Small businesses face many challenges, but technology can offer solutions. Digital tools can help small business owners simplify operations, increase efficiency, and enhance productivity.
There are many tools available, from innovative software to cutting-edge hardware. The right technology can give small business owners a competitive edge.
However, finding the best options can be daunting. Buying apps just because someone recommended them may not work for you. You need to identify your needs and optimize your solutions.
What are the main obstacles that SMBs encounter with cloud use? According to the 2023 State of the Cloud Report, they are cost management and security. The report also revealed that 47% of SMBs lacked resources and expertise.
We can assist you in selecting the best tech for growth and ROI. Let’s start by looking at some game-changing technologies. These tools can transform the way you run your small business.
Revolutionary Tech Tools for Small Business Owners
Searching for ways to streamline processes, improve communication, or elevate customer satisfaction? Look right here for a range of technology tools designed specifically for SMBs. These solutions possess the power to revolutionize your business’s triumph.
How Cloud Computing Enables Scalability and Flexibility
Cloud computing enables businesses to store, access, and manage their data more efficiently. Small businesses can benefit from apps like Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace, which offer enterprise-class features that were previously exclusive to large companies.
Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services (AWS) are examples of other cloud-based solutions. They offer scalable and flexible computing power to small business owners, who do not need to invest in expensive on-premises infrastructure.
Some of the advantages of cloud computing are:
Smooth data backup and recovery
These features allow you and your team to work from any location and at any time. You can use the cloud to run your entire office, including your phone system, document storage, accounting, customer management, and more. The cloud offers cost-efficient solutions for small businesses of all kinds.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Software
CRM software is essential for delivering outstanding customer service in today’s competitive market. CRM platforms such as Salesforce and HubSpot help you centralize customer data and track interactions more effectively. You can also manage customer relationships better with CRM software.
Spreadsheets have their limitations. They require a lot of manual work and are prone to errors. They also lack collaboration features and can cause miscommunication or missed opportunities.
CRM software can enhance your sales process, marketing campaigns and customer support. You can learn more about your customers’ needs and preferences and customize your offerings accordingly. This will boost customer satisfaction and loyalty.
Tools for Smooth and Effective Teamwork
Small businesses need efficient collaboration, especially when their employees work in different locations or remotely. Collaboration tools such as Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Google Workspace enable this. They offer real-time communication, file sharing, and project management solutions.
These platforms unite teams and allow for smooth collaboration, effective task assignment, and streamlined workflows. The apps have features like chat, video conferencing, and document collaboration. These tools keep your team connected and productive, no matter where they are.
E-commerce Platforms for Online Sales
Small businesses can benefit from the growth of e-commerce. They can access more customers and generate more income. They can use platforms like Shopify, WooCommerce, and BigCommerce to build and run their online stores.
These platforms have everything a small business needs to succeed online. They have flexible designs, safe payment options, and easy inventory control. These features help small businesses create a strong online brand. They can offer products or services to customers anywhere.
Using Data Analytics to Make Better Decisions
Data analytics tools are valuable for any business. They can provide insights that inform decision-making. Small business owners can use platforms like Google Analytics and Microsoft Power BI to collect, analyze, and visualize data from various sources.
With data analytics, you can track website traffic, customer behavior, and sales trends. You can also identify opportunities, optimize marketing strategies, and make data-driven decisions. Data insights can help you grow your business.
Data analytics gives small business owners the power to understand their target audience. It also helps them spot areas for improvement quickly. They can then make smarter business choices.
Ask Us About Our Cloud Support to Boost Your Bottom Line
Technology can transform your small business by making your processes faster, your customers happier, and your efficiency higher. But it can be hard to figure out how to use it effectively. You don’t have to do it by yourself.
Let us help.
Give us a call today to schedule a chat about optimizing your cloud efficiency and costs.
As technology continues to advance, so does the landscape of design tools. Microsoft has been a company at the forefront of business apps. Microsoft 365 began with about seven apps. It now offers new users access to over 20.
