3 Business Trends SMBs Can't Afford to Miss

I believe that 2018 will be the digital tipping point for many small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). If you’re still on the fence about transforming to a social, anywhere-anytime, always-connected business, now is the time to stake your claim—or expand your territory—in our digital economy. The technology train has left the station; are you on board or just standing on the platform? Either way, it’s not too late to start or expand upon your efforts. In my opinion, there are three business trends you simply can’t afford to miss this year:

To flourish, you need to be flexible

Because our lives have become so busy and complex, businesses that embrace our need for workplace elasticity will have the competitive edge over those that don’t. Working from home or out in the field is not a new concept, but today’s workforce demands more. We must collaborate with co-workers, have instant access to vital business information and have the tools and applications to service our customers at a moment’s notice. Companies used to think you only needed telework options to attract a younger workforce, but times have changed. Today, 25% of the U.S. workforce teleworks frequently and 80% to 90% say they would like to telework. Teleworking is now a ubiquitous option for many workers – Baby Boomers, Gen X-ers and Millennials – made possible by cloud technology that’s available and perhaps more importantly, affordable for SMBs.

While as many as 50% of jobs can actually be done out of the office, not all companies have made the transition, mostly out of fear of losing worker productivity. But there are some real benefits to allowing employees to work outside the office. Most businesses experience more than a 15% increase in productivity with their remote workers and the average company saves around $12,000 a year per employee due to reduced office needs/utility bills, less absenteeism and lower turnover costs.

Voice over IP, or VoIP, is a powerful, affordable tool businesses can use to facilitate worker flexibility. A laptop or cell phone can operate just like a desk phone, and clients are none the wiser. Employees can participate in audio, video and web conferencing from their laptops, tablets or smartphones, as well as collaborate with file sharing and instant messaging tools. Today one-third of small and mid-sized businesses are using VoIP, and I see that number growing every day.

Security isn’t just for the big guys

Many SMBs think they have nothing of significance for hackers and won’t be a target. However, the numbers don’t support that. Roughly, 4,000 attacks happen every day, and 62% of those are on SMBs. Your business likely has more information than you realize that is of interest to hackers like customer records, intellectual property, employee personal information and company financial information. On average, hackers will spend over 205 days on a network, slowly gathering data. Think about what you do in 205 days. Do you access online bank accounts, share private information via email, hire new employees and complete background checks on them? And unlike larger enterprises, if attacked, smaller businesses are often unable to recover due to financial losses and hits to their reputation.

That’s why SMBs are best served by employing technology solutions with security built directly into them. For example, a dual-band Wi-Fi solution allows guests and employees to be on separate networks so one doesn’t compromise the other, while deploying an SD-WAN solution can allow for security policies to be distributed across all business locations without having to implement an expensive security and networking solution at each branch. This means if a new threat pops up at one location, the threat can be addressed and the security fix can be implemented at all your offices so that the same issue doesn’t reoccur.

Use technology for smarter marketing

Leveraging technology to better engage customers is more important than ever in 2018. With analysts reporting that 80% of a company’s future revenue will come from existing customers, now’s the time to implement social sites, mobile advertising and self-serve customer buying options if you haven’t already done so. But with limited budgets, how do businesses optimize their marketing spends and ensure they are effectively reaching their target audience?

Wi-Fi is another trend that you wouldn’t expect to have a huge impact on your business, but it does.

Customers increasingly expect free Wi-Fi access and availability. Free Wi-Fi is often available on private and public transportation, doctor’s offices, hospitals, libraries, hotels, city centers, pubs and even churches. Failure to embrace the free Wi-Fi trend, can prove to be quite damaging for your business. One in 10 people will leave a business in the absence of free Wi-Fi access.

There are some major benefits to offering free Wi-Fi that go above and beyond basic customer expectations. It can increase foot traffic. For example, if you’re a restaurant, and you’ve listed Wi-Fi availability on your Yelp page, Yelp and Google recognize that. When people search for restaurants with Wi-Fi, your business will appear in the search results. Customers will also spend more time in your business if you have Wi-Fi. 62% of businesses saw that their customers were spending more time in their business if they had Wi-Fi, and 50% of those customers spent more money as well.

Wi-Fi can also give you immediate engagement opportunities and deep insight into your customers’ online behaviors and preferences. When customers log into your Wi-Fi, they can be redirected to your company website or to one of your social media pages, allowing you to connect and share information. You can also see how customers are using the network and what sites they’re visiting, helping you to better identify the social and digital advertising tools to reach and attract new customers.

With lots of customer data swirling around your network, be sure to address security and connectivity. Keep your internal company Wi-Fi separate from the Wi-Fi service you provide customers. Not only is this good security practice, but you don’t want your customers to compete with the day-to-day network needs of your business.

So, no matter where you are in your business transformation, there’s affordable and effective technology solutions designed especially for SMBs that can help you better engage customers, boost sales, and promote employee loyalty and efficiency, all while keeping your business safe and secure.

CenturyLink can help your business stay on trend.