Google "small business technology" and you'll very quickly be overwhelmed: There are more than 807 million articles on the search engine about it. But cut through all the clutter and I believe that the lessons of 2014 mean that there are five technologies that all small businesses must embrace in the New Year:
1 -- Your business must go mobile.
By 2017, mobile commerce -- shopping from smartphones and tablets -- will hit $114 billion, up from just $18 billion in 2012. Even before they push the purchase button, prospective customers are using their phones to search for information. But as things stand right now, most small businesses could miss out on mobile. That's because 93 percent of the websites for small and medium-sized businesses don't work on mobile devices.
In 2015, you need to invest in a website that is "responsive," which simply means that it will work well on any computing device, from a cell phone to an actual computer, without pinching or squinting. This need not be a huge investment -- there are dozens of ready-made responsive designs on the market. Do a Google search for the name of your industry plus "responsive theme" to see them.
2 -- Embracing mobile means embracing mobile payments as well.
For several years already, cell phones could be equipped with a small device to handle a credit card swipe. Now swiping is being replaced by a tap, or a wave of a smart phone by a payment terminal. In 2013, 15 percent of smart phone users worldwide paid for something with that phone, and studies show that mobile money users have the prospect of being big spenders. Plenty of big businesses are diving into mobile payments -- there are more than 220,000 vendors now signed up to use Apple Pay, which lets iPhone 6 users make purchases with a wave of the phone. But the mobile payments industry is still very fragmented, so small businesses will need to invest in mobile technology cautiously.
3 -- Invest in the best cybersecurity system your business can afford.
A report from Verizon showed that while many of the 63,000 data breaches in 2013 were directed at the world's largest companies. The most increasingly popular type of attack is one that could also affect small businesses.
Point of sale intrusions -- when a thief steals credit card numbers from a card-reading device -- jumped 31 percent in 2013 from 2011. There was also a 14 percent jump in attacks using card skimmers between the two years. POS attacks accounted for 75 percent of the data thefts in the hospitality industry and 31 percent of those against retailers. Misuse of credit data by insiders was just 8 percent at hospitality and 4 percent at retailers, by comparison.
4 -- Your business must be social.
It's no longer enough to be customer-friendly on the phone and at the checkout counter. Being social in 2015 means that your business must engage with customers where they like to be found, on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and more. You do not need to invest in every one, however even though social media platforms are free, you will likely need to make an investment to use them well. Many small business owners gravitated to these sites because they believed them to be cheaper to use than traditional marketing, only to discover that making them work was taking time away from the other things they needed to do at their business. Invest in a person to handle your business' social media communication and a scheduling service to track it all.
5 -- Big data isn't just for big companies.
Look at all the information that you have amassed in your business, the data about your customers, products and services. Can you connect the dots between that data to see patterns in purchasing or service calls? Can you use it to predict where your next opportunity will be?
At my business, Merchant Cash and Capital, we have invested hundreds of hours -- and a fair bit of money -- into systems to help us gather and analyze data on small businesses' funding needs, and it has helped us to grow our business substantially. Make one of your goals for 2015 to identify the key data for your business and think about how you could benefit from understanding it better. If you don't already run your business on a database like a customer relationship management (CRM) system, invest in one.
These five lessons apply to every small business, but every industry has some technology that is specific to it. Find what's hot in your world and think about adding it. A salon may choose a booking app that generates reminders and collects reviews. A business with many trucks and cars on the road might consider routing software to make plan the most efficient paths to all stops.
And one final note: Don't sweat it: Next year, there will be more new technology to consider.