One of the newest ones added is Microsoft Designer. This quick-and-easy design tool has caught the attention of designers and professionals alike. You can use it whether you’re a graphic pro, marketer, or small business owner. Or someone that simply wants to make a funny meme.
Microsoft Designer offers a range of features to streamline your design process. If you haven’t used it yet, you may want to check it out. With AI features and an easy interface, it can elevate your design game. Not to mention saving time and money creating business graphics.
Let’s explore the key features.
Intuitive and User-Friendly Interface
Microsoft Designer boasts an intuitive and user-friendly interface. This makes it accessible to both beginners and experienced designers. The tool provides a clean and organized workspace. It allows you to focus on your design without distractions.
Its user-friendly features include things like:
Text prompts to start your design
The first prompt it asks is “Describe the design you’d like to create.” This makes it simple for someone with no design experience to use it. Based on your prompt, the system can leverage AI to generate graphics. You can also upload your own.
Comprehensive Design Templates and Assets
Microsoft Designer has several stand-out features. One of them is its extensive collection of templates and assets. It has a wide range of professionally crafted templates. These enable you to kickstart your design projects quickly.
Whether you need a business card, flyer, or social media post, this app has you covered. Additionally, the tool offers a vast library of assets. These include:
You can use these to create visually stunning designs. Ones that align with your brand identity. The abundance of design assets gives you creative freedom and flexibility. You can have fun bringing your vision to life.
Smart Layout Suggestions and Design Recommendations
Microsoft Designer goes beyond being a mere design tool. It’s a knowledgeable design assistant. The tool employs artificial intelligence. It can analyze your design and provide smart layout suggestions and recommendations. So even if making images isn’t “your thing,” you can make something decent.
The AI help is useful for those who may be new to design or seeking inspiration. Your “design assistant” can offer optimal font pairings, appropriate image placements, and more.
Microsoft Designer helps you make informed design choices. This elevates the visual impact of your creations. It also keeps you from spending hours on one design.
Seamless Collaboration and Integration
Collaboration is essential in today’s digital workspace. Microsoft Designer understands this need. The tool offers seamless collaboration capabilities. It allows several users to work on the same design project simultaneously.
You can easily share your designs with team members or clients. As well as get real-time feedback and edits. Furthermore, Microsoft Designer integrates seamlessly with other Microsoft Office applications. Such as PowerPoint and Word. This creates a cohesive workflow across different design and documentation tasks. The ability to collaborate ensures efficient teamwork. The integration with other tools enhances productivity.
Accessibility and Cross-Platform Support
Microsoft Designer recognizes the importance of accessibility and cross-platform compatibility. The tool is available both as a web application and as a desktop application. You can use it on Windows and Mac.
Use it working on your desktop computer or from a mobile device. The tool also adheres to accessibility standards. This means it’s inclusive and usable for individuals with diverse needs.
What Does It Autogenerate?
Just for fun, let’s see what we get with the AI-generated option. We’ll describe our design as, “a sales ad for orange juice with palm trees.”
In just a few seconds, this is what Microsoft Designer generated as options.
While some images might not be relevant, it gives many options that are. If you’re not getting what you want the first time, rephrase your prompt.
If you’re seeking a user-friendly design tool, Microsoft Designer is worth exploring. Whether you’re a seasoned designer or a beginner, it can save you time and money.
Learn More About Our Microsoft 365 Support
Microsoft 365 is a vast universe of apps. Ones that can lower costs and boost your productivity. From the Office suite to Intune for endpoint management, it’s a valuable asset.
Need help with M365 questions? Looking for setup and security support? We can help. Give us a call today to schedule a chat about our Microsoft support services.
One area of cloud computing that is used widely, but often isn’t as flashy as the software side is cloud storage. Storing files in the cloud to make them easily accessible and shareable from anywhere was one of the very first uses of the cloud that was adopted widely by many users.
As advances like automation and AI come to other types of cloud services, like team communications and business apps, cloud storage is not being left behind. The industry also continues to evolve to make storing data in the cloudless complex, more reliable, and better secured.
