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PHOTO: visualpun.ch

It’s a confusing time for small businesses. 

New technologies seemingly arrive on the scene every day, but with ongoing conversations about minimum wage increases and upcoming elections, it’s hard to know what you’ll need in six days, let alone six months. 

And even when you know what you want, you don’t always have time to get it up and running or know whether it’s going to work with your other tools and grow with your business. 

To help ease a little of the confusion, here are five things to keep in mind as you evaluate technologies for your business:  

1. Invest a Little Time Now, Save a Lot of Time Later

If you’re running an SMB, chances are you’re busy. Really busy. 

So busy, in fact, that you don’t have time to implement the very processes and systems that would save time over the long haul. 

Although you’re not alone — 68 percent of SMBs have never switched suppliers and 85 percent of SMBs still use Excel or email for sales and contact management — this hesitancy is holding you back! 

Having a better solution can save you a ton of time in the long run, but there’s no way around the fact that you need to take time out to set up. 

The good news? With many of today’s cloud-computing services, you can get going in just hours or days.

2. Automation Can Be Your New BFF

While automation is a great way for smaller teams to increase efficiency and scale, many don’t do it. For example, only 20 percent of SMBs use marketing automation today. 

Why? Although everyone recognizes the benefits of “working smarter,” many small businesses consider automation as more of a big company thing. Without a dedicated IT team, they don’t think they can achieve this. 

Wrong! Many of today’s tools are designed so that even the most technically-challenged people can set up workflows and automations that can send email, drive approvals, and speed almost every aspect of their business from marketing, to sales, to customer service. Look for a product that offers easy automation. 

If you can save time on repetitive tasks, you can free up your team to focus on bigger issues and help your business grow. 

3. Intelligence is Table Stakes

Let’s face it, data is the new black. And with 90 percent of the world’s data created in the last two years alone, it's importance is only going to continue to increase. 

But it’s not just about big data and big machines. Artificial intelligence (AI) is coming to the forefront, taking business productivity and customer engagement to a whole new level. 

AI tools can help small companies discover patterns in their business and predict what will happen next, recommend best actions, and even automate many of those actions for them. AI is coming to the forefront, but many SMBs will struggle to keep up with these trends if they haven’t invested in a technology platform. 

Start small with reporting and analytics — just make sure intelligence is on your agenda. 

4. Maintain a Long-Term Vision 

With all the things you have on your plate, it’s hard to think about what’s on the horizon. Next year seems impossibly far away. 

When SMBs do buy technology, they often make decisions based on what they need right now, rather than what they will need in the future. But the world is moving fast, so make sure your products will scale to more users or easily integrate with other solutions so you won’t outgrow your technology faster than you think. 

Just look at how mobile completely changed the game for businesses. Today 68 percent of U.S. adults have a smartphone, almost double the amount from five years ago. Companies that didn’t jump on the mobile app bandwagon early enough have their work cut out for them. 

5. Connecting Your Business is Easier Than it Sounds

Sometimes it feels like you spend your time putting out one fire after another. 

These days apps can help you solve almost any problem, but it’s easy to find yourself a year or two down the road with dozens of disconnected apps. Useful information for your business — or that you might need in a hurry — ends up siloed and hard to find. 

Beware of point solutions! Before you invest in new technologies, make sure you’re looking at apps that can be connected to each other, or in a platform solution that offers plug-and-play connectivity to new apps. Sharing your data is essential to providing the kind of experience that today’s customers expect. 

Companies like Herschel Supply and Jet.com have successfully used technology to build strong relationships with customers and demonstrate that it doesn’t need to take decades to achieve phenomenal levels of success. You can do it too.