A quarter of a century ago, small businesses were regularly flicked off the map by larger corporations with deeper pockets. Today, these smaller companies stand a much better chance of competing with limited resources.
The reason for this shift? In one word –– "technology."
Leveling the Playing Field
Historically, small startups haven’t stood a chance against established Fortune 500 companies. The latter have more money, deeper pools of human capital, more inventory, better brand equity, and richer prospect lists.
However, times have changed.
The Internet, followed by the evolution of the cloud, has paved the way for new technologies that close the gap and create real opportunities for smaller businesses to become major forces to be reckoned with –– even in well-established industries. This shift has happened relatively fast –– mostly within the past 15 years –– and key indicators suggest we’re in for even more positive change in the near future.
When you study the ways technology has leveled the playing field for small businesses, it ultimately comes down to the way in which innovative solutions have addressed key pain points.
If you were to poll a collection of small business owners and entrepreneurs on the biggest problems they face, you would find a few common threads. Among other industry-specific challenges, these are the biggest problems of the moment:
- Managing money
- Building quality teams
- Providing healthcare and benefits for employees
- Establishing brand identity
- Scaling up
- Following rules and remaining compliant
When you look at these problems, it’s easy to become overwhelmed or pessimistic about the chances of small business success. But if you study the growth trends in technology, you’ll quickly reverse course and embrace feelings of optimism.
In today’s business landscape, it seems that every major problem –– including the six mentioned above –– is met with an innovative and cost-effective solution.
This means no problem goes untreated for too long. When you combine the ability to rapidly innovate with the agility that small businesses have always possessed at their core, potential is instantly elevated and there’s not nearly as much separation between smaller companies and larger industry players.
This isn’t to suggest that small startups and multi-million-dollar companies are now equal. However, there’s more potential than ever before for a company at the bottom to quickly swim upstream and experience success.
Technology’s Role in 2019 and Beyond
Author and tech consultant Phil Simon recently wrote a book, "The New Small: How a New Breed of Small Businesses is Harnessing the Power of Emerging Technologies."
In it, he discusses how technology has given small business owners a chance to compete like never before.
In Simon’s opinion, "Smart adoption of nimble tech is allowing the New Small to do much more with less. They can reach customers, lower costs, and find and retain top talent like never before."
The question is, which types of technology are they using? Let’s take a look:
1. Online Services
The proliferation of cost-effective and accessible online services has totally changed the game for small businesses that are strapped for time and resources.
Take, for example, the traditional challenge of reaching thousands of customers via direct mail. Businesses once had to mock up a design, go to a physical print shop, pay for the materials, lick stamps, affix address labels, and go to the post office.
Today, with online printing services, businesses can cost-effectively print and mail brochures to prospects without ever having to touch a single piece of paper.
Also consider the challenges that small businesses have had with hiring qualified talent to perform tasks like design, content writing, marketing, and accounting. Today, tasks like these can easily be outsourced through freelance marketplaces that connect businesses with qualified professionals and contractors.
Whatever the pain point, there’s almost certainly an online service small business owners can use to quickly address the issue and get back on track.
2. Social Media
It’s easy to forget just how powerful social media is. In five minutes, today’s small businesses can reach millions of people at a price point of just a few dollars. In past decades, this would have cost tens of thousands of dollars and required weeks of extensive planning.
Whether it’s Facebook advertising, Instagram hashtags, or LinkedIn’s publishing platform, small businesses have every opportunity to reach the people they need to reach. In other words, this privilege is no longer exclusively reserved for big business.
3. Open API
The growth of Application Programming Interface (API) has given businesses the ability to customize robust technologies to their specific business needs without having to invest thousands of dollars into programming.
As Podium explains, "The proliferation of the open API has given rise to a rich ecosystem of integration opportunities for small businesses. This makes it easy to automate previously manual process, not to mention it gives businesses access to mountains of data to analyze."
Savvy small businesses don’t even bother to develop their own proprietary solutions. Instead, they focus on APIs and scalable solutions that they can grow with.
The Future is Bright
We haven’t even begun to explore the potential that technology has to propel small businesses forward. It’s beginning to feel a lot like the late-1990s, when the World Wide Web was first becoming available to the masses and innovation and the entrepreneurial spirit were at an all-time high. The potential is palpable and we’re only just getting started.
For small businesses, the best path to success is to stay plugged into what’s happening and to be willing to try new things. While you may occasionally fail, a willingness to continually seek improvement and embrace innovation will yield positive long-term results.
Larry Alton is a professional blogger, writer, and researcher. A graduate of Iowa State University, he's now a full-time freelance writer and business consultant.Currently, Larry writes for Entrepreneur.com, Inc.com, and Forbes.com, among others. In addition to journalism, technical writing and in-depth research, he’s also active in his community and spends weekends volunteering with a local non-profit literacy organization and rock climbing. Follow him on Twitter (@LarryAlton3), at LinkedIn.com/in/larryalton, and on his website, LarryAlton.com. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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