It’s estimated that in 2021, 50% of all company data was stored in the cloud. This is an increase of 15% from just five years earlier. With today’s hybrid teams that may be working from home and be hundreds or thousands of miles away from co-workers, it’s important to centrally locate files in cloud systems that can be accessed by everyone.
What can you expect to see in the cloud storage market this year? Here are some of the most interesting trends to keep an eye on.
1. Built-in Ransomware Defenses
Ransomware can impact data no matter where it is stored. Whether on a computer, server or in a cloud storage platform, this malware can encrypt the information and make it unreadable to the business that owns it.
In 2021, the average ransomware payment increased by 82% and ransomware incidents rose 64% during the first half of the year. A survey of CISOs found that over the last 18 months, 98% of organizations suffered a cloud data breach.
To combat ransomware, you’ll begin seeing cloud storage services offering ransomware recovery protection. This involves sophisticated systems that can help prevent files from being encrypted by code as well as those that take a copy of files and store it securely away, so files can be restored at the click of a button.
With ransomware showing no sign of stopping, this is a welcome addition in the cloud storage arena.
2. “The Edge” Becomes More Key in Cloud Storage
One of the new buzzwords of the last few years has been “Edge” or “Edge computing.” This means bringing data applications and storage resources geographically closer to the user that needs to connect to them.
As reliance on cloud storage and other cloud applications has increased, so has the need to improve response times from user to server. When data must travel across large distances, it becomes more difficult to quickly and economically deliver the best user experience. Thus, cloud service providers have been moving to an Edge computing model.
What this means for you is better reliability and faster response when accessing or searching on files because your provider is going to work to provide your service from one of the company’s cloud servers that is geographically closer to your location.
For companies with offices spread out around a country or throughout the world, this means that you’ll want to keep service location in mind when signing up for cloud storage and have a discussion with the provider about distance and how Edge computing factors in.
3. Expect More Help from AI and Machine Learning
AI and machine learning are making just about every area of technology smarter. Microsoft Word and text message apps now predict what you might type to help you fill in the blanks and type faster. Programs like Photoshop can crop around a person in an image in seconds using AI.
AI is also going to become more prevalent in cloud storage this year. You can expect help with automatic organization of your files based on your cloud storage patterns.
Look for features designed to eliminate manual or repetitive tasks to free up more time. This includes AI helping to automate things like provisioning, obtaining, and importing data (known as “ingesting”), managing data retention, and more.
4. Legacy Vendors Begin Offering More Cloud Options
2022 is going to bring more cloud storage options coming from legacy technology providers. For example, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise recently introduced a new Data Services Cloud Console, and Dell Technologies just announced a new APEX multi-cloud design that it is working on to improve the cloud ecosystem.
More cloud storage options mean you may need more help deciding which model will work best for you, as pricing will vary widely. You don’t want to end up with more storage than you need or be paying a lot for a smaller amount of space.
It pays to keep on top of new offerings and understand that every new cloud storage option might not be a fit for your organization’s specific data storage needs.
Get Help Optimizing Your Cloud Storage & Backup Environment
Your business data is what runs your company, and it needs to be stored securely and in a way that’s accessible. Find out how we can help you optimize your cloud storage to improve cost efficiency.
In 2020, 75% of companies around the world experienced a phishing attack. Phishing remains one of the biggest dangers to your business’s health and wellbeing because it’s the main delivery method for all types of cyberattacks.
One phishing email can be responsible for a company succumbing to ransomware and having to face costly downtime. It can also lead a user to unknowingly hand over the credentials to a company email account that the hacker then uses to send targeted attacks to customers.
Phishing takes advantage of human error, and some phishing emails use sophisticated tactics to fool the recipient into divulging information or infecting a network with malware.
Mobile phishing threats skyrocketed by 161% in 2021.
