Thursday, June 29, 2017

Cool New Technology for Fresh, Fun, Growing Businesses

I’ve owned my retail business since 2011, and in that time, I haven’t made any big technological changes. We’ve stuck with the same point of sale system, the same website providers, and the same email marketing service. But this year, I totally caught the bug and started checking out some new technology, which has turned out not only to be a good investment for sales purposes (our numbers have grown every month), but also fun for our employees and customers. There are so many technologies and services available, it’s hard to sort through them all, but here are a few of my personal favorites for small businesses:
  1. Zipwhip.  This service allows customers to text your regular business phone number, where you or any of your staff can respond easily. We receive messages in three ways: 1) on the zipwhip website, where we can also fill in detailed customer info, send mass text campaigns (reply “yes” to receive a $10 coupon!), or set up auto-replies to answer outside business hours; 2) via pop-up notifications on a computer screen, so we never miss a message; or 3) through the smartphone app, which alerts me every time a message comes in and allows me (or one of my managers who has downloaded the app) to answer just like any regular text.  Prices start at $35/month, and referral credit is readily available. We initially started using this as a “text to order” experiment, hoping to make it even easier for customers to order from us than a competitor’s website.  However, it has additionally turned into a round-the-clock communication platform for our customers, who seem to love using it for questions of all kinds. It’s definitely improved their access to us, and in a personal, yet non-intimidating way.
  2. Fivestars.  This looks like one of the fancy, million dollar plus loyalty/rewards programs that all the big businesses seem to have, but it was built to fit small businesses across the board. It aims to help small businesses compete in today’s landscape by enabling them to implement a similar rewards program affordably. This service helps you craft a digital rewards program to give customers points or rewards for their purchases, while also capturing customer information in a friendly way on an included terminal.  Then they work with you to build a set of automatic text campaigns to welcome new customers, celebrate birthdays, bring back those who haven’t visited recently, or in our case, send out a monthly incentive coupon. It adds a modern element to any business, keeps you at the front of your customers’ minds, and rewards them for choosing to shop with you.
  3. Cloud-Based Everything.  Our server is tired.  We’ve finally decided to give it a break by moving over to a cloud-based point of sale system this year.  There are hundreds out there to choose from, but we’ve chosen VendHQ, largely because of its ability to function in offline mode, its limitless users, and its intuitive layout. It’s also priced on a manageable monthly fee, rather than a huge investment in a non-transferable software license. VendHQ and others can run on multiple platforms – PC, Mac, iPads or tablets – and keep your data at your fingertips. This portability was also the reason we moved over to GoogleDocs for document storage and sharing. It’s much easier than worrying about jump drives or emailing large files to one another for edits.  Prices generally range from free (for small users) to $5 or $10 a month, but you can still craft an affordable personalized solution even if you have highly confidential documents or more specific needs. 
  4. Facebook Groups.  This is a free and super-hip way to engage and connect with your customers. Most of us quickly realized that Facebook changed its business page algorithms in the last couple years, making it harder and more expensive to get posts in front of customers, even if they like and follow your page. You can try to beat this with contests, key words (like free! and win!), and images. Even so, it’s tough to reach more than a third of your fan base unless you pay Facebook to boost the post, or buy a targeted ad. Facebook groups are not business pages, but they do allow you to maintain an administrator role for control, and members are much more likely to see your posts on a day-to-day basis. We’ve created a “roundtable” page that entices customers with the chance to test out products and be the first to hear our new ideas, but I’ve also seen businesses use groups for instant sales, network-building, and more informal, personal advertising. 
If you search “small business technology” on Google, you will literally get thousands of hits; these are just a few fun ones that have grown on me. This is an exciting time as technology continues to become more innovative, accessible, and reliable. It’s especially fun to see what other entrepreneurs can create to help small businesses grow and succeed.  I would love to hear what other businesses are discovering and implementing, too – please share in the comments!

1 comment :

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