According to a 2012 report by the Small Business Administration, between 1993 and 2011, small businesses helped create 64% of net new jobs in the United States. Whether or not you believe they are the backbone of our economy, it’s clear they represent a sizable percentage of the U.S. economy and the way they use modern technology to stay competitive has evolved significantly in the past several decades.
Joshua Reeves, co-founder/CEO of ZenPayroll
Cloud technology that had once been too expensive and difficult to use has become affordable, accessible, and pervasive. However, while innovation in consumer and enterprise technologies has flourished, advances in technology for small businesses has lagged behind.
There’s an exciting shift taking place that affects both existing business owners and anyone aspiring to start a company. Entrepreneurs are increasingly savvy about growing their businesses, not only through how they’re connecting with more customers through digital media, but also in how they are harnessing technology to manage their back offices. The days of filling out paper forms by hand, manually transferring data from one system to another, and needing a training manual to understand how the software works, are fading into the past.
Besides selling their products and services, small business owners also have to balance budgets, keep track of accounts receivable, run payroll, pay taxes, and manage a myriad of other “unsexy” tasks behind the scenes. Recognizing the pains associated with running a business, companies like Square, Xero, Bill.com, Freshbooks, Expensify and ZenPayroll (disclosure: my company) are applying the principles of modern software to design and deliver beautiful solutions that make it easier to take care of these critical responsibilities. As a result, startups and small businesses alike have adopted modern software in droves.
But what does “modern software” mean for small businesses?
There are a couple key ingredients that many of these software companies are leveraging and their product philosophy is driven by a deep empathy for the user and solving their problem. These ingredients are: beautiful design, ease of use, mobile accessibility and APIs.
1. Appealing design can and should involve interfaces that naturally please the eye, such as the minimalist interface for Square Cash.
2. However, the visuals must be married with a keen focus on user experience. In other words, the application should be so intuitive that it’s hard for people to make mistakes. Philip Fierlinger, Head of Design at Xero, has shared intriguing ideas on how to improve the “UX of money,” for example. Nobody wants to make mistakes with money.
3. Mobile devices have already become staples in our personal lives. It makes sense for people to manage business on-the-go as well, tracking expenses with Expensify or accepting payments with Square.
4. Good-looking apps aren’t useful unless they work with each other. As Y Combinator Partner Garry Tan put it, the “API-ization of everything” is upon us. While payroll has historically been a silo, ZenPayroll recently launched an API (short for application programming interface) that made it into a distributed, integrated layer. Now data like hours worked, tips, bonuses, reimbursements, benefits and PTO can flow from other back office tools into payroll.
If you’re looking for the primary benefactors of these technological advancements, look no further than the average business owner. Just as scores of employees have opted to use their iPhones for work, employers have grown accustomed to using Facebook, Gmail and other consumer products. And it makes them wonder: Why should the tools they rely on to run their businesses be so much clunkier to use than the applications they enjoy in their personal lives?
Modern software has answered their call, and so have service providers likeaccountants, who happily take advantage of these tools to save time, money, and help more clients.
It’s an exciting time for small business owners. A growing ecosystem of software companies are passionately focused on making it easier to run a company, so small business owners can get back to serving their customers, offering great products and services, and doing what they love.
Joshua Reeves is the CEO and co-Founder of ZenPayroll, a Silicon Valley start-up that launched in 2012 and includes among its investors the CEOs of Dropbox, Yelp, Yammer, and Box, as well as Google Ventures and Salesforce.