• Cumberland Area Economic Development Corporation
  • Serving Cumberland County
  • Pennsylvania’s destination for business and leisure
Back to list

How Small Businesses Stay Competitive in a Digital Age 

How Small Businesses Stay Competitive in a Digital Age

Nearly 90% of small business owners cite technology as a leading factor for surviving and thriving in challenging conditions — and that goes for new, existing and aspiring owners. Embracing the digital age and technology for small businesses empowers you to:

  • Set yourself apart: If your competitors already use the latest technology and have a strong digital presence, you risk being left behind. The more you’re equipped to evolve, the better shot you have to stay competitive and win over more customers. Who knows — you could even establish yourself as a leader or the authority in your industry.
  • Make processes more efficient: Nearly 80% of small business owners report that using tech platforms allows them to spend more time away from the business and with their families and loved ones. Digital tech and processes promote better hiring practices, employee collaboration and faster daily operation. A streamlined business leaves less room for error and more time to dedicate to other tasks.
  • Build customer relationships: Part of small businesses and technology working together is having a solid online presence, which lets you build stronger communication with current and potential customers through things like online FAQs, review sites and social media content.
  • Grow your business: Small businesses are more likely to see overall sales and profit growth when they incorporate tech platforms into their processes. Certain online mediums, like social media and content marketing, also let you expand your reach and connect with more potential customers across a wider pool of people.

Here are five ways your small business can stay competitive in the ever-changing digital age.

1. Build an Online Presence

An online presence is how your business appears to people across the internet and how you utilize that presence to maintain and grow your business. Though it takes some intentional strategizing, the benefits are worth it. An online presence can help you reach more customers, build relationships with existing ones and curate a positive reputation. It also lets you move into multiple sales channels if that’s part of your business goals. You don’t have to rely on in-person sales alone.

Before you build your online persona, take stock of what you already have and how you want to present your business. This means having consistent branding — your color scheme, logo, language and similar — and leveraging your current expertise.

Upgrade your skills with help from places like SCORE, which offers online marketing courses on topics like Getting Your Business Online, Building Your Website, Building and Growing Your Online Brand and Building Your Brand with Social Media. The Pennsylvania Small Business Development Center (SBDC) also sponsors marketing webinars and in-person workshops.

These are some of the most important avenues to focus your efforts:

Responsive Website Design

Your website is and should always be your primary focus, even if you don’t operate an e-commerce store. It’s where potential customers go to learn more about your business, including what it offers and how to reach out with any questions. And it’s not enough to have and update your website — it also needs to be responsive and adapt to the 63% of users visiting from a mobile device. Regularly test your website’s user experience by fixing broken links, improving load speeds and posting fresh content.

Social Media

In today’s landscape, a social media presence is just as significant as maintaining a website. Think about the ways you engage with your favorite brands, then create a list of places your target audience likely spends their time online. Every platform has its benefits, but certain ones speak louder to a specific audience. A bakery would find more traction on Facebook than LinkedIn, just as a consulting business would find a more relevant audience on LinkedIn than on TikTok.

Online Reviews

More than half of people aged 25 to 34 post business or product reviews online, and 36% rely on reviews to research a brand before doing business with them. While ensuring good customer service and offering high-quality products is essential for getting positive reviews, it’s also the number of reviews and how you engage with them that people consider. Interact professionally with positive and negative reviews on your Google Business Profile and third-party review sites. Note common complaints and use that information to create an improvement plan.

Digital Publications

Digital publications are a great resource for small businesses, especially if you’re part of the travel or hospitality industries. Look for local publications like the Cumberland Area Economic Development Corporation’s (CAEDC) Visit Cumberland Valley website, which offers information on things to do in the Cumberland Valley area. You can also reach out to the CAEDC team to learn more about partnering for tourism promotions, business grants and loans, business relocation and workforce development.

No matter what aspect of your online presence you’re working on, two things remain key — keep all information up to date and develop a plan for consistency. These two strategies alone will take you far and provide a great baseline to grow from.

2. Stay Informed About Emerging Trends

You can’t stay on top of digital trends if you’re not aware of them. Start by identifying which tasks and processes could benefit from streamlining or simplifying. Then, research your options online. If your business has a problem, there’s likely a software or tool that can help you overcome it. For example, if you find payroll takes up most of your weekend, switching to an automatic payroll management platform could save you countless hours.

You can also stay current on all things tech by:

  • Networking with others in your industry.
  • Reading industry publications.
  • Following thought leaders on social media.
  • Subscribing to small business publications.
  • Joining an association or council.
  • Reading online journals and blogs.
  • Attending local events like conferences and seminars.

Be discerning when trying out new tech — read online reviews, compare your options and only commit to a tool if you can expect tangible results.

Take Advantage of New Technology

3. Take Advantage of New Technology

More than 80% of small businesses that use six or more technology platforms see a profit increase. But that’s not to say you should rush out to invest in all the latest and greatest tech simply for the sake of it. Consider what you already have and how you can best leverage those skills or tools, then research options for improving, upgrading or replacing processes that could be more efficient.

Some helpful options to consider include:

  • Bookkeeping software
  • Productivity apps
  • Cloud accounts
  • Mobile payment options
  • Customer service chatbots
  • Business apps
  • Smart devices
  • Virtual and augmented reality tools
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Inventory management software
  • Vendor management tools

4. Prioritize Scalability and Flexibility

Scalability means setting your business up in such a way that you can easily adapt to growth. It’s also being flexible enough to change directions or adopt new processes when necessary to keep pace with the evolving digital world.

Start now by using technology to scale your most critical areas, like handling customer interactions or social media management. For example, you could invest in a centralized service that includes online chatbots for support directly on your website or download a smartphone app that lets you schedule social media posts ahead of time.

One part of building a scalable business is understanding that change is inevitable — just because a process or tool might work now doesn’t mean you shouldn’t periodically update or upgrade it to keep things moving.

5. Know When to Outsource

As a small business owner, you already have a great set of skills that equip you to take on the digital age — but that doesn’t mean there aren’t times when it may be better to outsource to a professional.

Outsourcing can be a powerful resource if you’ve got the budget for it. It gives you access to skilled professionals with the experience and tools to handle some of your more critical tasks, like IT management and security, website design or advanced online advertising. You won’t have to worry about learning a new skill or investing in expensive new software, freeing you up to focus on more pressing parts of business like product quality and customer service.

How Cumberland Area Econ Dev Corp Can Help

How Cumberland Area Econ Dev Corp Can Help

CAEDC is your partner for all things business in Cumberland County. Whether you’re thinking of starting a business here or are already a member of the community, we’re here to help bridge the gap between your operations and the services you need to thrive. CAEDC can assist with things like:

  • Financing and public funding
  • Tax structuring and abatements
  • Job creation and employee training resources
  • Marketing and tourism advertising

Visit our small businesses and entrepreneur page to learn more, or contact us today to start growing your Cumberland County business.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email