Small-business owners see the value in technology. Yet, many of them -- a whopping 63 percent -- often feel overwhelmed with the number of technologies available, according to a recent survey by Brother International Corp. in partnership with SCORE.
It's critical to have a plan to ensure you're making the right choices and getting the greatest return on your investment.
"Small-business owners need to regularly think about how technologies that are readily available can help them become more efficient, effective and profitable," says Ken Yancey, CEO of Herndon, Va.-based SCORE, a nonprofit that provides education and mentoring services to small businesses.
"You need to step back tactically and say, 'What can technology do for me to make it easier for me to run this business?' " he says.
To start, take stock. Check the technology you already have, suggests Yancey. How old is it? Are there any upgrades that make sense? You might even contact the manufacturer to explain what technology you're using and how you use it and see if there's a better option.
Key categories of opportunity. When considering your technology needs, look at productivity, security and compliance, data backup and recovery, and automation, says Armando D'Accordo, president of CMIT Solutions of South Nassau, a Merrick-based information technology services provider that offers companies free technology assessments.
Also consider whether you're being reactive or proactive, he says. Some companies only pay attention to their technology when it breaks or data is breached.
Annual review. Companies should review their needs at least annually, says D'Accordo, who does just that at his firm.
For example, a few years back, he saw an opportunity to adopt an automation tool that tracks every customer support ticket issued on CMIT's service calls. When completed, those tickets are automatically sent to QuickBooks and invoices are generated. This has helped reduce both invoice discrepancies and hours spent on the billing process, says D'Accordo.
Balance goals, budget. There are lots of technologies available, but the key is prioritizing them based on your goals and budget, he says.
For Vikram Rajan, co-founder of Freeport-based phoneBlogger.net, a ghost blogging marketing service for attorneys and CPAs, compatibility is a key driver in his technology purchases. For instance, he tries to stay within the Android environment because he relies heavily on Android apps like Google Docs.
He also considers his lifestyle needs. "For me a mobile work life is extremely important," says Rajan. "I practically run my whole company based on the apps on my Galaxy Note."
He purchased a Samsung Galaxy Note 2 smartphone last January and recently replaced his laptop with a Lenovo Android tablet. "The tablet's basically an even bigger phone," he says.
Renting. If you're looking to try before you buy, consider renting. "Rentals can be useful when you're trying to decide on modalities," explains Mike McClernon, president of Hauppauge-based SmartSource Rentals, a provider of corporate technology rentals including servers, iPads, tablets and other office equipment such as copiers.
For instance, if you have a sales force and you're trying to assess whether you should provide laptops, iPads, etc., you can try out the equipment for a month or two, he notes.
"Most rentals are designed for shorter-term situations for a specific need," explains McClernon, noting about 70 percent of its rentals are for less than one month.