Small Businesses Turn to Tech to Drive ROI: Survey

Making it as an entrepreneur used to take a solid plan, a healthy dose of business savvy and the support of good talent. These days, small businesses are just as likely to rely on new technology, if not more so.

Brother, best known for its printers, label makers and other tech essentials, and SCORE, specialists in small business counseling and mentorship, today released a survey revealing that 72 percent of small business owners said that this year, they expect new technologies to yield a bigger return on investment than new employees (28 percent). Wakefield Research polled 500 U.S. small business owners (fewer than 100 employees) for this year’s Brother Small Business Survey.

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How Small Business Owners View Technology

At first blush, it’s welcome news for vendors that target the small business technology market. However, the next statistic illustrates one of the biggest challenges they face in engaging with the small business community.

The study found that a majority of small business owners, 63 percent, said that they felt overwhelmed by the number of technology choices available to them. While Silicon Valley and IT vendors maintain a furious pace of innovation, small businesses are getting left behind. Brother’s John Wandishin, vice president of marketing, said during a roundtable discussion held in New York City in advance of the survey’s release that “technology, in a way, is not getting simpler.”

“It’s getting more powerful,” he said, but those capabilities frequently come buried under layers of complexity. This revelation, he added, helps to guide his company’s approach to product development. Brother’s newest printers and all-in-ones dispense with the typical sea of buttons and deliver activity-based, context-driven touch-screen experiences for more efficient workflow.

Small business owners aren’t only struggling to make technology work for them, they’re drowning under the sheer number of options. Often, they simply lack the time, expertise and guidance to properly evaluate the technology landscape and make informed decisions about the solutions that truly address their problems. SCORE CEO, W. Kenneth Yancey, said simply, “Many small business owners don’t even know what they don’t know.”

Timing is also a factor, not to mention a source of friction. “Small business owners are split 50/50 regarding where they see greater risk—investing in technology too quickly and not receiving a sufficient return on investment, or not investing in technology and giving competitors an advantage,” said the companies in a statement.

“Our survey shows that while small business owners understand the value of new technologies, they are still a bit overwhelmed and struggle with choosing the right time to adopt them to have the greatest impact on their business,” said Wandishin in prepared remarks.

Small business owners also have a tough time finding help. Fifty-nine percent said that resources are insufficient or not available in their communities. Just 17 percent of those surveyed said that they worked with a mentor.

Despite the apparent gulf between small businesses and tech companies, 49 percent placed technology as a top investment priority for 2014.

Unsurprisingly, given the booming popularity of smartphones and tablets, mobile devices came in as the number one tool (41 percent) that entrepreneurs rely on to run their businesses. Customer relationship management (CRM) solutions like Sugar CRM and Salesforce are the number two spot at 32 percent, followed by social media (21 percent) and the cloud (15 percent).

Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at Small Business Computing. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.

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