Even in a tough economy, it’s a good time to start a business
Despite the gloom and doom of the last several years, there has been a quiet revolution in small business technology that is making it both easier and cheaper to start your own business; and with so many college students headed for graduation without a clear “next step”, it may make more sense to create your next position, instead of rolling the dice in the job market. Here are a few innovations that are empowering new startups to face down established competition and carve out a niche.
“The Cloud” is last year’s most overused buzzword, but people outside the tech community almost certainly underestimate the disruptive impact it has had on small business costs. Not that long ago, a small business needed an in-house accountant, a lawyer, a web designer, a customer service rep, etc. or the entrepreneur had to make the very risky move of juggling all those jobs at once.
If a business needed server space, a payroll system, or project management software, they had to build or buy those things themselves, giving large corporations a huge cost advantage over start-ups but thanks to cloudsourcing, that advantage is shrinking all the time. Today, business owners can handle nearly all those functions using cloud services, far more cheaply and effectively than any cobbled-together DIY solution.
2. Near-costless telecommuting
Until recently, small businesses have been stuck hiring close to home; unlike large corporations, they simply didn’t have the resources to scour the globe for talent, let alone entice new hires to uproot their families and move closer to headquarters. Now, the cost of finding skilled employees has fallen through the floor, and instead of a move that will be expensive and stressful for both parties, entrepreneurs are enticing new hires with the low-cost incentive of working in their pajamas.
Hiring remote workers poses a whole new set of management challenges, but they’re easily outweighed by the benefits. No matter how small your business is, you’re not limited to the prospects who wander in and fill out an application.
3. Laser-guided mobile marketing
Marketing has long been the domain of corporate powerhouses who could afford the designers and the ad space to drown out competition. Even online, brute force and loads of money tend to win the day; locally-owned hardware store just isn’t going to rank in competition with half a dozen national chains. However, the rise of mobile and location-based search provides local businesses with a market small enough for them to have a fighting chance.
Your small business may not beat the household names at first, you can rank for your local area at very little cost. It can be as simple as building your social presence and encouraging customers to review you on Yelp! and other reporting sites. Local search is easily a small business’s most cost-effective advertising method, and it allows startups to become masters of their domain, not lost in a sea of competing brands.
4. Secure online invoicing
PayPal was the first to break through the legal and logistical hassles of online payment, but ten years of near-monopoly kept the service relatively expensive and clunky; that is, until an explosion of competition in the online payment market following the banking crisis in 2008. Now, fees are lower across all providers, you can accept credit cards from your smartphone, and the process of signing up for a merchant account is much simpler.
The power of online invoicing is in global reach. Previously, the cost of financial and shipping intermediaries was so high that small businesses could rarely compete with large corporations who could afford to handle those tasks in-house. Now, costs are falling across the board, and small businesses have a fighting chance in the global market.
5. Grassroots financing
Gathering startup cash has been the perennial challenge of entrepreneurs. Angel investors and business incubators are a great way for small businesses to get a boost, but the terms and restrictions of those contracts often leave business owners feeling like employees all over again. Sites like Kickstarter, RocketHub, and Smallknot allow consumers to fund new ideas directly and entrepreneurs can access this no-strings financing with nothing more than a great pitch. With more options available to entrepreneurs, would-be investors are having to sweeten the pot, and allow small businesses to keep more of what they earn.
Tara Wagner is a staff writer for TechBreach. She has worked from home for over a decade, and loves sharing news and advice with fellow telecommuting moms and dads. She’s fascinated by new tech and new ideas; and when she finds time to unplug, she enjoys long hikes in the mountains near her home. She lives in Denver.