Your best safeguards against the continuous onslaught of phishing include:
Ongoing employee cybersecurity awareness training
To properly train your employees and ensure your IT security is being upgraded to meet the newest threats you need to know what new phishing dangers are headed your way.
Here are some of the latest phishing trends that you need to watch out for in 2022.
Phishing Is Increasingly Being Sent via Text Message
Fewer people are suspicious of text messages than they are of unexpected email messages. Most phishing training is usually focused on the email form of phishing because it’s always been the most prevalent.
But cybercrime entities are now taking advantage of the easy availability of mobile phone numbers and using text messaging to deploy phishing attacks. This type of phishing (called “smishing”) is growing in volume.
People are receiving more text messages now than they did in the past, due in large part to retailers and service businesses pushing their text updates for sales and delivery notices.
This makes it even easier for phishing via SMS to fake being a shipment notice and get a user to click on a shortened URL.
Business Email Compromise Is on the Rise
Ransomware has been a growing threat over the last few years largely because it’s been a big money-maker for the criminal groups that launch cyberattacks. A new up-and-coming form of attack is beginning to be quite lucrative and thus is also growing.
Business email compromise (BEC) is on the rise and being exploited by attackers to make money off things like gift card scams and fake wire transfer requests.
What makes BEC so dangerous (and lucrative) is that when a criminal gains access to a business email account, they can send very convincing phishing messages to employees, customers, and vendors of that company. The recipients will immediately trust the familiar email address, making these emails potent weapons for cybercriminals.
Small Businesses Are Being Targeted More Frequently With Spear Phishing
There is no such thing as being too small to be attacked by a hacker. Small businesses are targeted frequently in cyberattacks because they tend to have less IT security than larger companies.
43% of all data breaches target small and mid-sized companies, and 40% of small businesses that become victims of an attack experience at least eight hours of downtime as a result.
Spear phishing is a more dangerous form of phishing because it’s targeted and not generic. It’s the type deployed in an attack using BEC.
It used to be that spear-phishing was used for larger companies because it takes more time to set up a targeted and tailored attack. However, as large criminal groups and state-sponsored hackers make their attacks more efficient, they’re able to more easily target anyone.
A result is small businesses receiving more tailored phishing attacks that are harder for their users to identify as a scam.
The Use of Initial Access Brokers to Make Attacks More Effective
We just discussed the fact that large criminal groups are continually optimizing their attacks to make them more effective. They treat cyberattacks like a business and work to make them more profitable all the time.
One way they are doing this is by using outside specialists called Initial Access Brokers. This is a specific type of hacker that only focuses on getting the initial breach into a network or company account.
The increasing use of these experts in their field makes phishing attacks even more dangerous and difficult for users to detect.
Business Impersonation Is Being Used More Often
As users have gotten savvier about being careful of emails from unknown senders, phishing attackers have increasingly used business impersonation. This is where a phishing email will come in looking like a legitimate email from a company that the user may know or even do business with.
Amazon is a common target of business impersonation, but it also happens with smaller companies as well. For example, there have been instances where website hosting companies have had client lists breached and those companies sent emails impersonating the hosting company and asking the users to log in to an account to fix an urgent problem.
More business impersonation being used in phishing attacks mean users have to be suspicious of all emails, not just those from unknown senders.
Is Your Company Adequately Protected from Phishing Attacks?
It’s important to use a multi-layered strategy when it comes to defending against one of the biggest dangers to your business’s wellbeing. Get started with a cybersecurity audit to review your current security posture and identify ways to improve.
Design trends are reactions to technological and cultural changes. Product creators follow design trends for a reason — incorporating newer design trends into a product’s design can make the product look fresh and desirable to the target audience, and this creates a substantial competitive advantage.
But the problem with design trends is that they come and go, and it can be hard to know which trend to follow. An incorrect decision can cause a lot of problems. Just imagine that you’ve put a lot of time and effort into incorporating a particular style into your brand guidelines, only to discover that this style is now obsolete.
Now, when it’s almost the end of the year, it’s time to make an educated guess on what we will see in 2020. In this article, I’ve summarized the top 12 most powerful design trends that will dominate in 2020 and beyond.
