Post CES, I start thinking about how tech fits into most small businesses and wonder whether or not I should be advocating it. It's a tricky call. There will always be shiny new things that seem like a must-have for people. And we who play with technology often think we're "just like everyone else," but we're not. We like learning new things, and we like when there are more features to figure out. But not every small business owner needs the newest thing, and not every small business type needs to stay on the bleeding edge of technology. That said, here are some thoughts after CES.
Get Mobile Friendly
Your website is probably lovely, but is it mobile-friendly? Here's a hint: most people's small business websites that I've sampled aren't very pretty. They're tiny and squished. How do you fix this?
Depending on how you've built your site, the answer changes. If you've built your site on a blogging platform like WordPress, you simply have to add the WPTouch add-on, and you'll be a lot further ahead. If you've got a more traditionally-built site, you'll have to add code to your index page that detects what type of browser is reading your site. When it detects a mobile browser, you should offer up an alternate view. What should go on that view? The bare minimums of what you want them to do when they come to your site, plus simple, mobile-friendly contact information. Make sense?
Lots of small businesses use laptop computers when a table computer might do the trick. Now that they are dropping in price, you might consider the Samsung Galaxy Tab (which runs on Android), the iPad (which works with Apple applications), or any number of the new Windows Mobile devices that have shown up as tablets. Why? Because tablets cost a little less, they are durable and have a better battery life, and because they have fewer parts to break (though breaking the glass pretty much renders the device dead until repaired).
However, tablets will add a cost line to your business, as most of them need to have built-in wireless telecom to be useful to anyone. Just having WiFi isn't going to cut the mustard these days, if you want them to be as useful as possible. But again, this depends on whether or not computers add to your business efforts. Maybe it's just your field managers that need them, but you'll have to decide.
Improve Your E-mail Marketing
You're hearing about services like Groupon because they're bringing floods of new business to small business types, but you don't need to use such a service to get improved e-mail marketing bang for your buck. Revisit what you're sending out now and ask yourself whether the messages are: 1) short and simple, 2) personalized or something that looks like a catalog page, and 3) formatted to work well when read on a mobile device. If you can take care of those three things, you'll find a much better response rate than you're seeing now. Not sure? Do some A/B testing and send half your list your existing messaging, and experiment with something much more personalized, stripped down, and mobile-friendly for the other half. Try it three times, sum up the open rates on both styles, and see what you get.
Technology advances in 2011 will happen even faster than they came in 2010. Unless you're in the tech sector yourself, there are no prizes handed out to small businesses who rush into being on the bleeding edge. Sit that out and improve your existing marketing, sales and service methods. Look at what's working and then consider changing what isn't working, or what takes a long time to accomplish. If you need to move from low-end mobile phones to smart phones, ask yourself what you'll gain, what you'll sacrifice, and what you'll need to do to validate those costs. Do that with any change, and you'll see a better path to your own success. Leave the bleeding edge for us tech nerds who then take all the lumps for you. Seems fair to me.
Find more highlights from CES -- including insights on social media, innovation, and technology from Guy Kawasaki, Chris Brogan, Scott Belsky, and Ramon Ray -- at openforum.com/ces.