Small businesses can be affected by tech trends just as much as large corporations. The pandemic highlighted a few key things in tech: the importance for companies to have a strong online presence, the need for employers to adopt a remote or hybrid work environment, and the rise of citizen developers that are learning the […]
Small businesses can be affected by tech trends
just as much as large corporations. The pandemic highlighted a few key things in tech: the importance for companies to have a strong online presence, the need for employers to adopt a remote or hybrid work environment, and the rise of citizen developers that are learning the inner workings of website and app development.
Citizen developers, otherwise known as people with little to no coding experience or other training in the information technology field, are surging in popularity. They are building applications to solve business problems by using no-code or low-code application development tools to create what they need for their business. They might have advanced digital skills and a deep understanding of the company’s processes and goals, but overall, they are inexperienced and usually learn the technical side of things as they go. While there are significant opportunities with this approach, there are also some limitations.
“[Low code or no code technology] allows them to easily create efficient business apps and/or automate workflows,” said Angela McGraw, director of Do Space. “Little coding knowledge is required — much of the foundational work is already complete.”
Whitney Fritzinger, director of AIM Institute said, “Its popularity is due to the ability to drag and drop components to create mobile or web applications. This way of creating applications is attractive because of the perceived ease of use and modular design. Applications can be built quickly without writing code line by line.”
David Vogelpohl, vice president of growth at WP Engine, noted that while there is a recent increase in acceptance of this method, the low code or no code trend is not a new concept. WordPress is a product that utilizes this approach and business owners have been using the platform for quite awhile.
“WordPress currently makes up 43% of the web, and a huge part of that is because it democratizes the Web for all,” he said. “You can take a plugin or a theme, or a set of plugins and themes, and do a no-code website.
“You’ve been able to do that for a very long time. Additionally, the general population is much more technical than we’ve seen in the past. They’re much braver at doing things like making a website — they have sophisticated online presences there. They’re becoming more digitally native — they weren’t born that way, but more people are that way today.”
However, while there are some benefits to using the low code or no code approach, there are some disadvantages as well.
“If you do it the wrong way, the tax is that you can’t fully customize your site,” Vogelpohl said. “What often happens is someone builds a brochure site and then really wants some unique functionality to make the site stand out. But with a site builder, you often can’t customize their one-size-fits-all templates.”
That customization is important for many businesses, too. So, it is important to determine what your online presence demands and find the right technology to suit.
“The limitations of low-code or no-code technology are really that code is not used,” Fritzinger said. “When using code there are more options in terms of what a developer can create. And by not using code, the options available to a developer can be limited.
“To some degree, low-code and no-code technology represents the flexibility-usability tradeoff, so businesses should choose the technology which best fits their needs.”
Capturing a customer’s attention is key to drawing them into a business. To help with that website personalization does just that.
“Personalization doesn’t necessarily mean every person who visits your site gets a unique experience, but there are simple tricks that can make customers feel that way,” Vogelpoh explained. “Geo-based customization is a good example — changing the phone number or changing the background image based on where the visitors live (i.e. their IP address).
“There’s also context-based personalization. When you buy ads on Google, you can buy certain keywords, and Google will tell you which keyword a person searched for to find your site. Your website can detect that and can change the words on the page to match the word the person was searching for, so you only have to build one landing page that basically shows multiple variants of those keywords.”
This type of personalization gives customers more relevant content, which ultimately opens the window for them to act and hopefully become loyal customers. Not to mention, it helps companies have a better understanding of who their customers are and creates less wasted sales time.
Website design trends vary with message and audience, so when it comes to creating an engaging user experience, companies and website designers are sticking with clean, colorful, and to-the-point design.
“Website engagement continues to be a priority for developers and occurs through mobile-friendly and responsive design,” Fritzinger said. “Websites are also featuring app-like experiences as well as single-page design to engage visitors. Accessibility and inclusivity are central to the design of user experiences of websites, and we are seeing more websites focus strategic design decisions around accessibility and inclusivity.”
“AIM’s leadership academies provide mentoring, career coaching, leadership development, tech career exploration and career development to participants,” Fritzinger said. “By equipping tech leaders with skills for the future, businesses and organizations can achieve efficiencies and growth.”
Additionally, it is critical to keep security at the forefront of everything you choose to do in your website or app development. Citizen developers may not be as knowledgeable when it comes to online or app security, so investing in the right firewalls and other security mechanisms to ensure your confidential information is kept safe is key.
If you are unsure of which options are best, talk to a professional and make sure you have what you need. Without the right security, you could put your company and your clients at risk for cyberattacks, malware, or worse.
If you are not sure where to begin, McGraw said one of the first steps is to create employment opportunities for people that have the technology skills needed to grow your business.
“Work with local colleges to create internships for IT graduate students (cybersecurity, computer science, information technology, etc.),” she said. “Speak with a college rep and get a good understanding of what the students are learning and make sure their skills align with your IT needs.”
Vogelpohl said that if a small business decides to outsource and hire a company or agency to build a site, ask questions and make sure to maintain ownership of the site.
“One common problem I’ve seen is that some small businesses will hire companies that offer to build the entire website, host it, do all of the marketing, and get all the analytics set up,” he said. “But it’s all on their platform — every bit of it — even the phone number on your website is their phone number, which they redirect to your phone number.
“This is a trap that people should be aware of. Having ownership over your website means you have ownership over your digital destiny, and it’s critical. In the ‘we’ll do it all’ scenario, unfortunately, you don’t have that ownership, and end up in a hostage situation that can be difficult to get out of.”
Keeping Up with Shifts
Technology continues to evolve, customer preferences are changing along with it. Thankfully, small businesses are no stranger to going with the flow, so when it comes to technology, it is important to stay as agile as possible.
“Small business owners need to make sure they have a platform that allows for high customization in the future but also the ability for non-developers to create custom content and experiences themselves,” Vogelpohl said.