(This post originally appeared on Forbes)
If you want to know the best place to keep up with technology for your business, follow my weekly tech roundups for entrepreneurs each week. You’ll learn because I’m always learning.
So what have I learned? Businesses that invest in the right technologies are assuring future growth and success. I’ve also learned that there are a few apps, services and technologies – about ten categories in all – that are critical for small businesses in 2019. So in honor of National Small Business Week, I thought it would be helpful to share.
Customer Relationship Management
Don’t be fooled by CRM. People like to complicate this stuff and it’s not that complicated. It’s just a database of every person and company who you do business with – from prospects and customers to vendors, suppliers and partners. A great CRM system will integrate with your email and calendars and ensure that nothing falls the cracks and everyone in your company is sharing the right information. It will be mobile, include workflows and automation and integrates with tons of other great apps to do marketing and other functions. If implemented the right way (which is easier said than done) it will be an instrumental asset to your organization. There are many great CRMs for small businesses. I recommend looking at Salesforce.com, Microsoft Dynamics and Zoho CRM.
Managed Service Providers
If your inventory, order entry or other business critical application is older or located on your internal server you need to move it out of your office and into the hands of a managed service provider. Well-managed service providers will ensure that your data is secured as best possible and will likely have better security tools that you have internally. Your applications can be accessed by your team from anywhere and on any device. Many of them rely on public cloud services from Amazon, Google and Microsoft and that’s fine. With internet speeds hitting 5G, a well-managed service provider will deliver the performance, reliability and accessibility of your data at a cost that makes sense. Recommended providers include Right Networks, CloudJumper or any number of information technology firms.
If your accounting application is located on your server, it won’t be for long. That’s because most accounting vendors are moving quickly to the cloud. It makes sense for them, and for you. You pay a monthly fee and they get a revenue stream. In return, the software provider can provide faster support, upgrades and technical services. Cloud applications are also much easier to integrate with each other. Today’s cloud accounting apps provide the added benefit of doing invoicing, cash receipts or retrieving reports from any device, anywhere. It’s a crowded field of cloud accounting options so do your due diligence and lean towards good companies with big communities. I see QuickBooks Online, Xero, and FreshBooks being used often by business owners.
Back in the day, there wasn’t much you could do with a scanned invoice or document other than file it away. But with today’s Optical Character Recognition technology there’s a growing crop of applications that can extract data from any scanned document – from vendor invoices to airline receipts – and put it in a format so that someone in your office can easily review and then import into most popular accounting applications. This saves time, improves accuracy and cuts overhead. Recommended applications: Bill.com, EntryLess, Expensify.
HR platforms are exploding and, in my opinion, any company with more than five employees should have one. Why? Because they’re affordable and with a good HR platform your employees will be able to – usually through a mobile app – track payroll, update forms, schedule vacation, alert for sick days and even manage their performance reviews. The more your employees use the application, the less administrative time will be needed by your office staff – and that means less overhead and more productivity. Check out: Paychex, Gusto and BambooHR.
Back in the day, there were telephone calls, instant messaging, text messaging, emailing and lots and lots of yelling. Yes, we’re still yelling. But the good news is that today’s office applications have brought all those other things together under one umbrella so that your employees can conduct their communication, document management and collaboration activities – including video calls, file storage and sharing, messaging as well as alerting and reminders – from any device and wherever they are. Not only that, but today’s collaboration and communication systems have powerful searching tools to find old conversations and exchanges. The systems can even be configured for outsiders to access too. Applications that focus on collaboration include Microsoft Office 365, Google G-Suite, Box.
Our company, like many small businesses, uses contractors and employees who frequently work out of the office. The thought of maintaining an on-premise phone system seems expensive…because it is. That’s why, for the past ten years, we’ve been using a virtual phone service. Our service provides a toll-free number, dial by name directory, voicemail for all users including transcription and archive recordings and…well, you get it: a total phone system (even hardware) that makes my small business look like a big business. I pay by the mailbox (about $12 per month) and love it. Recommended applications: Grasshopper, VirtualPBX and Ooma.
E-Commerce and Payment
If you’re in retail then please pay attention to this word: convergence. It means getting a point of sale system that not only works in your store but works online too. That’s because you want to sell your products both from your store and over the web because that’s what successful retailers are doing to thrive. The best point of sale systems not only use tablets (a must for good customer service) and integrate with popular payment services, but they also provide the ability of setting up an ecommerce site that relies on the very same database you’re using in-store. Recommended applications: Paypal, Square, Shopify, Magento.
Yeah, yeah, I’m leaving some stuff out. Like email apps (but don’t we all have them by now?) and project management solutions such as Basecamp and Asana.
There was once a time when everyone in my company would be saving multiple versions of multiple documents and spreadsheets on their laptops, desktops and our servers. That…was a mess. But not today. Today, we all save to a cloud storage service which synchronizes the files (that we choose) to our respective devices. Everything is updated and I no longer fear what happens if someone leaves their device on the subway. To me, a business without a cloud storage service is a business that’s losing money. Applications that focus on this space: Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive.
Ransomware has become a billion-dollar business and that makes sense: it’s finally a way for clever hackers to actually make money with their malware. We read about the stories of hotels, transit systems and city governments brought to their knees by security breaches like this, but we don’t hear of the thousands of small businesses that are also affected. To protect yourself you need to use a good cloud backup service, keep your operating systems updated and use a good security application in your company. Recommended applications: Carbonite (for backup), Malware Bytes, Barracuda.
What else am I missing? You tell me and maybe I can expand this list in a future column. In the meantime, take a moment to review the techs, services and apps you’re using in your business. Have you got all the bases covered?