1. Gradients 2.0
Ultra minimalism dominated product design for a long time. Designers strived to reduce all visual properties and leave only essential objects such as key content and functional elements. As a result, they created products that used exaggerated amounts of white space and practically no color. Ultra minimalism made all interfaces look similar.
Users got bored with dull designs, and designers started to experiment with various visual styles. One particular style that found itself in the spotlight — gradients. In 2018 and 2019, gradients started to replace the flat colors. Gradients add some depth in flat layouts and make them more visually interesting. Both product teams and stakeholders love gradients because branding colors could be used to create them.
Gradients are a versatile tool. They can be used in various contexts such as a background for content, as color filters over the images or illustrations, or as an accent for functional elements such as the call to action buttons.
Gradients look equally good on the large screen of TV or desktop and a small display of mobile devices.
But compared to the gradients used by designers in previous years, the new generation of gradients has different styling. Gradients 2.0 can be subtle (created using muted colors) or loud (created using vibrant colors), but in both cases, they are relatively simple, using a single clear light source and created using one or two colors.
2. Abstract illustrations
It’s a well-known fact that using a custom illustration style is an excellent way to make a brand stand out. Genuine illustrations are part of a product or brand DNA. Competitors can copy your color scheme or typography, but not your illustration style.
Digital illustrations have taken center stage over the past few years. In 2019 we saw a boom of illustrations. All large companies introduced illustrations in their visual language. Here just a few honorable mentions:
But recently, it has become apparent that illustrations don’t have the same eye-catching power that they did before. With so many illustration styles around, it becomes hard for the users to match a particular style to a specific company.
In an attempt to make illustrations more effective, designers started to embrace more abstract illustrations styles, and this style will dominate in 2020.
However, there is an important thing that designers should remember when working on abstract graphics. It’s vital to make sure that your audience can interpret what you are trying to say. Illustrations that are too abstract won’t have much business value, and they will be more like a work of art rather than a functional element that serves a specific business purpose.
3. Bold fonts
If you visit the websites of industry leaders, you might notice that the headline, not imagery, is the first thing that grabs your attention. Hero headlines aren’t a new trend at all. But the interesting thing is the way those headlines are designed. Have you noticed that many of those headlines are designed with large bold fonts? Heavy fonts put more visual weight to the message and direct the reader to where they should look first. From an aesthetic point of view, bold fonts also give designs a modern and contemporary feel.
With the release of Apple iOS 13, bold headlines become an integral part of iOS apps. If we evaluate this design decision in terms of usability, it will be clear that heavy fonts are great for creating contrast (which improves text readability) and visual hierarchy of elements (which improves content comprehension). That’s why bold fonts are so popular among mobile designers.
At the same time, when using any heavy or bold font, it’s vital not overuse it. Here are a few things that you need to take into account:
Bold typography can be a little overwhelming when there’s a lot of it to read. If everything is bold, then nothing is bold. That’s why you should try to use these bold fonts only for short pieces of text or headers/subheaders.
Don’t forget about the contrast — a heavy font will have more impact when contrasted against a neutral background.
Use simple fonts. When it comes to text elements, the first thought should always be readability. It’s recommended to use Sans Serif fonts because they scale well. Also, when picking a bold sans-serif font, look for letters with round shape.
4. Geometric Shapes
Geometric shapes are a simple yet powerful asset that allows designers to create more appealing visual compositions. Commonly, geometric shapes are used to create visual dividers between sections.
But in 2019, designers started to find more interesting ways to use geometric objects. Many product teams use geometric shapes to convey a specific feel. For example, soft geometric shapes can help create a futuristic look:
While sharp lines and edges can convey a brutalist feel:
This trend works well with other visual design trends, such as gradients and bold fonts.
If you’re considering adding geometric shapes in your design and looking for inspiration, you can find perfect shapes in nature.
