Small business must embrace technology and training

Chandra Chase

The landscape has dramatically changed for small businesses within the last three years. The equation of “desired product + great customer service = sale” is all but gone. The small business “Technology Revolution” we are in will bring as much change to the way we do business as the invention of the automobile.

Imagine running a general store in Vancouver pre-bridge and pre-delivery trucks. Now, imagine doing business pre-internet. Choosing not to embrace technology within small business is like competing without an automobile 100 years ago. So, what is the new equation for small business success? At the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce, we’re finding it is “desired product + mobile/web technology + low price (+/- customer service) = Sale.” In 10 years we’ll say, “…can you imagine doing business without mobile apps?”

Why is mobile really that important for small businesses?

Customers are shopping in an entirely new way and they will not go back. Everything from impulse purchases to vacations are being purchased on mobile apps or mobile responsive websites. Last year, mobile interfacing surpassed desktop usage. Recently, Starbucks just released a new mobile app that allows you to order and pay for your drink and forgo the wallet and line. Funds are dispersed within the app, so you simply grab your drink and go. Additionally, mobile apps are revolutionizing coupons and promotions. Best Buy (almost) encourages customers to do a price compare with amazon’s app (or any other store); then matches it on the spot. This allows a store to decrease advertising spending and use their competitor’s ads or list prices as their own.

Here are a few more tips for small businesses to increase their success in the “Technology Revolution”:

Create a mobile compatible website (not just app) – Google is now ranking websites higher that have a mobile compatible site. This will change the face of how customers find your business. If you were on the front page of a search for “Vancouver haircut downtown,” you could now be off the top results page if your website is not mobile compatible.

Ask for help – The GVCC provides a number of workshops and trainings each year on technology-based issues. We also have a wide variety of members who work within this field. Kevin Getch of Webfor contributed the article “Google’s Mobile Update Impacts All Business” to the May/June “Vancouver VISION Magazine.” Also, Dr. Grigar at Washington State University’s (Vancouver) Create Media and Digital Culture program is a great resource.

Keep an eye on crowdfunding – While there is truly no such thing as “free money,” crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have been taking the lending landscape by storm. Crowdfunding is set to potentially reach a $1 billion industry next year. Essentially, businesses create a fundraising goal or campaign and offer reward levels for contributions. This is not just for nonprofits and charitable causes. The Kiggins Theatre operated a successful campaign last year to upgrade their hardware for digital movies. While you have to honor and provide benefits at each reward level, its money you’re not directly paying back with interest, like a traditional bank loan.

It is never too late for social media – While Facebook is still the major player in the social networking game, how it’s used is always changing. Lately, the process of integrating your employees in your business messaging has been a topic of discussion; as well as the return from paid advertisements. Other social media platforms valuable for business are Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter. Emerging platforms include Snapchat and Meerkat.

Sign up for One-on-One Counseling – Recently, the GVCC received part of a block grant to fund the Small Business Assistance Program. This program helps mid- to low-income business owners establish and meet their business goals. Qualified applicants can meet with Jeannet Santiago, the SBAP Business Counselor and receive tailored help in an area of need, with additional follow up. Also, there are business counseling services available via SCORE Vancouver and the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at WSU Vancouver.

On June 9th the GVCC will host our second “Small Business Resource Open House Event” from 4:30 to 6 p.m. at 1101 Broadway, in Vancouver. We will be inviting our resource partners who can work directly with businesses. Free to attend and come with your questions and/or needs. For more information, head to www.vancouverusa.com.

Chandra Chase serves as the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce’s program and communications director, as well as coordinator for the Small Business Assistance Program. She can be reached at cchase@vancouverusa.com.

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