Incfile Survey: For 45% of Small Business Owners, the Biggest Barrier to Digital Adoption Isn't Cost

Incfile Survey: For 45% of Small Business Owners, the Biggest Barrier to Digital Adoption Isn't Cost

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Business owners are a pretty scrappy, resourceful bunch, and Incfile customers are no exception. Used to pulling themselves up by their bootstraps and getting the job done, these extraordinary entrepreneurs are capable of handling the full scope of business operations, from email marketing to social engagement. We did a small survey where small business owners told us what we already knew — that business owners can do it all — and many things we didn’t.

Here are some of the insights we gained when we asked small business owners to give us the details on how they work with digital technology and the constantly changing landscape:

First, They Made Their Business Official 60 Percent Established a Legal Entity from the Beginning

Our survey revealed that the majority of small business owners formed a legal business entity with Incfile before they got started. Filing for a legal business entity is the best way to run a business and protect your personal assets.

We believe small business owners are true DIYers, but it makes good business sense to legally form an LLC, S Corp or C Corp in your state before you begin. The good news: it’s never too late to protect your business. If you’re operating as a sole proprietor, you can legally file formation paperwork at any time.

They Are Dedicated to the DIY Life Over Half Manage Social Media, SEO and Email Marketing on Their Own

We had a hunch (more of an educated guess) that small business owners thrive on DIY, and our survey confirmed that. A majority of our small business owner respondents indicated that they manage digital operations, including SEO, blogging, email marketing and more, entirely on their own. Surprisingly, even with all the tools currently available, nearly 73 percent said that they automate marketing campaigns themselves, with social media tools like Hootsuite coming in a distant second.

INCspiration | Incfile

They Don’t Always Turn to Professionals Fewer Than 10 Percent Ask the Experts

That commitment to DIY means they don’t often seek out advice or support from professional service providers.

Only a very small percentage (5–8 percent) said that they hire or outsource digital operations, while another small group said they ask for help from friends and family.

They Haven’t All Made the Digital Shift More Than One-Third Said It Isn't Their Focus

Among small business owners, the second most popular answer to questions of digital adoption was, “Haven’t focused on this yet.” We know that SEO and content marketing like blogging is critical to continued business growth, but close to 35 percent of small business owners said they hadn’t gotten around to making it a priority.

Another 25 percent haven’t yet leveraged the power of social media. However, this isn’t all bad news — it simply shows that businesses can find new opportunities to grow through digital technology.

They Take a 50/50 Approach to the Devices They Use

A majority of small business owners said their mobile device and desktop usage was pretty evenly distributed, but nearly 23 percent indicated that they rely on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets for around 75 percent of total usage.

Less than 12 percent used their desktop exclusively, and only 6 percent said they used a mobile device 100 percent of the time.

Small business owners & technology survey

They Use the Tools That Suit Their Business

While many small business owners indicated they don’t currently use any digital tools, a large percentage said they use programs like Asana, Shopify, DocuSign, Buffer, QuickBooks, Canva and MailChimp to streamline operations and take on some of the digital heavy lifting.

Their Goal in Adopting New Technology? Over Half Said Growth.

More than 56 percent of our small business owners said the primary reason they started using the digital tools they listed was to improve business.

Just over 25 percent said they use them for sales and marketing support, while 17 percent said they want to find ways to better communicate with customers. Not surprisingly in a survey dominated by DIYers, less than 1 percent said they used digital tools to help with hiring.

To Digitize or Not to Digitize? One-Third Said Yes.

A majority of the small business owner respondents said they don’t know yet if the digital tools they’ve utilized have had any measurable impact, though close to 32 percent said they are busy analyzing the data and looking for real forward momentum.

Only around 12 percent reported no real impact from the use of digital tools and technologies, while other segments found improvements in sales and follower/customer growth.

Nearly Half Said Their Biggest Barrier to Digital Adoption Wasn’t Cost

While some digital tools can be a significant expense, especially for smaller businesses, that wasn’t the biggest issue our small business owners noted. More than 45 percent said that a steep learning curve was the largest obstacle keeping them from adopting new technologies.

A lack of understanding how, why and when to use technology held them back and kept them from maximizing it to its full advantage.

COVID Made an Impact on 40 Percent of Small Businesses

While many business owners said the pandemic did not influence their business's usage of digital technology, nearly 40 percent marked it was the catalyst for the adoption of new tools or a heavier investment in digital solutions.

Only 13 percent said they didn't feel a need to increase their investments in digital tools, at least not in relation to the pandemic.

More Than 60 Percent Are the Sole Digital Decision-Makers

Just over 20 percent of small business owners said they sought insight from others — mostly friends or by browsing the internet — when making critical decisions about digital tech adoption.

But here the DIYers are in full force — more than 60 percent said they know their business better than anyone, and they make all technology-related decisions.

What Does Innovation Mean to Them? 56 Percent Said Tools and Technology

While the majority categorize "innovation" as the adoption of new tech, tools and gadgets, 17 percent said they just weren't sure what it means to their business.

Nearly 13 percent said they look to emerging and evolving social platforms like TikTok as a signal of innovation.

What Do They Hope to Solve Through Innovation? Nearly 30 Percent Said It's All About Their Customers

Close to one-third of small business owners said their goal in adopting new technology would be to help customers through the buyer's journey and improve experience.

Research and development ranked high as well, at just over 25 percent, while more than 18 percent reported they were looking to expand their business to new locations.

Their Digital Future Is Bright More Than 45 Percent Are Ready for It

Whether or not they’ve been quick to adopt new digital technologies, almost half of the small business owners (about 45 percent) said they’re ready to roll with the digital wave. These business owners indicated their business has the necessary infrastructure in place to take on new technologies. Another 28 percent said they’re in the process of making changes to business operations that will support quicker adoption.

They’re Looking for Advice

When asked where they turn for support or help in meeting the growing needs of their business, most answered either from family and friends who are also entrepreneurs, or entrepreneur-based groups and organizations. A close third: a simple yet effective Google search.

For all business owners, and especially our Incfile customers, we’d like to be included in the resources you turn to for advice and support, at every stage of your business journey. And if you're already finding your way through the digital space while operating your business, we'd like to hear from you! Share your story with us, and we may feature your business in our INCspiration series here on the blog!

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