Risk taking is second nature to most entrepreneurs, but technology issues can make them turn cautious. Too often, business owners believe they don't have the expertise or financial resources to take full advantage of technology. But by limiting their use of tech, they also limit their growth opportunities in our always-on, always-connected world.
Turns out, many of these misgivings about tech may be based on misperceptions. Here are three common misconceptions that your business may need to move beyond to open new pathways for growth and innovation:
1. Advanced security protection is too expensive and complicated for most small businesses.
Your data is one of your company's greatest assets, so investing in its security should be a top priority. The good news is that you don't need a big IT budget because many security measures are free or inexpensive. In many cases, it doesn't cost a penny extra to regularly download software updates, take advantage of your operating system's encryption capabilities, enforce the use of strong passwords and use internet browsers with security features.
One option is Tinfoil Security, which tests your website for vulnerabilities against virtual attacks. Costs start at $59 per month. Another solution to consider is having a portable, encrypted hard drive such as Western Digital's My Book Essential, starting around $100 for up to 1.5 Terabytes of storage with automatic, continuous data backup and password protection.
2. Reaching more customers requires an in-house social media genius.
You may not be able to afford a social media expert, but that doesn't mean you can't use social networks to get the word out about your products and services. Many free, online tools can help you increase your visibility, reach more customers and monitor your social media presence.
One of those tools is Brandify, which can help you assess the online strength of your brand. It can help identify simple actions you can take to reach more customers, such as claiming ownership of automatically generated profiles and updating business information in online directories. Brandify can notify you when customers interact with your brand via social networks. And if your company has no social media presence to speak of, it can help you determine the steps required to get started.
Another is Monitter, which tracks Twitter mentions of your company, as well as your competition, in real-time for free. Keep this interface open on your Internet browser and you can remain in-the-know as to what people are saying about your product or service and how your competition fits into the picture.
For managing multiple online social profiles for your business, try a social media dashboard such as Hootsuite. It offers a free version or a professional version ($9.99 per month) with advanced features such as managing unlimited social profiles and message scheduling.
3. Most small businesses can't afford remote work arrangements.
Advances in technology have enabled us to do our work from practically anywhere at any time. Yet, what many entrepreneurs may not know is that providing employees with remote capabilities can be affordable and even preferable to in-house work arrangements. Remote workers are often more productive and satisfied, plus they give business owners access to a larger talent pool.
Thanks to the power of cloud computing and the wide range of software available over the Internet, you can cost effectively enable employees to work remotely, sometimes even eliminating the need for physical office space, networking infrastructure and an expensive lease.
For instance, programs such as Microsoft Office 365 can give workers online access to a complete set of communication and collaboration tools for $6 per user, per month. And there's Evernote, which offers a collection of applications to help store and organize information including webpages, photos and text notes. This can make it easier for remote workers to stay connected to the information they need the most, whenever and wherever they need it.
Small businesses also can choose from a number of cloud-based solutions designed to make specific workplace tasks more efficient for mobile employees. San Francisco-based Xobni Pro ($45 per user, per year) can help workers develop and maintain their relationships with customers, peers and industry influencers. This cloud-based solution indexes all of your contacts --even those that aren't in your address book but that you have interacted with over email, SMS or phone calls -- through an application that's available on any mobile operating system.
Based in Redmond, Wash., Cindy Bates is vice president of Microsoft’s U.S. SMB Organization.