5. Emotional design
Design is communication. When we think about communication, we naturally think about delivering and receiving information. But there is one aspect of communication that can easily be missed — emotions. For a long time, product teams were focussed on creating great usability. But today, the focus has shifted towards great usability and the right emotional impact. Companies are quickly moving from neutral design towards a design that has an emotional impact.
Designers have a lot of tools in their toolbox that allows them to create more emotional interactions. For example, you can bake some humor in a design:
Or you could utilize simple animated effects to create delightful micro-interactions.
Humans are visual creatures. For many people, it’s easier to comprehend the information when it’s provided visually, rather than in text. Data visualization is quickly becoming an essential tool for creating visually engaging stories. The stories, like the one you see below, can captivate your audience and make them want to learn more about your brand.
“Show, don’t tell” is a foundational principle of good product design. Imagery plays a crucial role in visual design because it helps the designers to deliver the main idea quickly.
For a long time, web designers have had to use static imagery to convey their main idea. But the situation has changed. High-speed connections make it much easier for web designers to turn their home pages into immersive movie-style experiences. That’s why in 2019, we’ve seen more and more websites that use short video clips on their home pages.
Video makes the experience more live and dynamic. It engages users, and they are more willing to spend time watching clips. Video clips used in a hero section can vary from a few seconds of looped video to full-length preview clips with audio.
For a long time, 3D objects were only used in games and entertainment. With the rise of device processing power, we have 3D objects emerging on regular websites both on desktop and mobile versions. By introducing 3D objects and pseudo-3D objects in web experience, you add realism to interactions.
9. Scroll-Generated Websites
The power of modern technologies can help us create a lot more than just web experience — they allow us to create immersive visual journeys for our visitors. Scroll-generated websites track the user’s progress as they scroll the page and show contextually-relevant information. Scroll-generated websites use the power of motion and animation effects to capture user attention and introduce dynamism in user interactions. Those effects add an extra layer of meaning into existing content and make it more memorable for users.
10. Dark UI
You may have noticed that some of the largest companies are adding light and dark modes to their products. A dark mode is a low-light user interface that displays mostly dark surfaces. Embracing the dual-colored design trend has two significant benefits to user experience: dark themes help to reduce eye strain by adjusting the brightness of the screen to current lighting conditions, and they conserve the battery power of mobile devices by reducing the use of light pixels.
The ideology of “one-size-fits-all” does not work for 2019 users. Brands are seeking for ways to fine-tune the user experience as meticulously as possible, and a personalized experience has quickly moved from a “nice-to-have” to a “must-have.”
SoundCloud is a music service that considers the preferences of its users and suggests the music that they like. The services do it based on the music you play and tracks you like.
With the rise of machine learning and artificial intelligence, it’s becoming much easier to make the user experience more personal.
12. Design Systems
Modern product design is all about speed and quality. Product teams should move fast without losing the quality along the way. Taking into account the fact that a single product usually should be released on multiple platforms, it can be hard to achieve this goal. Design systems are the answer to the scaling needs of the product team.
In 2019, more teams are starting to incorporate a systematic approach to design. While design systems are not a web design trend, they have a significant impact on web design. Thanks to design systems, product teams can reduce repetitive work and, even more important, achieve consistency across all platforms they design for.
Some of the trends you read in this article will be familiar to you, and some might be completely new. But don’t rush to implement all those trends in your products.
No matter how impressive the trends seem to be, it’s important to remember that the mission of the designer should always stay the same: help users achieve their goals by creating more usable products. That’s why fashion should never trump usability. It’s vital to evaluate every trend and implement only solutions that create a better user experience for your users.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nick Babich is a developer, tech enthusiast, and UX lover. He has spent the last 10 years working in the software industry with a specialized focus on development. He counts advertising, psychology, and cinema among his myriad interests.
We are amidst the 4th Industrial Revolution, and technology is evolving faster than ever. Companies and individuals that don’t keep up with some of the major tech trends run the risk of being left behind. Understanding the key trends will allow people and businesses to prepare and grasp the opportunities.