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By 2020, there will be more than 24 billion connected devices. This wave of connections is already impacting the way we live and work. Of course, for small-business owners, life and work are usually intertwined: Running a business is a 24/7 job.
Thankfully, the internet of things (IoT) can actually help small-business owners streamline their processes and work more efficiently. Think of those 24 billion devices and services as an opportunity to work smarter, not harder!
From where I sit, I see five ways every small business should be leveraging this new technology and other connected services.
1. Give yourself an unpaid assistant (legally!).
Invest in a Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa device. You can even use Google Assistant with your smartphone. You can use either device to control other smart devices, but the assist really comes into play when you connect them to note-taking tools, reminder and task management systems, your calendars or even social media. Considering 98 percent of IFTTT users we surveyed think they’ll be using their voice assistants in five years plus from now, it’s a trend that’s here to stay.
2. Cut down on your multitasking.
Quick: How many tabs, applications and windows do you have open? Studies show that most of us are pretty terrible at multitasking. Make the most of your time by setting up workflows that pipe the things you need into one place. This could mean Evernote, Google Drive, Trello, OneNote, Slack even your email inbox or calendar — you can customize the system that works for you, and then fill it with important notifications, news, campaign stats, leads and sales data.
3. Automate office maintenance.
At a small company, leaving the lights on overnight or forgetting to lock the door can have big consequences. Take some of the pressure off and automate the office routine with some IoT devices. It doesn’t have to be a huge outlay: A smart office space no longer means installing a complicated system or buying a multi-device package.
For a couple hundred dollars you can get a state-of-the-art smart lock and a set of connected light bulbs. Then, turn on automations that will shut down and open up the office for you. You might even have money left over for a coffeemaker that will start brewing when you walk through the door. Think of all the money you’ll save on Starbucks!
4. Communicate better with your team.
Don’t worry — IoT hasn’t evolved to the point where a robot boss is waiting to take your job. But, chances are some of the routine reminders and updates you share with your employees could be automated. If you use a communication tool like Slack, Skype, CiscoSpark, GroupMe or Telegram, you can make sure the right information gets shared with the team, at the right time. For example, you can set automatic reminders for yourself before meetings start or share important news to a group.
5. Monitor your competitors.
For many small businesses, hiring a PR team to get the scoop on the industry and their competitors is probably low on the priority list. But, keeping an eye on those things can give you an edge. Try using the search and keyword function for services like Twitter and Reddit, or traditional news media, to get notified when there’s an update about one of your rivals. You could even subscribe to their newsletters and funnel them into Slack or forward them automatically to share inspiration with the team.
By now you’ve got the idea: It’s all about outsourcing routine tasks, so you have time for the things that really matter. IoT isn’t stealing your job — it’s empowering you to do your job better.
In the United States, 99.7 percent of businesses are small businesses, so all of these devices and systems are building with you in mind (if they know what’s good for them!). It’s okay to start small, too. Take a look at your day-to-day, and identify one area where you’re spending more time than you’d like, and begin your IoT journey there.
Think of the IoT as an endless toolkit. As you start to pick and choose the tools that will unlock your growth, you’ll find a wealth of documentation and tutorials to help you make the right decisions.