If you're considering starting a new small business, you might be wondering what technology is most important to have in place before you open your doors. It can seem daunting to know where to start with so many hardware and software solutions on the market today. In general, there are five key technologies that will directly benefit your business from day one:
- Customer relationship management (CRM) system
- Content management system (CMS)
- Point of Sale (POS)/payment processing platform
- Project management tools
- Cloud-based data storage
A customer relationship management (CRM) system is a type of software that synthesizes information about your customers across marketing, sales, and customer service channels. Not only does this make collaboration across teams easier, but it also gives you a 360 view of all customer touch points to identify trends and opportunities. For example, if you have a very loyal customer who has a negative experience and reaches out to you to resolve an issue, you'll be able to learn all relevant information about them quickly and deliver above and beyond customer service.
Some CRM systems like Salesforce and Zendesk are big names that have been around for a long time, but there are a few CRM solutions that are more user-friendly and affordable when you're just starting out. Here are a few examples listed in order of functionality:
- Hubspot CRM: An easy-to-use software that's suitable for basic needs
- Copper: Built for integrating with Google Workspace applications
- Bitrix24: An all-in-one, scalable solution focused on collaboration
A content management system (CMS) is a command center for your online presence — it establishes credibility for your business in the "Google it" age. This tool opens up a world of opportunities for your business to be discovered online. If you want a website, you'll need a CMS. It also enables you to scale your business or pivot as needed. For example, many businesses that had a website in place before COVID-19 social distancing restrictions took effect were able to quickly add features that helped them adapt in the face of an unpredictable future.
A basic website with details about your business hours, services or merchandise, and contact information is relatively simple to set up and gives your customers the details they need to reach out to you to learn more. However, a more robust site with a contact form, information about the history of your business, an online scheduling or reservation system, and/or an ecommerce store will increase the chances that you'll close a sale or complete a service. Your CMS can take your digital strategy one step further by enabling you to share blog content, offer downloadable resources, or launch a search engine marketing (SEM) campaign once your business is up and running.
A good CMS will make it easy to organize your website content and update it quickly. There are several content management systems that will support your website needs no matter how big or small. Here are a few examples listed in order of ease of use:
- Wix: An affordable, intuitive platform for basic needs
- Squarespace: Extremely user-friendly with professionally designed templates
- Wordpress: Ideal for customized needs and integrations (but requires separate domain hosting and some web design knowledge)
Recommended: How to Add Ecommerce to Your Website
The whole point of owning a business? Making money. While it's certainly possible to do that without a point of sale (POS) system or payment processing platform, it is definitely more difficult for both you and your customers. Regardless of age, 53% of Americans reported using cash for only some or none of their purchases according to a 2016 Gallup poll, meaning you could be missing out on a majority of sales by not having an efficient transaction system.
A POS system streamlines financial records for tax season, makes it easier to analyze sales data for budget forecasting, and provides a bird's eye view of sales trends. You'll have data to support your instincts that a particular item is in high demand or that a particular offering isn't bringing in as much revenue as you'd hoped. Even a simple payment processing platform will enable you to create invoices and accept any form of payment online or in person.
Some POS systems are baked into content management systems, so if you're not interested in maintaining a storefront, that might be the best route for you. Other systems enable you to start with just the basics and scale up as your business grows. Here are a few options listed in order of functionality:
- Paypal: Basic payment processing online or in person, with the option to bill via invoice
- Shopify: A two-in-one payment platform and content management system for ecommerce businesses
- Square: Affordable POS hardware that grows alongside your business
Recommended: Contactless Payments: A Guide for Small Businesses
As a new business owner, it's often easy to feel overwhelmed by the never-ending to do list. Project management tools might not get the work done for you, but they will certainly help make it feel more manageable. They will help you organize tasks, team members, and resources for all of your projects, both one-off and recurring.
This is important because it will keep your projects on task, on time, and on budget. It will also provide a platform for clear communication among all involved parties, so you can avoid any finger pointing when things fall behind. If something does go awry, project management tools will also help you shift gears or course-correct to get around any bumps in the road.
These kinds of tools can range from basic spreadsheets (which require more planning and effort on the front end) to powerful software applications. Some prioritize collaboration whereas others focus on integration and versatility. Here are a few options listed in order of functionality:
- Google Workspace: Basic tools for file sharing and real-time collaboration
- Basecamp: A communication-centered tool that simplifies projects with third-party vendors
- Monday.com: Customizable platform that enables live progress updates, widespread integrations, and time-saving automation
Last but not least, cloud-based data storage is a must-have in today's on-the-go world. It provides remote storage for all of your business data, including current and historical records. Not only does this create easy-to-navigate file systems (with appropriate prep work) that you can access from anywhere with an internet connection, but it also enables you to share documents with real-time file synchronization. It also provides better security than on-premises storage systems and offers better flexibility, meaning you only pay for the exact amount of storage you need.
Data storage (and its security) aren't things that should keep you up at night — you have plenty of bigger priorities that already do that when starting a new business. Instead, cloud-based storage gives you peace of mind that your data will be right where you need it when you need it so you can turn your attention elsewhere. Here are a few options listed in order of affordability:
- Google Drive: Seamless integration with other Google Workspace applications ($8.33/month for 2000 GB storage, billed annually)
- Microsoft OneDrive: Effortless synchronization with Office 365 applications and Windows operating systems ($10/month for unlimited storage, billed annually)
- Dropbox for Business: Best-in-class storage with cross-platform sharing and user-level access controls ($16.58/month for 3000 GB storage, billed annually)