New technology improves small businesses
From managing customer interactions to internal collaboration tools, there are many new technologies that are must-haves for successful entrepreneurs. — valentinrussanov/Getty Images

In 2010, smartphones and cloud computing were only a few years old, and Siri was still a year away from being released. Ten years later, most of us couldn't imagine life without these technologies, especially business owners who rely on them to keep their companies running.

As we enter a new year and a new decade, many professionals are eager to know what tech solutions will emerge and evolve for businesses in the near future. We asked a group of small business owners to share the tech solutions they believe small business owners should adopt in 2020. Here are some of their top recommendations, from up-and-coming technologies to basic (but essential) cloud-based software and apps.

Artificial intelligence

From personalized marketing campaigns to predictive analytics, artificial intelligence (AI) has made modern businesses smarter and more efficient than ever. As Philip Dawson, managing director of luxury ethical jewelry retailer Lily Arkwright, puts it, AI "has the capacity to increase productivity and improve each customer journey."

That's why Dawson's company is developing a machine learning-based AI chat system, one that not only answers customer questions in real time, but that autonomously improves itself over time.

"We expect it to be a real resource and time-saver when we launch," Dawson told CO—. "We truly believe that investing in technology can bring about a meaningful and positive customer experience."

All-in-one digital workspaces

There are countless collaboration tools out there, but the trend has recently shifted toward robust, all-in-one digital workspaces that allow for different types of collaboration.

Tools like Notion and Milanote let teams customize their interfaces and upload a wide variety of media types, so everyone can organize their tasks and projects in their preferred visual style. Notes, to-do lists, image boards, wiki-style documents, spreadsheets, real-time comments and more are all possible within these workspaces.

"Milanote is a dream tool for creative entrepreneurs," said Victoria Lofthouse, virtual assistant at No Drama Delegation. "It allows them to create, collaborate and organize ideas, plans and structures in a really simple streamlined way whilst supporting their creativity!"

[Read: 7 Smart Apps for Every Small Business Owner]

We truly believe that investing in technology can bring about a meaningful and positive customer experience.

Philip Dawson, managing director, Lily Arkwright

Inventory management software

For product-based businesses, managing inventory can be a tremendous challenge. A growing number of cloud-based inventory management solutions have come on the market to help businesses improve data analytics and reporting, customer service, operational workflows, scalability and other common retail issues.

Jonathan Boos, CEO of men's accessory retailer Würkin Stiffs, recommends a software called LOCATE, which the company has used to integrate and streamline its order management, sales channels and fulfillment operations.

"It has given us our most valuable commodity back: time," said Boos. "We are now growing the Würkin Stiffs brand quicker and stronger with LOCATE. It has been an instant game-changer for our company."

Customer interaction management platform

With so many different avenues for customer service — phone, email, live chat, social media, review sites, website contact forms, etc. — small business owners are often overwhelmed by the number of apps they need to manage to keep in touch with customers. Customer interaction management solutions like Podium and Genysys connect these various communication channels in one place so you can easily manage your customers' experience with your brand from a single platform.

[Read more: Helping Small Businesses Grow Is Podium’s Secret Formula]

"The business I work for has grown substantially as a result of [Podium]," said Tina Tasche, customer relations manager at Van Horn Automotive Group. "We text customers, chat internally and monitor our reputation all in one platform."

Back to basics: Essential small business tech tools

While these technologies aren't exactly "new," small business owners say they're integral to their business in 2020:

  • Synced calendar app. "I'd be in trouble without [Google Calendar]. How else would I remember client meetings or know what needs doing and by when? I can use it to take quick notes (fire up a new event) and it saves it to the cloud." — Darren Yap, founder of Wimble Wellness.
  • Cloud-based file sharing. "Dropbox allows you to save many big business files online … [like] images for products and blog posts, which are typically high resolution and occupy a significant amount of storage space. What I like the most about Dropbox is the ability to easily share business files online, especially through platforms where you can't send attachments, e.g. HARO." — Hassan Alnassir, founder of Premium Joy.
  • Mobile scanning app. "A good scanning application on your phone is ... essential [for] file accessibility. I often find myself with a client who will want to give me a document for their files. I take a picture or scan it and put it in their file immediately. The time saving is enormous and the access to more information is so important." — Paul Miller, CPA and founder of Miller & Company, LLP.
  • Project management software. "I run an agency with remote staff in different countries, so Trello is gold for us in order to stay on top of deliverables and assign projects." — Bogdan Marinescu, managing director of Digital Trails.
  • Third-party e-commerce software. "I use Etsy … for our ongoing Haus of Film women in film fundraiser. We sell T-shirts and teddy bears benefiting women seeking film funding on crowdfunding websites. Etsy has a built-in audience and down-to-earth familiarity. People find it really easy to use and some already have Etsy accounts. The store’s established brand helps customers feel safer with online purchases because fraud is another thing we worry about today. I love that Etsy allows customers that peace of mind." — Nicole Russin-McFarland, film director.
  • Proposal software. "Proposal software [helps] to automate writing, sending and following up with proposals. I use a tool called Better Proposals. You can grab a proposal template, edit in a few elements and send your proposal out through email, instead of typing out proposals for hours." — Dmytro Okunyev, founder of Chanty.
  • Free online education platforms. "Google Digital Garage is a free service that helps you increase your knowledge of all things digital. It's training and tips in bitesize chunks. As an … entrepreneur, I need to keep on top of relevant technology and Google has some really cool tools that help me make informed decisions about how to grow my business." — Sarah Brockwell, founder of sarahBee Marketing.

[Read: 10 Free Tech Tools Every Startup Needs]

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published January 17, 2020