With technology always and rapidly evolving, it can be tough for small businesses to keep up. While nearly all small and medium-sized businesses in Australia have a computer, according to Sensis’s 2013 e-Business Report, more are acquiring laptops and tablet devices, how effectively they use that technology can influence how successful they’ll be. As Australians increasingly access the internet on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, businesses should factor that into their digital planning for 2014, says Sensis’s advertiser insights manager Christena Singh. “When people come in (to a business website) on a mobile device they need to get a mobile experience,” Singh says, warning that if a customer doesn’t get a mobile experience they will probably go to another business that does. Australians using the internet on their mobile phones continued to grow over the past year at 68%, up from 58% last year, and half of Australians accessed the internet on a tablet, the Sensis report says. Here, Singh shares the top five technology trends small businesses should prepare for in 2014: 1. Making sure websites are optimised for mobile With more and more people using mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones to access the internet, it’s become essential for businesses to ensure their web presence appears and functions well on those screens. It’s called “mobile optimisation”. “The proportion of small to medium enterprises with a website that’s optimised for mobile has gone from 5% two years ago to 17% this year,” Singh says. She says start-ups and small businesses should make ensuring their websites are optimised for mobile devices number one on their list of things to do in 2014. Singh says optimised sites could include buttons that use a smartphone’s maps function to locate the business or a button to dial its phone number. 2. Consider the devices that customers use to access a business’s website Singh says if a business is targeting a population demographic that uses tablet devices then they should consider putting in place features that cater to that audience. She says businesses may look at having apps created that work on particular devices, adding that 5% of businesses have an app and 13% are looking at having one next year. 3. Cloud Software and data storage in the cloud is becoming increasingly accessible and attractive for small businesses that don’t want to pay the costs of expensive hardware or computer program tools. “It (the cloud) can save you costs and give businesses access to any number of utilities without purchasing them outright,” Singh says. She says businesses could use the cloud to access software such as word processing and store files which can be accessed from almost any location. 4. Considering innovative technology such as apps, wearable technology Singh suggests businesses should consider what technology is gaining traction with consumers and investigate ways it can be applied in their own business. She says wearable technology is an area that’s emerging as popular with consumers, noting that Google Glass, Google’s wearable computer, is a device that’s eagerly anticipated. “Look at technologies and how they might be able to draw people into your business,” Singh says. She says a tourism-based business may look at using wearable technology in some way to enhance a customer’s experience. Location-based technology is also innovative and could be used in stock handling, Singh says. “Taking a leaf out of the consumer book and seeing how some of the new technology can give you benefits and how you can flexibly do business,” she says. 5. Strategy Singh says one of the most important things start-ups and small businesses need to have when adopting new technologies is to have a strategy to back up what they’re doing with it. “Small businesses are spending on average $15,800 on technology. That’s quite a lot of money for business to be spending,” she says, noting that only about 19% of businesses had a digital strategy. Singh says a business may spend money and time on social media but without a strategy behind it, that money and time could be wasted. “There should be strategies in terms of website presence, social media and how they work and develop leads,” she says.
Australians in their 40s are more likely to buy products while browsing on tablets, while consumers who make their purchases on smartphones are likely to be either teenagers or in their 20s, according to the latest Sensis e-Business report. The information is lucrative for businesses, who should be designing their different website versions with this in mind, the report warns. Tablet users are more likely to be looking for information on products and services along with suppliers of goods and services, at 66% and 63% respectively, while smartphone users are focused on maps, weather updates and social networking sites. But as previous reports have found, 48% of tablet users actually order products, compared to just 36% of smartphone users. Report author Christena Singh told SmartCompany this morning businesses should be paying attention to these different demographics and include that knowledge in their design briefs. “For tablet users, they’re more likely to be employed full-time, they have higher incomes and what they are doing is predominantly business-related. “There are a lot more people using tablet devices to search for products and services.” Half of Australians connected to the internet are using tablets, the survey found, up from 34% in 2012. Reflecting the current increase in the importance of online reviews, the report also found 36% of businesses have featured independent reviews of products or customer reviews on their websites, up by 27% in 2012. And 76% of businesses now feature pictures of products, up from 72% last year, while 40% include pricing information, up from 37% in 2012. The increase in companies featuring product reviews reflects the ongoing discussion of their relevance and importance – late last year the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission said it would be cracking down on fake reviews. Overall, businesses are adapting to the internet more. The survey found the number of SMEs using internet marketing increased to 45% in the past year, up from 38% last year, while 29% are advertising on social networks, compared to just 22% last year. More businesses are also using search engine optimisation and paid search engine marketing. “But the biggest increase has been in online testimonials – that’s where the biggest growth is. People want to put more information on their websites now.” This story first appeared on SmartCompany.
More Australian small and medium businesses increased their employment and capital expenditure in the June quarter than in the previous quarter despite falling confidence, sales and profitability, the latest Sensis Business Index has found. The quarterly survey found 12% of small to medium businesses increased employment in the June quarter, up from 10% in the previous quarter. However, 14% of businesses reported decreasing employment, bringing an overall increase in in the trend. There was also a five percentage point increase in capital expenditure, taking it to a net -9%, up from -14%. Report author Christena Singh told StartupSmart while the results for both employment and investment were net negatives, the most recent findings could indicate a small increase in business owner confidence. “When you look at it overall, we’re seeing challenging time for businesses, but it’s good to see increase in employment and it’s also good to see the capital expenditure trend increase,” she says. “That’s been a fairly difficult indicator for some time, but business owners need the confidence to invest in their business. “It’s still net negative overall for employment, so the improvement is in the trend. More businesses overall are decreasing rather than increase, but we’re getting close to balance,” Singh says. “It’s good to see the trend but we have some way to go, it’ll be good to see that in net positive again.” The quarterly survey of 1800 businesses across Australia revealed confidence was highest in metropolitan areas, and the health and community services industries, and also the cultural, recreational and personal sectors. Manufacturing had the lowest confidence due to decreasing business activity. It also found a lack of work or sales was the most pressing concern for businesses, with sales performance at its weakest level since August 2011. Small businesses are still struggling with productivity, returning a net negative result for the fifth year in a row. “We haven’t seen a net positive increase for some time, and if you look back at those years, that indicator has been negative since 2008 with the onset of GFC,” Singh says. “It’s part of the reason to do with lower demand, and negative sales results and cash flow. And if you’re facing a difficult cashflow and declining sales issues, you’re going to be facing quite considerable productivity challenges for some time.” While the good news was limited, Singh says businesses which are strategic can have confidence looking forward to when consumer confidence and buying increases. “Almost a quarter of small businesses saw their profits increase, and almost three in 10 saw an increase their sales, so it’s about being strategic and targeting growth,” Singh says. “Even in struggling sectors, there are still strong success stories and you need to be strategically planning for growth,” Singh says. “You need to position your business to take advantage of when the economy starts to improve as the demand situation improves and consumers having the confidence to buy again.”
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