In an era of increasingly virtualized desktops and applications, cutting-edge online and peer-to-peer payment solutions, and artificially intelligent software and devices of all kinds, it should come as no surprise that worldwide IT spending is forecast to grow 2.4% to reach $4.5 trillion in 2023, according to market research company Gartner. Thankfully, with small- and mid-size businesses looking to invest more in digital transformation with each passing day, a growing host of cost-affordable and user-friendly high-tech tools are also now available to help business owners and operators stay relevant, stay competitive, and stay one step ahead of the curve.
Whatever needs that you may have, or company goals that you’re working towards, there’s likely now an off-the-shelf or customizable, pay-as-you-go technology solution that can help you get the job done. Below, you'll find a closer look at five ways in which new and forward-thinking high-tech tools and connected offerings can help you build and grow your business more productively and cost-efficiently.
1. Utilizing Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Analytics, and Predictive Insights
It’s clear that the age of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (a technology that allows software programs to get smarter with every interaction) is now upon us. Widespread customer interest in the space is also quickly spilling over into and revolutionizing the small- and mid-size business market by popular demand, and smart solutions are empowering companies to better future-proof themselves.
For example, an increasing number of pay-as-you-go and off-the-shelf service providers now allow you to put individualized and contextualized messages and promotional offers in front of the right customers at the right time to drive sales conversions. Likewise, just by asking AI algorithms like you would a human colleague, you can perform market research; identify suppliers, vendors, and travel partners; write advertising copy; plan marketing campaigns; predict inventory or staffing needs; and more. We’re already seeing the dawn of so-called “AI agents” – computerized helpers so smart that, like personal assistants, you can assign them a complex overarching task (“create a plan and budget for our next fan convention”), and they’ll execute entire series of steps on their own in sequence without supervision until it’s completed.
Going forward, AI-powered solutions will also be able to assist you with everything from coding custom applications and websites with no software programming experience to coming up with new ideas for e-mail outreach campaigns. You’ll also be able to use them to craft advertising, marketing, and promotions plans on the fly – or create supporting mobile, online, social media, and marketing copy or content. Paired with cutting-edge analytics and predictive modeling tools, your business can use these high-tech upgrades to better collect, manage, and leverage data that can help you make smarter decisions on every front. In effect, not only can technology now give you all the tools that you need to stay one step ahead of the marketplace, it can also help translate every customer interaction (online or off) into crucial insights needed to create winning business strategies of all kinds. Small wonder that IBM, using 2022 data from 7,502 businesses around the world, reports that a full third of businesses are now using AI technology, and consulting firm PwC says that AI could contribute $15.7 trillion to the global economy by 2030.
2. Facilitating E-Commerce, Mobile/Online Shopping, and Social Commerce
As shoppers increasingly look to online, mobile, and social commerce purchasing solutions, all manner of businesses and brands, especially retailers, are now seeing explosive growth in the digital arena. In fact, e-commerce sales in the U.S. topped $1 trillion for the first time just last year alone, according to a Digital Commerce 360 analysis of U.S. Department of Commerce figures. This is creating immense opportunities for small- and medium-size companies, who can now leverage a growing host of technology solutions to stock, ship, deliver, and otherwise customize or fill orders with a minimum of time, effort, and investment.
By leveraging these technologies, you can not only drag-and-drop your way to publishing a custom online store, menu, or order form in minutes, you can also customize products, services, and solutions on the fly and facilitate online and real-time inventory management. Moreover, a growing host of service providers make it simpler than ever to promote online and in-store shopping via dedicated mobile apps, or setup subscription and membership services as needed. New marketing and sales tools can help you monitor online chatter to see what’s trending, target (or re-target) potential customers, and leverage social networks or influencers to better raise awareness for your solutions and connect with customers. According to a 2023 study of 9,600 respondents performed by marketplace SaaS platform provider Mirakl, 51% of consumers now do most of their buying online, and 71% of consumers plan to move more of their spending online going forward. That’s good news for tech-savvy business owners who can leverage cost- and time-effective e-commerce technology tools to more rapidly get out in front of these trends.
3. Staffing, Outsourcing, and Finding Freelance or Part-Time Workers
Thanks to explosive growth in online freelance marketplaces and part-time hustle or gig worker sites, all you need in many cases to get a new business rolling, or grow an existing one, is a good idea and credit card to boot. More than 60 million Americans alone (around 39% of the country’s workforce) are now freelancing or offering part-time services online, according to a 2022 study of 3,000 U.S. working adults conducted by Edelman Data & Intelligence for talent marketplace Upwork.
The barriers to starting and operating a new company (or keeping an existing one competitive) have now dropped so low than you can literally get the ball rolling in a matter of hours.
