8 Small Business Technology Trends to Watch in 2018

Technology continues to revolutionise small business, and for those ready to embrace the opportunity, 2018 promises to be an exciting year.  So what are the top technology trends your small business or advisory practice needs to know about in 2018?

To help make sense of the fast changing landscape, leaders in the small business technology industry – have provided their predictions for the year ahead.

Facebook advertising costs will rise, along with the need to personalise customer experience

Facebook advertising costs will go up. It’s economics 101. More SMBs want to use it, and ad space is limited, which means rising costs. That’s according to Tracey Wallace, Blog Editor in Chief at BigCommerce.

“So, while Facebook Advertising will be important in 2018, it’s equally important for you to look to personalization to better the customer experience, CX historically has involved wow’ing the customer. Providing exceptional customer service, fast shipping, low prices, an easy to navigate site.

“In 2018, though, personalisation and localisation are being added to that mix. This is because easy to navigate websites, fast shipping and transparent pricing are already the norm. Now, brands must look to new tactics to make their customer experience a differentiator.

“Local SEO, proper email segmenting, on-site customer segmentation and personalised customer service will be ever important to making sure people remember you and not another brand,” Tracey said

Small businesses will need to secure their information in case of disaster

From data breaches to natural disasters, 2017 showed us just how important data security is. According to Nelson Da Silva, Chief Revenue Officer at Receipt Bank, small businesses need to take steps to secure their information in case of disaster and this is where accountants and bookkeepers can play a key role.

“This starts with moving your books to a secure cloud platform such as Xero and Receipt Bank, Nelson said. “This enables you to easily maintain your audit records by snapping your receipts and invoices with an app. It also includes adding 2-step verification to your email accounts and using a password manager to generate and store secure passwords.”

Open Banking will become a powerful way for businesses to get paid

Duncan Barrigan, Head of Product Management, GoCardless predicts that in 2018 open banking will to usher in a new era for bank-to-bank payments, making it the most powerful way for small businesses to get paid.

“Until now, banks have been the sole owners of financial data like account balance or payment history, Duncan says. “With Open Banking, small businesses will be able to tell their banks to share relevant data with app providers like GoCardless, allowing us to make payments that are ‘smarter’ (e.g. could be triggered when money is in your customer’s account), faster, more secure and less likely to fail. And for small businesses, that will mean better cash flow and less time chasing payments.”

Machine learning will automate the back office

A trend that’s on just about everyone’s radar for 2018 is machine learning – but how will this impact small businesses? It’s clear that accounting software is going to continue to embrace machine learning capabilities.  According to Jamie Shulman, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Hubdoc these developments will enable faster and more accurate document coding and data extraction, as well as the automation of complex, repetitive, and time-consuming processes.

“Machine learning will help to automate the small business back office and perform much of the heavy lifting associated with financial management. This will increase accuracy and efficiency in financial reporting, as well as move us closer to real-time financials. Having the capability to make informed business decisions in real-time will be a huge win for small businesses!” Jamie said.

Big data will become truly accessible to small business

In 2018, we will see ‘big data’ moving from being the preserve of the big businesses and corporates to truly being accessible to small business owners and advisors everywhere according to Richard Francis, CEO at Spotlight Reporting.

“Xero reports provide one layer of insight already, but the Xero API has been a game-changer that allows the likes of Spotlight Reporting to empower accountants and CFO’s to give reports, forecasts and more to business owners globally. The extent and quality of data is growing fast whilst unit costs are falling – this is ‘democratising’ access and putting it in reach of all businesses in an affordable and easy-to-consume way,” he said.

Small businesses will surpass big corporations as the best places to work

As technology becomes more accessible, it will also make it easier for small businesses to offer employees flexibility such as remote working, and perks that on par with bigger corporations. According to Mike Triantos, Head of Partnership Development at Gusto this will see small businesses surpass big corporations as the best places to work.

“We see small businesses leveraging technology to offer comprehensive benefits to employees where previously this was not possible. With the use of modern software such as Gusto, or Guideline, small businesses can now easily administer employee savings plans, such as 401K and 529, as well as offer health insurance,” Mike said.

The rise of artificial intelligence will lead to better decision making

We see a rise in robots (think chatbots, not the Terminator) coming in 2018 that’s going to change how businesses can get insights and make smarter decisions, according to Vaughan Rowsell, Founder at Vend.

“In retail for instance, this means more artificial intelligence being integrated into back-end systems, which can provide retailers with real-time tips and advice based on their current sales data and activity. Suggestions such as running customer promotions or reordering popular stock. At Vend we recently ventured into this space with an in-app smart assistant, called Dott, and we’ll be seeing more of this tech in 2018,” Vaughan said.

Data = gold. We are at a turning point, where data is the most important asset to an SMB.

Guy Pearson, CEO at Practice Ignition, ties together how some of the biggest trends in tech including big data, artificial intelligence, machine learning and moving to the cloud, will come together to see the accounting industry go through a period of rapid change.

“We’ve seen a shift the world over, with banks, software and even tax departments releasing APIs allowing SMBs to connect and centralise data from all sources for analysis. Now it’s time to put it to work!  In 2018 we’re going to see the impact of this smart data.

“A humanised interface (AI) will be searching your data (big data) from your systems (cloud based) and looking at what decisions you’ve made in the past (machine learning) to suggest the best outcome.  Process workers are to be replaced by systems and we’ll get closer to the mainstream adoption of connected systems in SMB and the accounting sector. We’ll finally be crossing the chasm of cloud-connected systems. It’s such an exciting time to be in business as we see the accounting market going through a year of rapid change! Finally,” Guy said.

Governments will provide incentives for small businesses to adopt cloud technology

Xero research shows that 87% of small and medium businesses in Singapore use business productivity software. This is one of the highest rates in the world, and reflects ongoing government support for small business, including a new programme announced in 2017 SMEs Go Digital providing funding for productivity software and implementation services.

We’ve seen the investment by the Singapore Government pay off with cloud adoption and productivity gains for small businesses there.

Around the world, governments recognise that a vibrant small business sector is the backbone to a healthy economy, but many business owners are slow to adopt tools that generate efficiencies and growth. In 2018 we expect to see more governments provide incentives to drive technology adoption, and ultimately productivity growth, in the small business economy.

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