The UK’s small businesses are failing to spend enough on technology - and their reticence is preventing them reaching their potential.
This is according to new research from Simply Business, which has found that one in five business owners do not think they have the basic IT skills required to run their business.
Of those respondents, some 40 per cent said that they believe their lack of skills is holding their business back. Crucially, firms with skills shortages are the most likely to not record an annual profit.
Thankfully, though, the tech environment is changing. Business owners without existing experience are often put off by what can be a daunting field, but new trends in SME technology are helping to ensure that the barriers to acquiring and using the services you need are lower than ever.
Technology is here to help your business. When it is well utilised it can mean the difference between profiting and not - and, as the experience, money, and manpower required to get started become less and less onerous, a simple but comprehensive technology strategy comes within the reach of even the smallest business.
As the new year gets into full swing, we have looked at the coming trends in small business technology and considered how they will impact your business. Read on for practical ways in which you can make the top tech trends of 2013 work for you.
1. Mobile will come to rule
The UK has the world's highest mobile web use. Mobile devices are fast becoming the preferred method of access for the country's digital natives, and this trend looks set to continue during 2013. Last year the average UK consumer spent nearly £1,100 shopping online. With 23 per cent of Brits having visited a retail website on their smartphone, the importance of mobile is clear to see.
As mobile use continues to grow, a mobile web presence becomes increasingly vital for businesses of every size. Happily, it is now very easy to set up a website that is also compatible with mobile phones and tablet computers. Read our Wordpress Guide for Small Business for a quick-start guide.
2. The cloud will burst
Businesses are set to make even better use of the cloud in 2013. Cloud computing has already transformed the way in which many firms use software, and has widened access to vital services.
The cloud will continue to become the single most important way in which small businesses access the software they need. The days in which firms were required to buy software, install it on their own machines, and make sure that they have purchased enough licences, seem to be numbered. Instead, businesses will move to an ‘always-on’ model, also known as ‘software as a service’, in which software is hosted is installed on third party machines, often on the other side of the world, which can be accessed at any time from a normal web browser. The benefits of this model are manifold: businesses do not have to make the significant investment in their own software, instead either using free alternatives or paying for what they use; maintenance costs are eliminated; and the services businesses need are more readily available. Read more about software as a service and your business.
3. Consumers will become even more social
The social web has become a key factor in marketing. Businesses are ploughing more and more money into social; indeed, drinks brand Dr Pepper will soon be devoting 100% of its entire marketing spend to social platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
Marketing is no longer a broadcast, it’s a conversation - and technology has a huge role to play in this change. Over the course of the next twelve months it will become even more important for businesses of every size to have a firm grasp on the social web, an understanding of what it means for their future, and a framework plan to help them capitalise on it. There is a wealth of information across the web to help small businesses build a social media presence from the ground up. You might like to start with our own podcast on small business social media.
4. IT will become more human
One of the most notable developments this year is likely to be a shift in focus away from flashy new features and towards simplified, user-focused interfaces. As hardware and software manufacturers work to make their products more intuitive, technology will become more human - opening up the field to those with less experience.
The corollary of this is that users now expect a seamless experience across all of the services they use. Excellent design is no longer an add-on; it is a necessity. If you already have a web presence you should consider engaging with a user experience expert to ensure that it is constructed in such a way that your potential customers can navigate it easily and efficiently.
5. Tech will be a 'sink or swim' issue
The Simply Business TechSME Index has demonstrated that the UK’s small businesses are not spending enough on technology. The firms that do not invest tend to be the firms that struggle to become or remain profitable. Tech is a headline issue, and will remain so - but over the course of 2013 it will become even more crucial for your survival.
The Simply Business TechSME Index has found that those firms that lack basic IT skills are the most likely not to record an annual profit. A sensible, properly considered investment in technology and training is therefore vital if your business is to fulfil its potential.