As we near the end of the decade, we’re finally seeing some of the technology that was heralded 10 years ago — think augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things — mature into good consumer and business uses. Now in early 2019, much of the greatest small business tech allows small business owners to create a faster and more personalized customer experience to boost engagement.
Adoption of 5G
Although it has been rumored for years, it appears we are finally at the doorstep of next-generation 5G wireless connectivity. There will likely be a lot of infrastructure built throughout the year to get the world linked up to 5G in 2020, according to analysts at firms like Ericsson. Now is the time to prepare for the rollout of 5G subscriptions and make sure your interfaces are ready for ultra-fast connections.
A combination of social media and artificial intelligence, chatbots became a major trend throughout 2018, allowing customers to use social media message systems to order pizzas, complain about their cable bill, and engage businesses in myriad other ways. Small businesses can join the chatbot craze by using services like ManyChat and ChatFuel. Many inexpensive options allow companies to create a customized chatbot with no coding experience required.
User experience personification
The ethics of using data for personalized advertising came under intense scrutiny in 2018, but it still looks like personalized ads are the future of online marketing. However, small businesses would be wise to use people’s online personal data lightly and responsibly to avoid seeming creepy. Augmented reality tools are coming online that allow small business owners to ask for customers’ data and then use it in an engaging way, like using a photograph to suggest eyeglass frames.
Programmatic advertising, where algorithms serve ads automatically to potential customers, has been a hot topic in the advertising industry for years, but it usually required very large budgets to work. Now, more and more small businesses are using programmatic, both to buy ads and to sell ad space on their websites. Especially for smaller online publishers or news outlets, this method can provide an exciting new revenue stream.
The ever-growing blockchain
The blockchain became an obsession for many people in 2018 as cryptocurrencies like bitcoin shot up in value before sliding far back down. Basically, a blockchain is a decentralized ledger where every transaction is recorded. There have been predictions that the blockchain will change everything from banking to advertising. Even if those changes are slow to materialize, the blockchain is already having an impact on small businesses. A growing list of payment processors accept bitcoin, and a variety of start-ups are researching how to use the blockchain to boost transparency in an online world.
The Internet of Things
With the Amazon Echo speaker and Facebook Portal device becoming huge wish-list items over the holiday season, the age of the Internet of Things is finally upon us. Many of these items, including the Nest smart thermostat, are great for reducing your costs. Others can give you video conference call abilities. On the other hand, the IoT can provide business opportunities to interested small business owners looking to build smartwatch apps or smart speaker features.
More affordable POS systems
With point-of-sale systems like Square and ShopKeep growing in popularity, it is becoming exceedingly rare to find a cash-only business. Many of these systems are now extremely affordable and capture all sorts of data, from consumer shopping trends to employee scheduling. The future of money is changing rapidly with the advent of cryptocurrency and mobile payments — many of these easy-to-understand systems are built to adapt and change with new developments.
Mobile payment processing
With the rise of Apple Pay and Google Pay, an increasing number of people are paying for products with their smartphone or smartwatch. Both tech giants continue to push for mobile payments, so they clearly expect it to catch on. As consumers worry more about privacy and fraud, it seems reasonable to believe more people will begin to trust their encrypted devices over their credit cards. It is also likely that mobile payments will begin to require some sort of biometric signature, like a fingerprint. If you haven’t accepted mobile payments yet, this might be the ideal time to jump onboard.
Cybersecurity has never been more important, especially for small businesses. While giant data hacks at huge corporations grab all the headlines, thousands of small businesses are under assault from hackers constantly. It is time to update your best practices to protect yourself. Create strong passwords that are a mix of letters, numbers, and symbols. You should also implement multi-factor authentication on your devices for your various networks. Many renowned cybersecurity firms, like Norton and FireEye, have products built specifically for small businesses. If you haven’t made cybersecurity a priority in the past, it is well worth it to do so now.
Hiring and recruiting software
With unemployment in the United States at historic lows, it is becoming much harder for businesses to recruit and retain employees. Many software options, like Freshteam, now make the recruitment process much easier to navigate for small business owners. These programs automatically post openings to a whole slew of online job boards. They help you track how candidates are completing the recruitment process. They also make resumes and other documents easily accessible and searchable. Some, like Softgarden, even allow you to recruit in multiple languages.
Because of the costs involved, 3D printing may take a very long time to replace traditional manufacturing, but small business owners are finding exciting, smaller scale uses for creating products with 3D printers. These printers allow businesses to create one-off, customizable objects that used to require a full run. The technology is still expensive, but it would be worth it to contact nearby universities to see if they offer partnerships with businesses for 3D printer use for products or tools.