We are currently undergoing an exciting and historical moment in the age of small business. Despite being in the midst of a recession, small businesses are finding ways to adapt to, and evade, new economical pressures due to their size and agility. Waiting in the wings to help them through this next evolutionary phase are an entire suite of online tools — lightweight, easy-to-use, low monthly costs, and always available — that handle everything from time tracking, task management, and project management, to collaboration, invoicing, and billing. Many small businesses are now realizing the need to incorporate these tools into their day-do-day workflow. Why the current shift? And why now? I’ve got some theories:
The current recession is requiring small businesses to cut back on costs
The biggest expense for any small business is usually people. Salaries can consume most of the working budget. Businesses may not be able to afford a project manager, whose salary can cost them thousands of dollars each month, but they can easily afford web-based software that can range anywhere between $20 to $200 per month. Get the rest of the team on board with it and you have stronger collaboration, more efficient and detailed project tracking, and signfiicantly lower costs.
Hosted productivity tools are becoming more acceptable in the business-place
A year ago there was still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the use of hosted project management tools. Will our data be safe? What if the server goes down? What if the company offering the service goes under? Today, every business magazine is writing about these online tools and hailing them as the next great thing. Small businesses are listening, too, and seeking out these project management software applications to help them keep things moving and most importantly, stay relevant. While some of the original concerns are still relevant, most companies offering these tools take security, uptime, and longevity very seriously (though I would still do your research before choosing one).
The technology is ripe
A few years ago, the world wide web was still trying to figure out it’s role in the small business. The technology driving most of today’s online project management tools was still catching up to the needs of the small business. Having recently reached a crossroads, the technology and the business needs are merging together, feeling each other out, and defining some common avenues to continue along together. Web-based productivity tools are not breaking out of the limitations of the browser, they are utilizing the technology built into current web browsers to create applications that mimic the desktop. And they are doing it without the need for third party plugins and lengthy installations and trainings. These new project management apps simply require a common web browser that can be found on any computer, anywhere in the world.
Freedom from the desktop
Our parents may have spent their entire careers in the same office sitting behind the same desk, the Internet a recent addition symbolized by a blue cable stringing out from the back of their desktop computer. The current generation of small businesses who find themselves online the most are the least likely to be in one place for very long. Today we work from the home, our cars, the airport, coffee shops, and sometimes the office. Web-based productivity tools allow small businesses to work from just about anywhere. And many of the web-based apps available are offering mobile versions of their software in response to the ever-evolving needs of the online nomad.
The old way of doing things is, to be honest, getting old
Before we had web-based project management tools, we had products we had to install on our servers and our desktops. We had training manuals thicker than early laptops of the same era. And we had to deal with dodgy salesmen from whom getting a price quote was an exercise in futility. The revelation of the hosted app washed away so much of that frustration. Some of these old school apps are still around, and although they are trying to get online and stay relevant, it just doesn’t feel like they get it. Their apps work on only one browser or require multiple plugins. The manuals are still just as thick. The web sites still hide the pricing. And the salesmen are still in the front lines. When all you want to do is evaluate a few web-based options and make your decision quickly, they continue to use old school methods that are nothing but barriers to the customer. Customer service should be a positive on-demand experience, an ongoing relationship with someone you trust, not a sales pitch from a reseller who only cares about his commission.
Many of these new web-based tools are built by like-minded small businesses who understand your needs just as intimately as their own, because they’ve shared in your success and failures as a small business. Web-based project management software, especially, is finding a successful niche among small businesses who are discovering that running a small business can be done more efficiently, with less cost, and without many of the hassles and technological restrictions that have been holding them back. It is an exciting time to be a small business, and we are eagerly awaiting to see what’s next. Whatever it is, you know we’ll be there.