Even though 2012 was a tough year overall for small businesses - the stubbornly slow economy didn't help - technology improvements continued to offer hope of lowering costs, boosting efficiency, increasing sales and opening new markets. To the extent that they could find the cash, investing in technology remained a top priority for savvy smaller companies.
These half-dozen technologies are the ones small businesses were most involved with in 2012:
1. Social Media Surged
In a survey by VerticalResponse, more than one-third of small business owners wished they could spend less time on social media (nearly half spend 6+ hours per week). But they can’t, because that’s where the customers are. A recent report by NM Incite found Internet users spend more time on social networks than on any other type of website. 2012’s breakout star, Pinterest, showed a whopping 1,047% increase in unique visitors — so if you haven’t gone there yet, you might want to. However, Facebook is still the top site, used by 90% of entrepreneurs, according to VerticalResponse, and 152.2 million unique visitors, according to NM Incite.
2. Consumers Went All-In On Mobile
The rabid adoption of tablets over the 2011 holiday season gained even more momentum in 2012. Smart retailers took advantage of the tablet’s leisure-time nature to create customized mobile shopping experiences for couch-surfers. On Black Friday, IBM reports, mobile sales topped 16%, up from 9.8% last year, with the iPad dominating. Small businesses also took advantage of mobile marketing to reach customers on their smartphones. The Pew Internet & American Life Project reports 56% of mobile users go online with their phones and 50% use them for email; both figures more than doubled compared to two years ago. Some 84% of small businesses that used mobile marketing found it increased new business, a Web.com and Lab42 study found.
3. Mobile Dominated Business
In 2012 savvy businesses of all sizes incorporated tablets into the workplace as presentation tools, payment devices or simply to entertain customers (for example, providing iPads for customers to place orders or entertain kids in restaurants). In The Mobility Edge: CDW’s 2012 Small Business Mobility Report, 75% of mobile users report mobile devices have become “critical” to their jobs, and 67% say without mobile devices, their businesses would be less competitive.
4. BYOD Arrived
Bring Your Own Device has long been business as usual for cash-strapped startups, but in 2012 the trend took hold at companies of all sizes. Since many job seekers consider being able to bring their own device a workplace perk, BYOD could even give your small small business an edge in competing with bigger companies whose IT managers don’t like BYOD.
5. Crowdsourcing Continued
Technological changes sped the growth of crowdsourcing, a boon to many small startups, this year, the Dell Evolving Workforce reports. Contractors and even customers increasingly contributed to small business solutions, doing everything from coding to innovating new product and service ideas.
6. The Clouds Rolled In
2012 was the year cloud services went from mysterious to mainstream—or as SMB Group put it, “as normal rather than cutting edge.” More and more, small businesses and startups turned to cloud storage and solutions to streamline operations and save money. At the same time, consumers’ increasing comfort level with the cloud opened up a whole new world of startup possibilities.
What mattered to your small business most in 2012?
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.