If you’ve booked a flight, read a book, or listened to a song recently, you are a walking testimony to how new technology can change entire industries. However, the unwelcome truth behind most new innovations is that they are accessible, at least at first, only to the lucky – and wealthy – few.
Innovation can be an incredibly powerful force but, at the time of launch, it’s rarely a democratic one.
The thing is, when these innovations are luxury consumer products, that elitism is not really a cause for concern. However, when we’re talking about business tools, limitations on the widespread affordability and availability of this technology can have serious long-term economic repercussions.
It’s not for nothing that the prevailing narrative on any Main Street in America used to be one of seemingly inevitable decay, in which local mom-and-pop shops were destined for obliteration at the hands of monolithic big-box retailers and impersonal e-commerce players.
Big-box retailers and chain restaurants were able to dominate our business landscape by providing a consistency of customer experience; by constantly optimizing prices; and by maintaining a ruthless control on their operating costs. And you know how they did it? Technology. Technology for payments, inventory management, detailed data analytics, automated payroll, and a whole lot more.
The problem is, technology cost a small fortune. I started and spent many years running retail stores before I founded ShopKeep, and I remember my first point of sale systems costing well over $10,000. And that was just for hardware. I had to pay for the software, and the security patches, and I could only access sales data in the basement of my store. The kicker? If anything went wrong, I had to pay for customer care, too! The prevailing business model of technology providers at the time was to secure as much money upfront as possible and then ‘cut and run’ by making you pay for customer care. Needless to say, this structure favored the larger companies, who could swallow these costs.
The Good News? Times Have Changed.
The advent of cloud-based technology has dramatically lowered upfront hardware and software costs and made data more available than ever before. What’s more, it now seems like a new start-up pops up every day with technology targeted at small business owners. Innovation has been ceaseless, competition has grown, and the price point has been driven downwards.
Now, a new local entrepreneur can access a whole range of services and tools that would have previously cost tens of thousands of dollars on day one. Services like point of sale systems, scheduling and payroll, gift cards and loyalty services, accounting and bookkeeping, and billing and invoicing are now available for less than the price of a good meal. If you’re just starting out, we’ve put together a guide to the best technologies for small business owners to help get you get up to speed.
The Results are Clear
According to the Census Bureau, there are currently 23 million small businesses across America, which account for 54% of U.S. annual sales and have contributed 65% of all net new jobs since 1995. In short, small businesses are making up an increasingly big part of our national economy and forming the lifeblood of our local communities.
Tech-savvy small business owners are now running their affairs in a lean, data-led way; embracing the web to reach, engage, and retain customers; using technology to run efficient operations and optimize profits; and placing innovation at the heart of how they run their businesses.
For those of us who love diversity and originality – and who recognize the value of local entrepreneurship to the economy – the fact that we can bring some of this efficiency and advanced analytics to the small business community is a huge opportunity. And for the aspiring local entrepreneur, there has never been a better time to get started.
The technology that big businesses have had at their disposal for thirty years is now in the hands of the guy running your local bodega, the mom-and-pop behind your neighborhood wine store, and the young entrepreneur starting a new food truck.
Innovation is a powerful force. I’m excited to see what can happen now that this is finally in the right hands. Watch out atWalmart and Amazon!
For anyone interested in opening a store or restaurant in their neighborhood, we’ve written a Small Business 101 guide to help you get started and grow your business.
Jason Richelson is the co-CEO and Founder of ShopKeep POS, a provider of cloud-based point of sale software for managing retail shops and restaurants. A former technology consultant and trader, Jason opened a specialty food and wine store in 2004, which he grew to employ more than 70 people in the Brooklyn and lower Manhattan branches. As a retailer, Jason had many problems with his PC-based POS system and while on vacation his store servers crashed, essentially crippling the business. This was the turning point for Jason, inspiring him to build a more reliable, cloud-based point of sale system for small businesses just like him…