Trend: Technology Levels the Playing Field

Technology is making small businesses competitive in markets once thought to be the exclusive territory of larger corporations. This trend will grow stronger as common software platforms such as Microsoft Windows/Office combine with the Internet and low-cost, easy-to-use communications to reduce expenses, increase market reach, and push the envelope of creativity.

The Internet has shoved aside expensive libraries and information publishing services as the dominant sources of business intelligence. It lets small businesses quickly research their markets, find critical information, and stay on top of the latest trends. All for a fraction of what it would have cost just a few years. Research that was once beyond the budgets and staffing of small businesses is now had with the click of a mouse.

Low-cost, common software platforms have given small businesses access to the same spreadsheet, word processing, email, and other sophisticated software as Fortune 500 companies. Computers now cost less than the chairs some of their users sit in.

Today's home-based businesses have better communication capabilities than the largest corporations had less than a generation ago. Fax, email, voice mail, cell phones, conference calling, multiple landlines, and even VOIP are readily available to the smallest business.

Small businesses are seldom on the cutting edge when it comes to a new technology. But they are often quick to recognize its value once the bugs have been worked out and costs drop. Small size gives them the agility to rapidly adopt any technology that delivers a competitive edge.

Look for falling software and hardware prices to continue give small businesses a level playing field and in some instances a clear advantage -- especially in niche markets.

As small businesses experience the advantages of rapid technological advancement, they become more likely to be customers for the "Next New Thing." They may not be the first buyers, but savvy small businesses will be close on the heels of early adopters. Savvy sellers of the latest tech will be looking for ways to take their products and services to the small business market more rapidly than ever before.

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