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How the cloud is helping small business
Small businesses have always struggled to compete with their regional and national counterparts, but recent online developments - specifically the cloud - are helping small businesses push forward to attract more consumer attention.
I recently chatted with Xero's Philip Fierlinger about the cloud and small business.
Kristina: How is the cloud affecting small businesses online?
Philip: The cloud is making small businesses more productive by saving time, cutting costs and giving owners a better view of their finances. Business owners save time because they don't need to download or install anything. They save money because cloud applications generally have fixed monthly fees rather than hefty up-front fees followed by unpredictable extras for upgrades, maintenance and support. Since cloud applications run online, information can be updated or checked from anywhere. Business owners make quicker, better-informed decisions because they have constant access to real-time information.
Kristina: Both Black Friday and Cyber Monday saw significant traffic - and purchase - increases for online merchants. Do you expect this trend to continue throughout the holidays?
Philip: Definitely. The rise of smartphones and tablets have made online shopping more accessible for consumers. As online shopping has become more accessible, it has also become more prevalent, and will likely continue to do so - throughout the holidays and well into the future.
Even traditional shopping is developing an online component. Shoppers use their phones to research the best deals on the fly and stores like Sears and Kmart let people use QR codes to pay directly from their smartphones. This means that retailers need to have the right systems in place to sell products online in order to compete.
Kristina: How does the Xero app work? Why is this beneficial to small businesses?
Philip: Xero is an online accounting tool that does invoicing, billing and banking. Xero makes it possible for businesses to control their cash flow, in real-time. Controlling cash flow is the key to success for every small business. And with Xero, business owners can collaborate online with their advisors - their accountant, bookkeeper, financial advisor, business partner etc. This helps identify opportunities for growth and any problems can be dealt with immediately, before they get out of control.
Kristina: One challenge for smaller businesses online is that shoppers are going to 'big box' websites. How can SMBs compete with that kind of name recognition?
Philip: While 'big box' websites are great at appealing to the masses, there's an opportunity for small businesses to offer niche products and services that are unavailable elsewhere. With social media on the rise, it's becoming easier to develop a word-of-mouth following for these niche offerings. Cloud applications play a key role in this strategy by helping small businesses get up and running quickly. The time saved lets them focus on selling their products as a clear alternative to the 'big box' stores.
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