobby directory listings, access to fully loaded meeting spaces and a wide variety of cutting-edge business services (including Microsoft exchange products, corporate email and URL hosting). The business address can be used for business licensing or registration and for marketing on search engines and Internet directories.
Meeting and Conference Rooms gives mobile or home-operated businesses the option of a meeting room rental with all the perks. You can reserve day offices, conference rooms or board rooms as you need them. Most workspaces and meeting facilities are fully equipped with the latest technologies and business services, including video conferencing and Wi-Fi.
The Cloud Is Heaven For Small Business Owners
With no upfront costs, cloud computing allows companies to streamline their operations by storing data on remote Internet servers they can access from anywhere. By giving colleagues, clients and suppliers access to your cloud workspaces, you can collaborate in real time anywhere in the world. Work on presentations, proposals and other documents efficiently and effectively -- no matter where each party is located. And because you don’t own the software, there are no installation, maintenance or security costs.
If all this can be accomplished in less than a decade, what technological changes are next? Will today’s college freshmen scratch their heads 10 years from now when an older co-worker refers to a digital scanner? How many future college graduates will opt to start their own company because technology will make it that much easier? One thing is certain: Small businesses today are way more competitive with the big dogs than they used to be.
How has technology assisted you in leveling the playing field?