This week marks the 50th anniversary of National Small Business Week, dedicated to recognizing the critical contributions of America’s entrepreneurs and small business owners. With an estimated 27.2 million small businesses in the United States, creating 60-80 percent of new jobs each year, small businesses play a pivotal role in the US economy.
But what does it take for a small business to succeed in our current mobile era? Small businesses starting today face the stark fact that 50 percent will close their doors within five years, according to the Small Business Administration.
Certainly a great business idea and talented team are important, but history shows they are not the only path to success. To emerge a winner, a company should clearly offer the best service or technology– and it must leverage technology and services that help win the hearts (and wallets) of customers, build operational efficiencies and market “louder” than the competitors.
To win today, you have to embrace mobility, apps and devices. These technologies power smaller companies and further increase their reach and competitive edge. For example, almost one in five small businesses (18 percent) in the United States, Canada and Australia are achieving productivity gains of more than 30 percent by embracing mobility, according to a recent YouGov study commissioned by Citrix. The YouGov study reveals that flexible workstyles improve collaboration, increase retention, drive recruitment and improve organizational efficiency.
In my mind, there are some pretty simple steps smaller companies can employ immediately to capitalize on mobile technology and drive success in this challenging economy:
- Drive sales face-to-face: Face-to-face doesn’t have to mean in-person, especially in today’s global economy. A majority of small businesses (52 percent) use some form of video conferencing to make meetings more engaging regardless of where participants are located. At Citrix, we practice this every day, and our ShareFile sales team has seen some great results employing video conferencing technology.
- Embrace the “bring your own” trend: It really isn’t about just devices anymore but apps and services that are pervasive in business today. BYOD, as it is commonly called, is here to stay. So, embrace it, and get a formal strategy in place to help manage personal devices on the network. Sixty-eight percent of US small businesses say that their staffs already use personal communications devices, and senior executives regard the smartphone as the most important device in the workplace. But only 26 percent have official policies in place. BYOD can significantly improve productivity and employee satisfaction if it’s properly managed.
- Use the tools built for business: BYOD, file sharing and remote access tools carry a set of inherent risks that can have direct consequences for smaller businesses. As well as having network protection in place, it is imperative that employees use tools built for business and approved by your business. “Free” is good, but to protect your business it’s necessary to assess the apps and services and their built-for-business (read: built-in) security settings. Following a built-for-business model reduces risk to your businesses data and your customer information. Be transparent with your workforce by producing a company “blacklist,” or, more positively stated, a “whitelist” of approved business apps.
- Recruit the best, not the closest: Embrace skills not proximity. The concept that not all your employees need to be in the same place opens up a multitude of options. Most importantly, you can hire the best talent rather than merely the candidates in closest proximity. Collaboration technology today is easier, better and more accessible. For example, conferencing and meeting technology now includes quality HD video that operates on smartphones and tablets. These tools remove geographic boundaries for small businesses and dramatically expand the available pool of talent pool.
- Untether your workforce to improve business continuity: Besides attracting great talent, retaining a talented workforce can be achieved with mobile and cloud services. According to studies, employees work more effectively when they’re given the choice about where and when they work. A flexible approach helps retain staff, keeps them more engaged and ultimately more productive. And with the summer holidays rapidly approaching – the YouGov study shows more than 30 percent of businesses expect a productivity drop – implementing a flexible mobile strategy can significantly reduce that impact on smaller businesses.
This week the Small Business Administration highlights the crucial role of entrepreneurs and small business owners in creating jobs, driving innovation and increasing America’s global competitiveness. To thrive and excel, small businesses need to capitalize on the new efficiencies and strengths offered by the emerging mobile technologies. They must fully embrace mobility to encompass and satisfy a dramatically expanded range of customers and workers. If they do so effectively, I believe their continued innovation and competitiveness will ensure a thriving small business landscape for next 50 years to come.
(Click below to see the full-size infographic)