In the small tech world, it seems like there’s always some software, hardware, service, or gadget that is claiming to be The Next Big Thing. You know the kind of technology that promises to revolutionize your business and the world. The problem is, it can be hard to figure out early on if The Next Big Thing is the real deal (think: iPhone), or just unmerited hype (think: Google Glass).

It can be especially hard for a small business owner to decide if it’s worth spending money on the new technology. So, how do you distinguish the hype from the truth? We’ve collected six key questions you can ask yourself the next time you hear about The Next Big Thing and find yourself wanting to hop aboard.

1. “What Will the ROI Be?”

As a small business, you need every dollar you spend to provide a return on your investment. You don’t have the cash flow of a Fortune 500 company to gamble on investments that might not pan out. When The Next Big Thing’s (let’s shorten that to TNBT from now on) hype machine is hard at work, you’ll hear a lot of vague promises and marketing speak about what it can do for your business. Ignore it. Do your own homework and ask questions. Speak to those who have tried it. Try it yourself. Make projections. Consult your accountant. Before you spend anything, make sure you know exactly how TNBT is going to make your money back and how soon.

Like most small business owners, you’re going to want to measure ROI of a new technology before you invest in it. Measuring this can be very difficult. To start, you’ll want to ask yourself these questions:

  • Will the new technology increase revenues, generate new leads, help follow-up opportunities, identify new opportunities, or offer better customer service?
  • Will the new technology decrease expenses?
  • Will the new technology increase productivity by doing things faster, eliminating redundant tasks, cutting employee hours, increasing processing time?

If you answered yes to most of these questions, you may be in good shape for adopting a new technology. However, you should also consider:

  • Breadth. This is how many people will be helped by the technology. Generally, the more people technology helps the greater the ROI.
  • Repeatability. This involves how often people use the technology. The more often it is used, the greater the ROI.
  • Cost. You’ll also want to figure out how the upfront costs of the technology relate to cost savings it is supposed to bring in the future.
  • Collaboration. Communication methods can be expensive. The more collaborative a technology is, the greater the potential ROI.

2. “Will My Insurance Change?”

When adopting a new technology consider the impact it may have on other areas of your business. For instance does this Next Big Thing affect your insurance needs? It’s a good idea to check your insurance coverage. Changes to your business often create new risks, so it may be time to review a guide to risk management. For instance, you may need Professional Liability insurance to help cover any errors in services you provide caused by the new technology.

As technology advances, evolves, and improves you’ll want to keep your small business up to date. Although, before you jump into the latest and greatest technology, you should take a step back and evaluate it further. Be sure to research the ROI of the technology, how it will help your business grow, and what the costs are. You’ll want to make sure it’s the right time to implement the technology as well as make sure it will be useful throughout your business. In addition, you may need to adjust your insurance coverage depending on the technology.

3. “Will This Help My Business Grow?”

Adopting a new tech should always mean pushing your business forward. So, look at how TNBT could change your business. Will it streamline productivity, expand your services, and connect you with more customers? You want to be sure new tech generates new and better business that will see your company improve and grow.

When choosing technology for your small business, try and pick ones that have been proven to be effective. Look for technology that has a big community behind it showcasing increased sales, decreased expenses, and overall improvement. Choosing the right technology may just give your business a competitive advantage. This is often a result of the technology keeping costs low and enabling more price flexibility.

However, technology can detract from growth if implemented incorrectly. A lack of planning, a poor implementation team, bugged software, and untested software can all prove to be costly mistakes with new technology.

Other ways new technology can detract from growth include:

Expenses. Keeping technology up to date is expensive. Not only will you have to buy the technology upfront but you will need to keep up maintenance on it.

Security. Breaches in security, stolen devices, and unsecure networks can all take away from the productivity expected when adopting new technology.

Distractions. Technology provides new features that can be a distraction. Examples of distractions from previous technology include instant messaging or emails coming through. Technology can also disrupt focus for employees.

4. “How Much Will It Really Cost Me?”

Most technology comes with two costs: the one you see, and the one you don’t. Take printers, for example. On one hand, there’s what you pay for the printer. On the other hand, there are the hidden long-term costs like ink cartridges, repairs, paper, and set-up. TNBT in tech is no different. It can come with installation fees, needed upgrades, employee training, and more. When you’re thinking about integrating TNBT into your business, be sure you’re aware of all the costs involved. Most importantly, be sure you can afford them.

5. “Do I Really Need This Now?”

Frequently, TNBT sounds so exciting, so game-changing; you’ll feel like your business needs it right now. The reality is, that’s not always the case. When hype swirls around a new tech, it can be more about what it will do some day, not what it can do right now. Or, it may not even be properly tested, developed, or functional yet (think: the widely unpopular Windows 8). You wouldn’t buy an unripe banana and then eat it right away, would you? So, ask yourself: “Is this something I need immediately? Do I feel this technology is ready right now?” You may find you do need it right now. And that’s okay. Just make sure you’ve honestly answered that question for yourself before diving into TNBT.

When deciding if you need a new technology you’ll want to:

  • Look at where you’re company could be suffering or needs improvement. Will the new technology help fill these gaps? The technology should help you accomplish your everyday goals more efficiently.
  • Consult with your employees. Ask your employees what they need help with and what technologies they could benefit from. This can give you a more well-rounded idea of what will help improve production in your workplace.

6. “Do I Want It Because It’s Cool or Because It’s Actually Useful for My Business?”

It’s the job of the company releasing TNBT to make the product sound like the coolest thing since the iPhone. They pay a lot of money to create marketing buzz that will make you feel completely left out if you don’t get their product. But just because something sounds cool, doesn’t mean it’s actually useful (think: the Apple Watch). So, before you get too far along in your decision process, take a moment to step back and ask yourself whether it’s something your business really needs. If you’re a cloud accounting software company, chances are you probably don’t need a 3D printer—no matter how cool it is.

As you evaluate new technology for your small business, you may be wondering if there are any tell-tale warning signs to look out for. Typically, new technology fails if it doesn’t have a specific job. For instance, Segway’s didn’t catch on because they weren’t that useful overall. People can walk easily and run if they need to. Segway’s offered a speed in-between walking and running that people just didn’t need all the time.

Other warning signs to watch out for when implementing a new technology include:

  • A lack of use in the company. New technology should be adopted throughout the company and help the majority of employees. If employees are not using it, it will go to waste and may not be what they need.
  • A lack of support from management. As a small business adopts new technology, it can be an adjustment. Management will need to be behind it and support it throughout your business.

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