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Traditionally, small business technology has gone no further than Quickbooks and MICROS point-of-sales systems. But software companies are starting to build products for the little guys, and a new generation of technology serving small businesses is on its way. In 2012 we are witnessing the emergence of three small business tech trends: the democratization of payments, the rise of SMB analytics, and the availability of small business marketing technology.
1. Democratization of Payments
Payment processing has long been oligarchic. Dominated by a handful of providers, small businesses needed a network of merchant accounts, terminal providers, and more, all with myriad fees, just to accept the most popular credit cards. Now startups like FeeFighters, Stripe, and Square are working to democratize payment processing.
FeeFighters makes it easy for small businesses to compare the costs of different credit card processors. You enter some basic information about your business, payments volumes, and you then get bids from various providers. FeeFighters main value proposition is making it dead simple for businesses to compare providers without having to manually negotiate with dozens of competitors. Reaffirming this, Groupon announced they were acquiring FeeFighters in March to beef up their services for small businesses.
Square makes it easy for small businesses to have an elegant, data-rich point-of-sales system with payment processing built in. Square has two main value propositions. First, it provides a 2.75% flat processing fee with no transaction fees. In addition, its Square Register is free and thus dramatically cheaper than buying a typical MICROS system.
Stripe is the online analogue to Square, providing a plug and play online payments API that does not require a merchant account or gateway. For small ecommerce merchants, it clears out all the previous clutter of accounts needed to accept credit cards and rolls it up into one simple platform.
Many small business owners struggle to capture and understand the data surrounding their business. This year we saw many new analytics tools for small businesses reach the mainstream. Startups like Profitably, InDinero, and again Square make analytics a focus in their small business offerings.
Profitably provides small businesses with plug-and-play dashboard to track the financials of their business. You can think of it as lightweight business intelligence software. Indinero also competes in this space, but with an additional focus on being a lightweight accounting replacement as well.
Square’s aforementioned point-of-sale solution also provides deep analytics on consumer purchases such as busiest time periods, popular menu items, and average transaction sizes. By integrating analytics out of the gate, Square makes it unavoidable that businesses will effect smarter data-based decisions.
3. Marketing Technology
Small businesses finally have access to powerful marketing technology. For a long time, digital marketing was a muddled field that was hard for small businesses to navigate. Now companies such as HubSpot, Heyo, and North Social make it simple for businesses of any size to market themselves online.
HubSpot is a simplified marketing automation platform that starts at only $200/month, rather than the four-figure price tags of Marketo or Eloqua. With a focus on small and growing businesses, HubSpot makes it easy to track and manage the lifecycle of a customer.
Heyo is the new iteration of popular social marketing tool Lujure. Heyo lets businesses create a mobile app, Facebook tab, and browser website with one tool. By allowing small businesses to cover three bases with one tool, Heyo makes it much less stressful for small businesses to break into online marketing.
Finally, North Social makes it simple for small businesses to create specific Facebook marketing tabs on a subscription basis. Starting at $0.99/day, you can access marketing apps such as sweepstakes and deals. And it’s been working. Last year, Vocus acquired North Social in a deal worth over $20 million.
Small businesses now have more access than ever to technology that can drive revenue and cut costs. From payments to analytics to marketing, technology innovation is no longer limited to the enterprise and the consumer space. Now it’s up to small businesses to adopt this technology—or fall behind.