In 2015, pivotal technological trends came like rip currents sweeping businesses back to sea, forcing them to reinvent themselves via modern technology. This is the year when the Internet of Things (IoT), wearable devices, and intelligence everywhere concepts rose to help companies get new customers, retain old ones, improve operations, and establish thought leadership. The year also welcomed virtual reality and the use of evolved cloud and mobile platforms into the business fold. It challenged entrepreneurs to invest available resources into tools, which, depending on how they’re used, can make or break businesses.
The offline and online realms merged in 2015. We saw this in virtual games, location-based services, cross-platform services, big data used for real-life incidents, and all other manifestations of the virtual world in the physical.
Entrepreneurs are in the midst of all these technologies. As decision makers in one-man, small and mid-sized, or gargantuan organizations, we are in the position to implement and use a number of popular tools to gain a competitive advantage.
Take a look at these trending tools widely used by entrepreneurs in 2015.
Social Media Channels
Entrepreneurs may have shied away from social media channels when boosting brands or businesses in the past. However, the past year has shown their growing fondness for social networks. More CEOs are slowly establishing their social presence on select platforms. Social business pages are continually being used to convert clients using features such as the Buy Now button on Facebook, the image-heavy profile pages of Instagram and Tumblr, and the real-time customer service appeal of Twitter.
Apart from signing up for the channels, entrepreneurs have also used other tools that can help manage their content. Social account management tools like HootSuite and Sprinklr have also helped entrepreneurs run campaigns, schedule posts, and monitor trends.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Systems
Only a few things on Earth matter more to an entrepreneur than a satisfied and happy customer. As such, tools that help ensure customer satisfaction, such as customer relationship management (CRM) systems, are among their most significant investments.
While it is arguable that small businesses may not need CRM systems as their customer base are easily handled in Excel files, experienced entrepreneurs knew better. These systems go far beyond tables and formulas as they can streamline the whole sales process, ensuring that customers’ needs are met beyond expectation and with minimal oversight.
Industry-standard systems include SalesForce, SugarCRM, ZohoCRM, and Bitrix24.
Offshore and/or Freelance Services
The rapid pace of technology may prove too hasty for businesses with focused skill sets. To expand alongside mobile and cloud trends, many entrepreneurs opted to employ offshore and/or freelance candidates for their modular projects. Entrepreneurs who have properly reviewed their options and have clear-cut goals are already aware which tasks to assign to freelancers or telecommuting employees. This option frees entrepreneurs from supervisory duties and allows for more creativity on the part of the freelancers—a true win-win when done right.
With the help of online Web services such as Freelancer.com, entrepreneurs are now able to easily match their projects with professionals who have the right background and skill set. This trend further expands the idea of a global marketplace of freelance employees, which can be harnessed with minimal risks and maximum positive outcome.
Mind Mapping and Creativity Tools
Many entrepreneurs work well when complex information are processed into manageable pieces and laid out into a concrete multi-point plan. Mind mapping tools provide an avenue for laying down pieces of information onto a clear surface so as to figure out where they all fit in the grand scheme of the business. Because they are unstructured, mind mapping mechanisms give entrepreneurs free reign to be more creative and receptive to ideas that may help achieve the goals.
What’s great with mind mapping is its versatility. Its medium can be anything, from drawing boards and markers to attractive Web visualizations. Many entrepreneurs swear by WorkFlowy, XMind, Freemind, Coggle, and others to visualize their ideas.
Bootcamps and Intensive Training
As we have mentioned earlier, many entrepreneurs encounter the problem of lacking skills in their employed workforce. To resolve that, many swore by the power of bootcamps and intensive training not only to empower their employees but also educate themselves on the basics of the latest technological trend. Bootcamps have a reputation of transforming beginners into experts, provided that entrepreneurs choose the learning style that suits them best, their goals, and the expertise of the schools they’re enrolling into.
Digital Marketing Tools
As more people become mobile, more and more entrepreneurs feel the need to follow them across platforms and devices. Because of this, digital marketing tools specifically created to help entrepreneurs find customers – and be found by them – are among the most sought-after products of 2015. These include multichannel advertising options like SproutSocial, which can effectively link CRM systems to emails, social media, paid ads, and eCommerce channels. Customer service tools that provide real-time support, such as Zendesk, are also invaluable to entrepreneurs.
Since digital marketing puts a premium on quality content, tools that help create them are also in demand. Entrepreneurs benefit from services that provide quality videos and images, such as Visual.ly and Canva.
Moreover, Web analytics tools help entrepreneurs measure key performance indicators, even in real time. Tools like Google Analytics and Kiss Metrics can help analyze customer behavior, show areas of improvement, and highlight strategies that work.
Programmatic Advertising Tools
Big data has become a commodity during the past year and entrepreneurs are quick to grab at the chance of gaining customer insights from that sea of valuable information. This is where programmatic advertising takes its role in automating media buying for marketers. No more guessing perfect keywords and running test campaigns that take up time, as services like DoubleClick by Google and RocketFuel can be used to help figure out where brands should target their ads and get the most conversions.
Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) Products
When Google Glass first came out, entrepreneurs were among the first to sign up to get one. Why? Because we want to see how this immersive experience can be used for digital marketing and daily operations. As virtual reality content slowly rolls out into the market, we expect to see entrepreneurs provide content meant for this format, which can show more than just games and 3D movies.
In the augmented reality corner, which boasts of a technology that can bring idle real-life items to life via smartphones and other devices, entrepreneurs were also quick to engage for marketing and personal purposes. The market is still growing, but you can trust that entrepreneurs have tried at least one AR app to check what the hype is about and how it can be channeled for practical marketing uses.
Backup Drives and Software
In the past year, we have seen an influx of ransomware and data loss scares, which logically prompted entrepreneurs to protect their data. Backup copies can be stored in physical hard drives and online backup sites. While many store their files on Google Drive or OneDrive, many entrepreneurs have upgraded to enterprise-grade options like Zetta.net and CrashPlan to handle heavier data processing.
Backup mechanisms are like common household products; you can just leave them and forget about them. However, following the 3-2-1 backup rule, it is best to keep at least three copies in two different formats, with one of those copies off-site.
Virtual Private Network (VPN) and Proxy Services
As the issue of privacy loomed darker in 2015, many entrepreneurs opted for added security measures for their online tasks. Virtual private networks (VPNs) and proxies provide an added level of anonymity for users, though they are not the end-all of security. Because of this, many entrepreneurs took to premium VPNs like Spotflux and ExpressVPN to add another layer of security to their Internet activity.
Cross-platform Security Products
Apart from the issue of privacy, companies are also at risk of traditional and new-generation threats in the form of malware, vulnerabilities, social engineering, spam, and cyber-attacks. These threats can come from different fronts and affect different endpoints. Attackers can target mobile phones, email addresses, or specific machines. As such, entrepreneurs were quick to adapt cross-platform security products that can block these threats, wherever they try to come in. These products may come in the form of spam filters, sandboxes, antimalware solutions, privacy filters, mobile antimalware, and password managers.
2015 gave entrepreneurs the push they need to try out new tools and technologies that can boost businesses, and there will most likely be more to come this 2016. Mobile and cloud computing have gone to greater heights, allowing for the automation of processes as critical as infrastructure systems and as personal as smart wearable device systems. It is with the use of new technology that entrepreneurs will also be able to handle these new megatrends.
From handling marketing automation to virtual reality trends, the available tools are scalable enough for entrepreneurs running businesses of any size. It doesn’t hurt to dive into these trends, but not without proper education. Remember though, that with the influx of technological trends also comes various security risks, for which privacy and security tools can be entrepreneurs’ best friends.