In 2019, we saw the rise of a series of business tech trends. They include the cloud-based systems so you can work on the go and from any location; email automation to help keep track of who you have emailed; and email marketing platforms such as Mailchimp and Klayvio, so you can reach your customers with information that’s relevant to them.
With the start of a new decade now here, we look forward to seven key trends that will help you as a small business owner in 2020.
1. Rise of the cloud
Andrew Dark, director and co-owner of print wear and branding specialist Custom Planet, believes the use of cloud-based systems will continue be a business tech trend for 2020.
He says: “Cloud-based software is influencing the ways our staff can work, giving them more flexibility and allowing them to remote work with greater ease.
“Finance can chase payments, order stock, and have access to all our ordering information from anywhere. Sales can process orders, create quotes and deal with clients.
“I feel cloud-based systems and working from home can help staff to have a better work/life balance and increase happiness in the workplace.”
The same can be said of cloud-based accounting software, which will allow you to stay on top of your accounts when you’re on the go.
2. Adoption of technology
Marketing consultant Nat Sharp is the founder of Sharp Thinking Marketing. She says the adoption of technology will be a key business tech trend and challenge for small business owners in 2020.
“Many businesses think that artificial intelligence (AI) is still in its infancy, but as a small business owner, you can’t afford to ignore it,” she says.
“AI can give you an incredible competitive edge improving response times and the whole customer experience. And in 2020, we will see a huge increase in chatbots.
“Chatbots have traditionally been frowned upon by marketing industry experts.
“But as more social media platforms are permitting bots and as their sophistication has increased, it will become crucial for small businesses to deploy them to improve their customer experience and automate their business.
“Bots can help qualify and nurture leads based on users’ interactions rather than generating a constant stream of sales emails.”
Free performance review
Elevate your business with our free performance review. Join over a million UK businesses who trust Sage to help them perform at their best.
One thing that small business owners don’t always have is time. Part of the reason for that is that they’re busy following up on late invoices that haven’t been paid and other manual processes that need to be dealt with.
According to Sage-commissioned research, businesses in the UK are losing 120 hours a year to admin. Sound familiar to you?
Automation can be the answer to save time, so you can focus on more important tasks that help you to build your business. And it’s likely to be a key trend for 2020.
No matter whether it’s down to using accounting software so you don’t have to follow up on invoices or reach your customers easily via email, automation will be one to watch.
Nat Sharp adds: “Smart businesses know they need to capitalise on marketing automation. And I’m not just talking about sending out your company newsletter using the latest email marketing software.
“Those who know the sector understand they need to give their consumers more control over how and when they consume content and personalisation is at the crux of it.
“Marketing automation software has the ability to integrate your website, email marketing and your CRM system, ensuring a seamless and highly customisable customer experience.”
4. Circular technology
Asad Hamir, co-founder at Klyk Tech, believes ‘circular technology’ will be a growing trend for 2020, as small business owners will be looking at ways to cut costs, in a possibly difficult post-Brexit atmosphere in the UK.
He says: “Technology is one of the biggest money drains for small businesses; 45% see replacing their tech as beyond their current spending power.
“Fortunately for them, as we approach 2020, there is a strong argument for businesses to move away from a linear consumption model.
“Instead of buying devices with cash, using them and then throwing them away, businesses are starting to use a circular model where tech is leased, refurbished and repaired for re-use at the end of this first cycle. It’s easy to see the benefits of this approach.
“Buying technology in a linear way means small businesses spend money on expensive assets that will only depreciate and sap the cash flow of a business.
“By contrast, the circular model spreads the cost of a workforce’s devices. Instead of buying new technology, businesses leaders can reduce costs dramatically by purchasing refurbished tech or repairing devices to get more use from them.”
5. Robotic process automation (RPA)
Another trend for small business owners to be aware of is robotic process automation (RPA). This is an evolution of automation and it involves the use of software with AI or machine learning to deal with a high volume of repetitive tasks, such as for finance teams.
Steve O’Brien, managing director of Newicon, a software design and development company, says RPA “has already transformed organisations around the world”.