As a result, the first step towards building or growing a company is just a click or call away, and barriers to entry in many markets have become virtually nil. Using these solutions to leverage the power of the crowd, and advancements in on-demand technology, you can get your next million-dollar concept up and running in a matter of minutes – and for pennies on the dollar. Imagine being able to access graphic, animation, video, or website design services for as little as five dollars. Picture enjoying the opportunity to get marketing, newsletter, and social media help for less than you’d spend on the average business lunch. Or, for that matter, envision the ability to access sprawling libraries full of stock photos, illustrations, and film clips that are entirely free for commercial use without having to hire creative help.
These days, you can find a part-time, freelance, or “fractional” worker who can assist with just about any job that you’re hunting for, and for a fraction of the cost of full-time staffers. New technologies are now empowering business owners (and aspiring business owners) to virtualize operations, slash overhead, and onboard or offload resources as needed. Better yet, they’re also helping savvy entrepreneurs connect with talented and motivated individuals from all over the world – and exposing working professionals to new ways of thinking and approaches. Using these options, it becomes far easier to bring new businesses or strategic efforts to market, pivot preexisting strategies or solutions, and prototype and test new ventures, all of which can help you gain a competitive edge.
4. Developing New Products, Services, and Solutions
Virtually anything you need these days as a business owner or operator can also be found in the form of a premade, cost-affordable technology template or pay-as-you-go service or solution. That goes for everything from creating animated 3D video intros and eye-catching infographics that you can quickly customize to print-on-demand book and magazine publishing services. By using premade offerings and tools, it’s becoming easier than ever to target niche or mainstream audiences, program or automate highly-targeted marketing and advertising campaigns, and manage every facet of the customer journey from discovery to post-purchase.
A host of new artificial intelligence, automation, and predictive technology service providers and platforms are also making it simpler than ever facilitate business operations. In essence, the barriers to starting and operating a new company (or keeping an existing one competitive) have now dropped so low than you can literally get the ball rolling in a matter of hours. Likewise, any new strategic effort or tactic you’d like to explore as a business owner or operator just got that much simpler and more cost-affordable to implement.
Just a few popular types of tasks which these preexisting technology offerings can be put towards include:
- Building professional websites using tools that offer premade, user-friendly templates for restaurants, retailers, gyms, professional services firms, and more.
- Managing online payment needs of all kinds, including allowing vendors to accept credit card or wire payments and customers to pay in a host of different international real-world and cryptocurrency formats.
- Using print-on-demand providers to quickly and cost-affordably print up business cards, books, brochures, postcards, mailers, sell sheets, and other promotional materials.
- Instituting smart and self-aware cybersecurity and ID management solutions to help verify users, fight fraud, and respond more rapidly and effectively to online threats.
- Implementing free or cost-affordable email and digital marketing software to build and manage mailing lists and automate marketing tasks, including auto-populating newsletters with content and auto-scheduling mailouts.
- Sending meeting, conference, or video recordings to transcription services to quickly produce transcribed articles and passages.
5. Improving Operational Intelligence, Insight, and Efficiency
Today we live in a world where day-to-day business operations, manufacturing and distribution systems, and even entire industry supply chains are increasingly powered by the Internet of Things (IoT) – and a growing number of smart and self-aware devices. To put things in perspective, over 16 billion devices are anticipated to be connected and talking to one another by the end of 2023 (a gain of 16% over the year before), according to research from IoT market research company IoT Analytics. These smarter, more intelligent systems aren’t just helping small- and mid-size business in every space discover new ways to future-proof themselves, they’re also helping corporate leaders identify areas in which to drive innovation and create lasting competitive advantage.
Already, entire warehouses staffed by automated drones and self-managing inventory monitoring systems are helping technology retailers speed up the picking, packing, and shipping of high-tech goods worldwide. Likewise, factories whose assembly lines are manned by robotic arms are home to cameras that can automatically track human staffers’ productivity.
In the future, don’t just plan on seeing smarter office buildings that are capable of dimming lights and adjusting heating and cooling to match workers’ schedules, helping green business operations. You can also expect to see businesses in every field reimagine the fundamentals of transportation and logistics by utilizing fleets of self-driving electric vehicles (EVs) to manage last-mile delivery.
Countless small businesses are already turning to cloud connectivity platforms to share data at scale, learn from every interaction, and get better about how they manage and use resources and inventory. Looking ahead, technology will help make it possible to transform every device and interaction (including internally with employees or externally with customers) into a possible source of learning and insight. These insights can prove pivotal in any organization’s efforts to reinvent itself, reimagine its approaches or core value proposition, and ultimately stay timely and relevant.
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