Behind all the fancy packaging and snazzy sales pitches, what most technologies promise small business is simply the ability to get more work done in less time. In a 1996 study by KeyCorp, a Cleveland-based banking firm, 45 percent of those surveyed said technology has allowed their small businesses to perform faster and more efficiently.
Pink Jeep Tours is a prime example of how a technology investment can spur productivity. In the old days, its reservation staff had to navigate software with multiple screens, entering customer data with much difficulty, and tours were frequently overbooked--and underbooked--because employees didn't schedule them efficiently on the magnetic board. The new software installed two years ago, which has a more user-friendly interface and automatically schedules tours at maximum occupancies, has cut the average time it takes to book a reservation from five minutes to one. "We were able to drastically increase the efficiency and accuracy of our bookings," says company president Shawn Wendell.
Customer service is another area that benefits from technology. By implementing a new voice-mail system, database or fax-back service, small businesses can score big points in customer satisfaction. "[Technology] has increased our customer service tremendously because we don't run out of stock as often," says Merchant of Vino's president, Marc Jonna. "Our customers are delighted because we're more in tune with their buying habits."
Some technologies, particularly the Internet, have transformed small businesses from local ventures into global operations. In other instances, however, technology has had the opposite effect: It's allowed businesses to stay small. Whether entrepreneurs are doing the books themselves with accounting software or cutting back on customer support staff, technology is playing a big part in keeping the "small" in small business. "Technology has helped me keep the quality and customer service high while keeping my business small," marvels Gotcha Covered Wholesale's co-owner Courtney Young, who has done it all himself since 1992 with the help of a notebook computer, portable printer, pager and cellular phone.
A less tangible--but important--impact is the creation of a more nimble, competitive entrepreneur, thanks to recent advancements in mobile technology. The introduction of portable computers, cellular phones, pagers and, more recently, wireless communication has given small companies greater freedom, flexibility and efficiency when on the road, severing the cords that traditionally tied them to the office.