Companies need to prioritize alternative payment options, remote work capabilities and virtual services, according to the SBA.
Just like big companies, smaller organizations had to adjust to the new reality created by the COVID-19 pandemic. A SCORE survey conducted in fall 2020 found that 43% of small business owners provided PPP to employees, 34% allowed teleworking and 29% updated policies.
Now that cases are dropping and vaccination rates are rising, companies are adjusting again to match the current reality. The Small Business Administration identified these 2021 trends for small businesses:
- Businesses will continue to prioritize e-commerce
- Alternative payment options will proliferate
- Remote work will persist
- Businesses that offer virtual services will continue to be in high demand
These 12 tools can help small- and medium-sized companies keep up with these trends and adjust quickly to whatever new challenges the future brings.
Customers wanted no-touch payment options early on in the pandemic to reduce the chances of contracting the virus. Now the convenience factor will keep these options in demand. Authorize.net is an established payment service from Visa that allows companies to take payment via credit card and electronic check. The service has recently added a virtual terminal that will give customers the option to pay from a PC or a mobile device.
As more communication moves online and storefront hours change, scheduling is more important than ever. Setting a time via email is also as painful as ever. Calendly replaces the "What's good for you?" back and forth. A business owner sets availability preferences and then shares a link via email or on a website. Customers and suppliers find a time that works best for them and the event is added to the calendar automatically.
Calm for Teams
Mental health is no longer a taboo subject at work. Big and small companies added new benefits for employees over the last year to help people cope with grief and isolation caused by the pandemic. Many companies have turned to apps and online services to provide this support. Calm, a popular meditation app, also has a service for small business owners. Calm for Teams is for companies with five to 100 employees which gives people free access to the app.
Companies that can provide virtual services have an edge with customers, and managing contracts and agreements digitally is central to that trend. DocuSign powers electronic signatures, contract lifecycle management, document generation and negotiation, and contract analytics. The company also offers integrations with other productivity platforms such as Slack.
The only certainty about the future of work is that it will not look very much like the pre-pandemic days. Remote work is here to stay, and companies must have a plan that includes in-person and WFH employees. Flock is a collaboration platform that covers video conferencing, file sharing, project management and chat. Companies can connect other apps into the platform, such as Google Calendar, Trello, Twitter, Box, MailChimp and GitHub.
Business owners can accept almost any kind of payment with this platform, including physical credit cards, chip cards and near-field communication. Remote payments are an option as well as transactions without an internet connection with Offline Mode. Square Payments also offers an end-to-end solution that covers hardware and software.
Identify and access management is the best way to secure a company's operations against the ongoing threat of cyber attacks. Lastpass offers single sign-on, multi-factor authentication and secure collaboration.
Checking in with workers has taken a new form in this era of remote work. Casual conversations have to be replaced with new ways to check the pulse of an organization. Office Vibe gives managers tools to do that ranging from surveys, collaboration tools and a library of management advice.
Low-code is another trend that small businesses need to understand. It's easier and easier to build basic processes and automate repetitive tasks. Quickbase is a low-code platform that includes a drag-and-drop visual builder to create and customize applications.
Presentations are even more important now that so many work interactions are virtual. vMix allows users to use material from many sources, including videos, images, PowerPoint slides and audio. The platform can be used for small meetings as well as larger events.
Automation is another trend that all businesses need to embrace, even small companies. Zapier provides a platform to integrate web apps and automate the process of passing information among the apps. Users also can build workflows to connect apps and trigger actions.
Customer support moved fully online during the pandemic just like all other business operations. Zoho Assist is remote support software. Users can establish secure connections to customers to manage PCs, laptops, mobile devices and servers. The platform also includes voice and video chat.
- 6 tips for expanding your SMB internationally (TechRepublic)
- DevOps: A cheat sheet (TechRepublic)
- Inside UPS: The logistics company's never-ending digital transformation (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
- Microsoft Build 2020 Highlights (TechRepublic Premium)
- Technology that changed us: The 1970s, from Pong to Apollo (ZDNet)
- Tom Merritt's Top 5 series (TechRepublic on Flipboard)