Nearly every business is a small business: 99.9% of firms in the US and UK are classed as small and medium-sized enterprises, and about half of all of us are employed by a company with less than 250 staff.
But those numbers will conceal a huge variety in outlook and opportunity; some of those are long-standing firms with little interest in change, others are start-ups embarking on a make-or-break first year in operation (and don’t forget that one in five will fail in their first year). In those millions of businesses there will be some who are obsessed with the latest technology, and others who are only grudgingly adopting it.
But what’s pretty clear is that tech has become an unexpectedly high priority for many more small businesses over the last two years.
Many have been forced to rethink how they worked, with remote working rapidly becoming a top priority. Others have had to rethink routes to market, increasing their use of e-commerce for example. Others still will have had to rethink their supply chains as global economic turbulence continues.
Little surprise then, that some recent research by Verizon found that more than two-thirds of businesses view technology as a key ally to help them overcome challenges when it comes to improving sales, boost talent acquisition, and tackle rising inflation and supply chain issues. A similar proportion say revenue generated through digital operations is higher now than pre-pandemic.
Businesses that have seen the impact of technology on their operations (for example the 50% increase in e-commerce quoted by some) are unlikely to return to their old ways of working; even if they wanted to, staff and customers have both moved on.
One significant technology trend that smaller businesses are increasingly using to their advantage is the rise of cloud computing, which at best allows the smallest firms to compete with the biggest. Sophisticated business systems that were only available to companies that were willing to spend months and years implementing them (and who could afford the vast upfront cost and teams of engineers for ongoing maintenance) are now available to the smallest start-up in the form of software as a service. These innovations in turn spark demand for other technologies, such as the use of digital marketing to boost sales.
But it’s not just about maximising revenue; cloud-based technologies in particular can help smaller businesses tackle organisational challenges by supporting the shift to hybrid working. Companies that are able to be more flexible about when, where and how staff work are likely to find it much easier to recruit (a key issue right now) than those trapped in the past by inflexible systems. For big business technology has long been a way of making systems and processes less time-consuming and painful; smaller businesses can benefit from this too, perhaps more so.
Of course, technology brings risks with it. Small businesses often lack the skills and budget to protect themselves as well as large corporations, and hackers will target SMBs for exactly that reason. But even without a huge cybersecurity team, knowing the basics and implementing them is often enough to deter hackers looking for an easy payday.
All of this means that tech is rising up the agenda for smaller businesses. This ZDNet special report will look at the trends and challenges ahead for small businesses, case studies of how businesses have harnessed tech, tips on how to boost cybersecurity, and much beyond that.
Inflation, burnout among biggest challenges small business owners face: Survey
Inflation despair: 1 in 3 small businesses consider shutting down – survey
Report: SMBs are making serious investments in the cloud