Op-ed: Technology is essential for small businesses

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It is not surprising to learn that our lives are dominated by technology. Some studies indicate that over 80 percent of Americans use the web daily, with close to 30 percent saying they are online “almost constantly.” It is clear that we are using technology on our personal lives, but are Latino small business owners taking advantage of technology to improve their businesses? According to McKinsey, about 93 percent of Latino-owned employer businesses have no e-commerce sales, compared with 89 percent for White-owned employer businesses, which may place them at a disadvantage as the world goes increasingly digital.

There are a variety of technologies for small businesses that can help them become more productive. Tech tools have become so much more than just spreadsheets and emails. Small businesses now have access to tech solutions that automate many activities, saving time and allowing small business owners to focus on what really matters: the company. However, many business owners focus too much in upgrading hardware, such as computers, smartphones, and tablets, but most small business don’t need very sophisticated and powerful hardware. More than hardware updates, what most small businesses owners can benefit from is investing in software. Essential tools for small business owners include office productivity suites which provide a group of programs (word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, etc.) that are integrated and they can use either alone or with collaborators. In addition, email, shareable calendars, and messaging platforms can help with communication within the team, while cloud storage allows employees to access files from anywhere.

Of course, many small businesses don’t have the financial resources to hire an advertising agency. The good news is that there is a myriad of tools that make it easier and more affordable to do marketing. For example, social media and email management platforms integrate all your accounts and enable you to schedule, create, and track content and communication campaigns. There are also web-based services that help you create attractive websites with e-commerce capability without complication and at an affordable rate.

Let’s not forget the operations and administration of the business, which is often the weak spot of many entrepreneurs because these functions are not only time consuming, but also subject to government regulations. While not a substitute for an accountant, transitioning from manual bookkeeping and spreadsheets to accounting and inventory management software and online services can help busy entrepreneurs have better control over their financials.

Similarly, hiring and managing staff can be very challenging without a human resources department and there are software programs and complete HR solutions to help with the various small business needs, from job postings and job candidate management, to payroll, timesheet, and performance reviews. Some of these solutions help business owners provide a level of service equivalent to a whole team.

Technological advancements have made running small businesses easier in a multitude of ways, but not all tools are right for you. It can be overwhelming to make the right choice. Some aspects to consider as you narrow down your choices include, the quality of customer support offered; the ease of integration with your existing technology; the onboarding process and cost; and user reviews. Take time to evaluate what you need, do the research, seek advice from an expert, and be smart with your choice. Technical assistance support in the Philadelphia region is available through the PA Digital Transformation and eCommerce program of the Temple University Small Business Development Center.

To learn more about the benefits of adopting technology for your business, join the Greater Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce at the annual policy forum, State of Hispanic Business on Oct. 12. Register at www.philahispanicchamber.org.

Jennifer I. Rodríguez, MCP is the President and CEO of the Greater Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

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