He adds: “In its current form, it can reduce operational risk, improve productivity, cut costs… you get the idea. It’s transformational. It’s the stuff that we’re working on with our clients as we speak.
“And the really exciting part is that RPA is undergoing a transformation of its own, both regarding the technology involved and the way it’s being adopted.
“Technology-wise, I think we’re likely to see RPA draw more on advances in AI and machine learning. As a result, RPA will enter what others are calling RPA 2.0, or unassisted RPA — where, once set up, there’s no human involvement necessary. This would usher in a whole new level of productivity increase.
“On top of that, look out for an increase in commoditised, plug-and-play hardware, alongside potential libraries of open-source automation software. Together, these two things could open up RPA to a much wider market.
“In terms of adoption, we’re already seeing a huge push towards RPA from China, as it turns to technology to continue its world-leading levels of productivity.
“And we’re likely to see the likes of Europe and the US investing in order to compete. Not to mention businesses looking to find a way to get ahead in the uncertain quagmire otherwise known as Brexit.”
Steve Orrill is the partner account manager at finance automation company V1. He says: “Robotic process automation will become part of the daily working lives for small and medium-sized enterprises as finance departments strive to eliminate manual processes and work smarter, not harder, with their data.
“Finance teams have plenty of manual and repetitive tasks that involve searching and entering data as well as combining data from multiple sources – and these will be eliminated through automation. In fact, Gartner believes RPA can save finance departments 25,000 hours of avoidable work annually.
“What’s more, RPA and humans will work together. RPA will do all the groundwork [data entry, searching and consolidation] to provide more accurate and timely data at people’s fingertips. Humans will still need to have some oversight which means learning how to monitor RPA systems.
“But the reward is gaining greater control and far more incisive decision-making.
“Invoice automation is a place for SMEs to start and, when integrated with cloud technology, it is the ideal first step to achieving an effective digital transformation strategy.”
6. Social commerce
Dhruvin Patel is an optometrist and the founder of Ocushield, a screen protector company. He says 2020 will see the rise of social commerce: the ability to transact on Facebook chat or WhatsApp, for example.
He says: “Tools are coming out already showing capabilities of this, such as jumper.ai, but I imagine the social platforms themselves will look to introduce this as they can earn revenue from this sort of transaction-based automation.
“It will also see AI and chat work closer together as most chat requests especially for e-commerce are usually the same typical questions – shipping, returns policy, etc, therefore this can quickly be identified and the correct response given.”
7. Going green
Mark Tighe, chief executive of specialist tax consultancy Catax, says: “We’re seeing a definite trend in small business owners exploring how technology can help them become greener businesses and this is likely to accelerate throughout 2020.
“Among the 14,000 UK businesses we work with, an increasing number are claiming research and development (R&D) tax relief for projects involving eco-friendly initiatives such as using more sustainable materials, reducing waste or developing more fuel-efficient processes.
“With the UK government announcing a ‘climate change emergency’ last May, environmental issues are growing in priority, driven both by consumer demand and economic necessity.
“With energy-saving measures rewarded and less environmentally viable practices increasingly penalised through initiatives such as the climate change levy and landfill tax, it is in the interests of small business owners to invest in these areas.
“R&D tax credits and the Patent Box tax relief encourage the sort of innovation that will drive the low carbon economy, although more could be done to channel R&D towards specifically green initiatives, and we may well see this happens in coming months.
“There is a precedent for favourable terms being offered to green initiatives. For example, businesses get patents assessed more quickly if there is a sustainable angle to them and the capital allowances’ regime is more favourable for energy efficient, low or zero carbon technology.”
Conclusion on small business tech trends
As a small business owner, you have a choice as to whether you want adopt the growing trends of automation, artificial intelligence, more environmentally friendly practices.
With these trends emerging in 2019 and now becoming more prominent, it will be worth considering which ones are worth adopting for your business in 2020, so you can stay ahead of the curve, win new customers and boost your business.
Editor’s note: This article was first published in December 2019 and has been updated for relevance.