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4 Tech Trends That Small Businesses Should Not Ignore

Via Huffington Post

Technology is continually reshaping the business landscape by changing the way companies operate, interact with customers, and pursue new avenues for growth.

But the sheer number of new technology platforms and emerging ideas can make it difficult to pinpoint the trends that will matter most to your small business.

The following are four key tech trends small business owners should be aware of and what they could mean for the future of your company.

1) Business Migrates to the Cloud By storing and sharing data over a network, cloud computing enables business owners and employees to work together and access information from almost anywhere in the world. The cloud offers software, platforms, and infrastructure as a service, delivering key capabilities online.

The cloud benefits small business owners by helping drive down costs. Instead of purchasing, managing, and upgrading software, as well as hiring IT specialists to maintain systems, companies can rely on third parties to securely handle these services. Monthly fees replace upfront costs, and the level of service can be scaled up or down depending on business demands. As a result, technology spending--traditionally one of the biggest capital expenses for small businesses--becomes an operational cost.

WHAT YOU CAN DO: To see if your business can take advantage of cloud computing to streamline day-to-day operations, consider taking a test trial of a payroll, project management, or document-sharing cloud service. These back-end services tend to be great tests on the cloud because they can be closely monitored and controlled and yield timely results. Additionally, many major cloud services offer free trials over a set period of time.

2) Mobile Becomes a Money Maker With global sales of smartphones and tablets now outpacing those of laptops and desktop computers, finding ways to monetize and profit from the surge in mobile devices is becoming a priority for the small business sector.

The volume of transactions made via mobile devices will climb from $163 billion in 2012 to $721 billion in 2017, according to Gartner. As a result, many companies are actively pursuing methods to facilitate mobile payments for their customers or clients. They're aiming to deliver mobile content to raise awareness of their business, leverage location-based services to engage their customer base, and harness the massive amount of buying, spending, and data generated through device usage.

More than one-fifth of worldwide payment transactions now occur on a mobile device, according to the Adyen Global Mobile Payments Index. This represents a huge opportunity to increase revenue and reach out to a wider customer base by capitalizing on mobile devices.

WHAT YOU CAN DO: Consider optimizing your business' website for mobile devices to ensure the website displays properly on smaller screens and that customers can complete purchases, contact staff for service or support, and maintain personalized accounts through their mobile devices.

3) E-Commerce Picks Up the Pace Although online retail has long been a thriving industry, e-commerce platforms have seen extraordinary growth in the past few years, largely due to the surge in mobile shopping. According to research from Goldman Sachs, digital commerce adoption and expansion is expected to accelerate in the short-term future, with annual e-commerce growth approaching 17 percent over the next three years.

Major e-commerce retailers are aggressively adding new features and apps, and many are expanding their big data capabilities to tap into the biggest new trend: providing shopping experiences tailored to individual consumers.

WHAT YOU CAN DO: One of the most effective ways to boost your small business's online sales performance is by offering a personalized experience for every customer. Ensuring your website recognizes return shoppers and recommends related products can improve users' online experience and help drive new sales for your company.

Online loyalty programs are another useful way to get more from e-commerce. By offering online gift cards and reward points for frequent spending, your business can encourage customers to shop more in the future and build stronger relationships with your brand.

4) 3-D Printing Crafts a Customizable World As 3-D printing continues to get more affordable, becomes easier to use, and produces more complex designs, the technology is poised to upend traditional models of production.

The 3-D printing industry is already growing at an annual rate of over 20 percent, and the pace is forecast to accelerate even further in the coming years. The combination of high customizability and the ability to produce rapid prototypes and replacement parts means 3-D printing can give small businesses a significant edge, especially in a crowded market.

WHAT YOU CAN DO: 3-D printers allow you to set a premium price for goods that are designed according to a customer's exact specifications and preferences. For a relatively small upfront investment, your business can begin crafting personalized products, which can give you a competitive advantage over companies that sell mass-produced items.

You could also use 3-D printing for product development, making multiple prototypes of a new product and modifying its features until arriving at the right combination of design features. This can be cheaper than relying on outside manufacturers, who typically charge more for small-batch production, and can provide an affordable approach to small business research and development.

Spotting small business growth opportunities is just one of the strategies taught in the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program. Share your company's technology adoption plans in the comments section below, and for more information on how the program can help you grow your business.

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