This post originally appeared on startupnation.com/grow-your-business
Believe it or not, the year and the decade are coming to a close. Now is the time time for business owners to start planning for an uncertain year ahead, not to mention the years to come.
Every startup has its own challenges to face—up and down sales, late invoices, hiring difficulties and more. On top of that, 2020 is shaping up to be a potentially difficult year for all businesses, between tariffs, a possible economic downturn and political upheaval.
Of course, businesses can thrive in the worst of times, as well as the best of times. The trick is to have enough tools in your arsenal to help navigate uneven periods, avoid potential disasters and take full advantage of the moments when business is booming.
With that in mind, here are six tools startups must have in 2020:
When we think of cybersecurity threats and breaches, we often think of the cases that make the news—hacks that spill the data collected by corporations, banks and big-box stores.
And yet, small businesses are almost as likely as a big business to fall prey to a cybersecurity attack: according to a Data Breach Investigations Report from Verizon, nearly half of all breaches impacted small and medium businesses. As a result, 60 percent of those businesses end up failing within six months of the attack, according to the U.S National Cyber Security Alliance.
The takeaway is clear: cybersecurity attacks pose a growing, existential threat to small businesses.
But more than four out of five small business owners don’t think they’re a target for attacks. They don’t believe they have assets worth a hacker’s time. But of course you do—your business is your life’s work, and if a hacker can more easily infiltrate your defenses than those of a larger enterprise, that makes you an easy target.
Cybersecurity software, therefore, is a must. Some security providers make a version for small businesses—such as Reason for Business—that tracks Malware and provides antivirus protection and threat management capabilities. Educating employees on best practices and security policies is a requirement, as well.
Collaborative task and project management
For many businesses, remote work is becoming the new normal. If your business allows for employees to work from home, either part-time or full-time, you’ve probably considered it.
Remote work has grown by 91 percent over the last decade. It’s a compelling perk for businesses looking to land young, talented workers in a competitive economy. And by many measures, it leads to more productivity and happiness among workers.
In order to work effectively with remote workers, however, you’ll need to invest in one of the many excellent collaborative task management and tracking platforms that have proliferated in recent years.
Some tools, such as Airtable, function as project databases, allowing everyone in your team to see the status of ongoing projects no matter where they’re working from. Other tools track tasks and notify team members when you need their input or sign off, such as Trello and Asana.
And of course, communication tools like Slack allow employees to chat, video call, send documents and screenshare with ease. No distance will get between you and your employees with the right collaborative tools.
Automated customer service
One of the benefits of having an e-commerce site is that you can sell to your customers any time of day or night. You can sell while you’re sleeping, or on vacation or while you’re selling to someone else at the same time.
By that token, however, you should be able to deal with customer service requests at any time, as well. Customers expect you to.
According to Forrester, 66 percent of adults feel that the most important thing a company can do to provide them with a good customer experience is to value their time. A 24/7, fast customer service solution is therefore key.
AI-powered, automated customer service solutions via a live chat function like Intercom are becoming the norm for many businesses. The truth is, many customer issues can likely be resolved without input from a human agent—updates on a shipment, or accepting a return, for example. The system can then route higher-level issues to humans to handle at a more opportune time.
Small businesses can use chatbots in a number of ways, including to convert leads to sales and making reservations. But a customer service function is perhaps the best example of using automation to take busy work off your plate in 2020.
One of the drawbacks of an e-commerce business and/or web presence of a brick-and-mortar is that your website is seemingly static. It can’t look customers in the eye and speak to them directly, or generate a different look and feel depending on who visits the page.
In reality, businesses can use personalization software to alter what appears to visitors, and when, in order to cater to each individual and make them more likely to convert. That might mean certain pop-ups that cater to customers who come to your site based on their web traffic source, or using engagement history to recommend certain pages or products.
For example, Segment allows you to categorize and sort customers that come to your site based on web traffic sources. Opt-In Monster lets you create exit-intent pop-ups that capture visitors before they leave your site, giving you a chance to convert them one last time.
This kind of smart, flexible website experience is the future of e-commerce, and getting on board before 2020 can help boost your customer loyalty and conversion rates in the new year.
Social media content creation
Social media marketing is one of those tasks that you know you need to tackle as a business owner, but you still can’t wrap your head around. How do you go viral, exactly? What convinces users to shop with you after seeing your tweet?
Social media is the present and future of e-commerce. More than 75 percent of all internet users use social media. People are influenced and inspired by what they see on the likes of Instagram and Facebook. Businesses are pouring billions into marketing themselves on social. How does the average entrepreneur keep up?
A tool like StoryBoost makes social media content creation easy—it outfits you with templates, content concepts, animations and other hallmarks of successful social campaigns. You can also use a scheduling platform like Sprout Social to help your business stay active on a variety of platforms around the clock.
Elite business credit card
Finally, if you’ve been operating your small business without a business credit card, it’s time to change that. Especially if you’re using your personal credit card to cover your charges, or not taking advantage of credit cards at all.
Some entrepreneurs are reticent to put too many of their expenses on credit. But not using one means missing on lucrative rewards and perks you can reinvest back into your business, from cashback to airline miles to discounts on certain products.
In addition, some elite business credit cards come with a 0 percent introductory APR that can last up to a year. That means, as long as you make your minimum payments, you won’t owe a cent in interest on your purchases throughout the life of your offer. No other business financing product offers such a deal.
Of course, once your offer is up, your APR will revert back to your previously agreed-upon rate, so check your terms and conditions. But if you haven’t taken advantage of this opportunity yet, this is a great way to finance the cost of major purchases (i.e. upgrades to equipment, or bulk deals on inventory) without hamstringing your cash flow. This will be especially useful if 2020 proves to be as up and down as some experts predict it might be.
The bottom line on 2020 small business tools
There are some tools that your small business must have that this list doesn’t cover, of course.
You should already be utilizing things like accounting software, customer relationship management software and a point of sale system. The above tools are either becoming mainstream or, conversely, are overlooked for a number of reasons. Bring them aboard in 2020 and you’ll be glad you did by the time the year is out.
The post 6 Essential Tools Your Startup Can’t Live Without in 2020 appeared first on StartupNation.