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4 questions every small business should ask before investing in new technology/source form boston.com

06 Feb

By Mark Slater

Technology represents an amazing opportunity for businesses to increase brand awareness – to find, attract and engage with new and existing customers. However, the average small business – your local hair salon, restaurant, gym or yoga studio – doesn’t have the time, money, or staff to evaluate, implement and manage technologies that could transform their business. Let’s face it – they are busy working with customers, managing employees and handling with the shop’s day-to-day operational details.

Mobile, search engine optimization, web-based interactivity, email marketing, content marketing, social media, inventory and business management software are a few technology areas claiming the power to transform a small businesses. With so much noise about what’s next, what’s manageable, and what will work best, how does a busy small business owner figure out the right steps to take?

Seeing as I work with small businesses every day, let me offer a few suggestions that will hopefully help decision-makers cut through the clutter. Here are a few questions every small business owner should ask when evaluating a new technology for their business:

1. Is it installed onsite or is it a cloud-based solution?
A cloud-based solution is a much better option for small businesses. In addition to often being more cost-effective, cloud technology is automatically backed up, secure, and allows your data to be available when and where you need it. There’s no need to be tied to your PC at work. The cloud is also a much more interoperable and “friendly” framework that is accessible to third-party extensions with other cloud technology solutions. This will allow your business’s technology infrastructure to grow and evolve over time in a seamless, simple manner. Finally, cloud-based solutions make upgrades easy and immediate – you won’t need to worry about installs and reboots anymore.

2. Do I own my customer data?
When evaluating different solutions, be sure to ask the provider about ownership and access to your own business data. You want to ensure that the provider will not have the right or ability to resell your data. You also want to be sure that you can easily terminate the arrangement, export your data and move it when you leave (a technology version of taking your ball and going home).

3. What’s the pricing model and ultimate cost?
There are many ways for technology providers to charge — annual contracts, monthly rates, various fees. Understand all of the pricing scenarios and look for those with the most flexibility and least amount of friction. You don’t want to be locked into a lengthy contract without the ability to terminate with reasonable notice.

4. How extendable is the technology?
You’ve no doubt heard the horror stories of businesses that invested in expensive and time/resource consuming new technologies only to find those outdated and ineffective within a short period of time. Look for technologies with a well-defined API strategy that allows their systems to integrate with other, important business technologies such as Salesforce.com, Demandforce and business analytics solutions. It is also important to ask about their ability to “go-mobile” with an indexed site.

Thanks to cloud and mobile we’ve seen some pretty remarkable new technologies emerge that are designed to meet the unique needs of small businesses. But this technology boom also creates noise and confusion for small business owners. You want to invest and grow your businesses, but the choices seem endless. Hopefully, these questions will provide a starting point for evaluation and implementation, because it is clear that the right technologies can make a world of difference in the efficiency and effectiveness of your business operations.

Mark Slater is the CEO of Pingup, a mobile scheduling application that helps consumers engage with local businesses.

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