From apps to social media to mobile payment processing, doing business in the digital age means staying on top of new trends in technology. But with so many trends to keep track of, it's easy for businesses to get lost in the shuffle.
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But Marc Ostrofsky, serial entrepreneur and author of the new book "Word of Mouse: 101+ Trends in How We Buy, Sell, Live, Learn, Work and Play" (Simon and Schuster, 2013) believes that it pays for businesses to keep up with the latest trends in technology, even if they'd rather not.
In an email interview with BusinessNewsDaily, Ostrofsky explained how technology makes running a business easier and why, instead of tuning out, businesses of every size should be plugging in to the tech options that work for them.
BusinessNewsDaily: In your new book, you point out that technology affects everything, from business to people's personal lives. What are some of the more surprising or overlooked effects of technology in today's world?
Marc Ostrofsky: It's shocking that people don't know what they don't know. That is, if you are not a lawyer, hire one. If you are not a CPA, hire one. But with all of these new technologies — apps, websites, etc. — people often don't know what's out there, and they keep doing it the "old way."
In the old world, we learned that if you keep doing what you've always done, you'll keep getting what you've always gotten. That may be true with weight loss, but in today's ultra-competitive marketplace, if you keep doing what you've always done, you'll certainly fall behind others. Your competitors in business are using the technologies, apps, website tools, database marketing and customer relationship management (CRM) products, and they are getting faster, better, smarter and more efficient. By definition, this means you and your firm are falling behind.
BND: In chapter three, you mention a new trend that involves consumers acting as merchants. Can you explain that one?
M.O.: Sure. The old way was, you take something you want to sell to a resale shop or another retailer, and they sell it. Today, if you have a Square [mobile payment system] , you simply plug that product into your iPhone and, if and when you want to sell something, you can do it right then and there. Take their credit card, swipe it via the Square, and now you have handled the entire transaction on the spot.
That's amazing and tremendously empowering to anyone that wants to sell something such as art, jewelry or basically anything to another person.
BND: What are some other technology trends that you see affecting both the way that people buy and the way that companies sell?
M.O.: Apps. An app puts your firm in the hands of your clients and prospects 24/7. I like so many apps that give you a lot for the money. Many firms create "simple" apps to get you hooked on their products or services, and then sell you an "upgrade" to the full-service app.
Creative apps are the ones I like best. For example, I live in Aspen, Colo. , and my favorite app is PayByPhone. When you go to park your car, you don't need cash or even a credit card for the machine. You open the app, click which car you are parking and how long you want to par — and you're done.
I also love TripIt. This incredibly simple app manages all of my air, hotel and car rentals in one place. Here's the amazing part: When my airfare for a particular flight happens to go down, the app emails me, letting me know to call the airline and ask for a partial refund because of the price difference.
Another one of my favorite apps is called SignNow. Instead of printing out a contract, signing it and then finding a way to get it back to the sender, you simply open the contract from within the app, sign it with your finger and hit Return. Done. The signed contract is now in the inbox of the sender.
Quick-response (QR) codes allow sellers to better explain their product, service or even how to build or connect a new device. The QR code is like a bar code, allowing a smartphone to hover over the code, read the code and be taken to a website or video. That video might tell you how to install the item, how the item was made or where to buy additional parts. In my book, "Word of Mouse," we use QR codes to turn a passive book into an interactive book by placing a QR code next to the interview we did. You can now see and hear the actual interview conducted for the book.
BND: What about small businesses that can't afford to adopt every new piece of technology? Are there certain trends that even the smallest businesses shouldn't overlook?
M.O.: Yes. There are many technologies they can use to buy, sell and stay closer to their prospects and customers. They can have a simple website for their company. They can use search engine optimization (SEO) to get more hits from Google and Yahoo. One of my companies, Blinds.com, spends $15,000 a day buying leads from Google. We started with $100, and when it proved effective, we upped it to $200. We are up to $15,000 because we know that investment of $15,000 a day will bring in a profit of $5,000 over the $15,000 spent, and we'll get additional new clients we hope to sell to in the future.
A small business could use a host of ways to save money when buying. There are many websites that help small business owners to get the lowest prices when they buy items. There are apps like RedLaser that allow the buyer to instantly see if they are getting the lowest price or if the retailer down the street has it cheaper. There are websites that help small businesses buy wholesale. All it takes is a few minutes to look and compare items at any number of websites.
BND: Can you give an example of a small business that has grown significantly as a result of adopting new technology?
Blinds.com: This firm will generate more than $110 million this year. We have no blinds. We have no inventory. We have no warehouse. All we do is run a fantastic website, have a great call center to handle orders and then forward those orders to the manufacturer. The manufacturer, in turns makes the custom blinds and sends them in two or three days. The firm, as I mentioned, is expert at buying leads from Google and other online sources.
CuffLinks.com: This firm will do $7.5 million this year. While it does have inventory, it's pretty small — a cufflink. I teach that "online, the riches are in the niches" and, hence, no better niche than a cufflink. The firm buys leads from Google, uses Cision software for getting national PR attention, has a strong back-end database management or CRM system, and finds ways to automate at every turn.
BND: What advice would you give to business owners who are overwhelmed by ever-changing trends in technology?
M.O.: Take it step by step. No need to be upset. Every business is overwhelmed. Know what you don't know, and then hire people to fill those gaps. For example, if you're not too social media savvy, hire smart individuals who know Pinterest or Tumblr so you can use them as marketing options, or bring in a part-time marketing person or outsource it altogether. The smartest folks know what they don't know and bring in others to handle those issues. But as the CEO, you must know enough about these options to make good decisions. None of us wants to throw good money after bad results.
Originally published on BusinessNewsDaily.