Small business is starting to go digital, as smartphone apps, cloud sharing and automation help many of them get more work done in less time.
Technology is often billed as a means to replace human labor, yet recent data suggest that small businesses are actually looking to boost headcount, even as they shell out more cash to streamline operations. According to the National Federation of Independent Business Research Center, 36 percent of small companies were not able to fill open positions in June, matching the survey's record high from November 2000. For smaller firms, one method being used to attract new workers is with shorter or remote work hours.
Chris Petrella, the CEO of Unlimited Power, started his company four years ago. He employs veterans to manufacture portable solar microgrids used to increase energy efficiency. By using new technology, Petrella compressed employees' hours to 26 hours per week, and pays them on salary so that they receive the same compensation as they would for a typical 40 hour week.
"Employees come in at 10 a.m. and leave at 4 p.m., outside of rush hour," Petrella said. "It's good for family life, getting kids to and from school."
Petrella has always been forward-thinking about using new technology. His next hope: "Star Trek"-like transporter technology that can ship products instantaneously from place to place.
Until transportation takes a big leap forward, there are businesses like Square. Its website builder Weebly recently partnered with Shippo to make small business shipping more accessible. Invoices and payment are also available via Square.
Marie Rosecrans, senior vice president of SMB Marketing at Salesforce.com, explained that new tools are making tech accessible and helping to "future-proof" small businesses.
Yet data from Salesforce recently showed 53 percent of small businesses would like to employ technology, but don't because it can be expensive. Echoing that theme, a 2013 survey by the National Small Business Association showed that more than 70 percent of respondents felt it was "very important" to keep up with changing technology trends, yet more than 40 percent of them were concerned by costs and cybersecurity breaches.
Those issues are front and center for business owners like El Paso, Texas-based CEO Brianna Barnes, who manages two companies: Kayton Lee Residential and Rosewood Homes.
When she first started the custom home building company three years ago, Barnes used to pour 50 to 60 hours a week into Kayton Lee. Now, she is able to put just 30 hours per week into each company while achieving better output by using iCloud and Excel spreadsheets.
Yet Barnes admitted newer technology is harder to incorporate into her small business, primarily because rising costs and less time to learn operations. She felt the future of tech could be beneficial to her company, but she currently lacks the capacity to make bigger changes yet.