Small businesses have seen increased wages and better digital tools in recent years, but still face several challenges when it comes to selecting, implementing, and maintaining technology. The typical SMB has not prioritized digital efforts including cloud, mobility, analytics, and the Internet of Things (IoT) when it comes to IT spending, according to IDC research.
"Small businesses struggle with technology still," said John Tippett, vice president of Datto Networking. However, the struggle has shifted: In years past, SMBs faced difficulties finding the right solution. Today, the opposite is the case.
"There are endless solutions, and everything is technical," Tippett said. "No longer do you have a standalone copy machine or phone system. All of it is connected, and amazingly complex."
There is also a struggle to find the right combination of technology suites to meet their needs, Tippett said.
However, there are ways to overcome these challenges. Here are five tech blunders that could hurt your small business, and how to avoid them.
SEE: New equipment budget policy (Tech Pro Research)
1. Failing to plan
It sounds simple, but frequently, small businesses don't have an overarching technology plan, Tippett said. "No small business exists to simply consume tech. You're using technology in order to solve a business need," he added. "You should be clear on what that business need is, be thoughtful about the technology that you're looking at, and make sure that it meets the needs but isn't overly complicated."
2. Moving too fast
When small businesses dive into the realm of tech, they often move too quickly, said Tirena Dingeldein, senior analyst and content manager at Capterra. "They suffer from something that I like to call the tech search fatigue syndrome," she added. "They have so many options thrown at them, and they don't really know specifically what they're looking for, or they can't find what they're looking for. They end up just picking an option that costs too much and hurts their bottom line, or doesn't actually solve the problem that they thought they had in the first place."
Some 21% of SMBs reported this problem, according to a Capterra survey conducted last year, Dingeldein said.
To prevent this, Dingeldein said SMBs need to understand that finding the right tech will be a long process. To avoid investing in the wrong technologies or unnecessary features, companies should look for a free trial or a hands-on walkthrough from the company before purchasing anything, she added. Businesses can also reach out to peers to see what they have found, she recommended.
3. Forgoing data privacy and security
Many businesses fail to consider the importance of security when it comes to working with technology, Tippett said. "Small businesses don't fully comprehend the size and the breadth of what could go wrong when security isn't taken seriously for not only company data, but customer data as well," he added. "That then exposes you to liability and potential brand damage that's irrecoverable, all from just haphazardly approaching security."
This is of particular interest now that GDPR has gone into effect in the EU, Dingeldein said. "Small businesses should expect that their data protection problems are only going to grow, and they should invest in tech really fast if they haven't already to protect their data and their clients' data," she said. The average loss per record is $141, according to a Ponemon Institute report. "If they have even less than 15,000 records stolen by a data breach, that's still over $2 million—a significant amount of money, which could take a business down overnight," Dingeldein said.
Beyond mitigating data privacy issues, small business leaders should get their teams on the same page, and become cybersecurity advocates within their organization, Dingeldein said.
SEE: Network security policy template (Tech Pro Research)
4. Ignoring maintenance
A business' work is not done once a tech solution is in place. "It's an ongoing thing," Tippett said. "You need to continually reevaluate as you go down the road." This means checking in on whether or not the solution is still meeting your business needs, as well as if it is patched continuously to avoid security issues.
5. Forgetting to prepare for growth
"Every small business wants to become larger and make more money," Dingeldein said. "Having the right tech set in place in order to enable that growth is really important."
While emerging technologies like virtual reality (VR) and blockchain may seem enticing, it's important to consider what you actually need, which may be more in line with a CRM or HR software. "They're a little bit lackluster in the tech world right now, but they're probably way more important than getting something like an army of drones out there," Dingeldein said. "Prioritize what tech your company actually needs to grow."
- Critical steps for successful SMB big data strategy (Tech Pro Research)
- IT Innovation for Small Businesses (ZDNet)
- Cheat sheet: How to become a data scientist (TechRepublic)
- Eight obstacles to overcome in your digital transformation journey (ZDNet)
- 4 ways SMBs can protect their networks from hackers (TechRepublic)
Alison DeNisco Rayome has nothing to disclose. She does not hold investments in the technology companies she covers.
Alison DeNisco Rayome is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. She covers CXO, cybersecurity, and the convergence of tech and the workplace.