4 tech moves to make this year

A Charlotte food truck owner worried a disaster would wipe away his paper records now uses accounting software that keeps the books for him.

A beautician tired of being bound to her credit card machine now uses mobile payment tools that let her accept credit cards anywhere.

A restaurateur turned off by swipe cards now offers a digital rewards system that’s grown to a 6,000-customer following. And a real-estate broker who integrates apps into her business spends fewer hours at the office “tethered to a computer” and more time face to face with clients.

These four are using some of today’s tech trends that other entrepreneurs can adopt this year to give their businesses a boost. (Learn more about smart tech solutions on Jan. 24 at the ShopTalk Small Business Conference..)

Adopting tech might make all the difference between reaching computer-savvy customers, or isolating them, said Drew Crawford of Charlotte-based Wooden Stone Consulting. He installs point-of-sale systems for small businesses, and will speak on the tech panel.

“You’ve got to work it in your business model,” Crawford said, and consider “how this will benefit my customer.”

1. Automate your payroll

Larry Swayne said a year after he started Wingzza, his wings and pizza food truck, it was damaged in a fire. Afraid another accident would jeopardize financial records, Swayne and his wife, Robyn, looked for a simpler bookkeeping process that wouldn’t go up in smoke.

“No matter how much you back up the hard-drive, you always have that fear as a business owner that you could lose everything,” he said.

After entering a contest sponsored by Black Enterprise magazine, Swayne won a technology makeover that included five years of free QuickBooks software. Swayne, 33, called it a “blessing.”

The software “cuts the time in half,” turning an hours-long payroll process into one that takes minutes, he said. Swayne and his wife can access their records from any computer, and send electronic pay stubs to their 12 employees. The program synchronizes with their bank account, allowing them to track transactions instead of manually entering them into an Excel spreadsheet.

“Business owners are not necessarily accountants,” said Renee Hode, executive director of CPCC’s Small Business Center. “The software uses clear and simple language and avoids confusion with users.”

And, it makes tax time a breeze, she said: “Since everything is maintained regularly in QuickBooks, they don’t have piles of receipts and invoices to go through.”

2. Try mobile payment

On trips to trade shows, Tamika Ishmael, owner of 33 Fingers Natural Hair Salon in Highland Creek, had to be near an outlet. Hotels charged her extra for a second phone line in her room, and she had to buy her own receipt paper.

Such was life with an electronic credit card machine, which she paid $125 each year to operate on top of a $40-per-month fee. In 2011, she tried Square, a mobile tool that processes credit card payments from her iPad or cellphone.

Square charges 2.75 percent per swipe, and the small reader can fit in her pocketbook. She can use it to tally daily sales, and can build a digital cash register on her tablet.

“It allowed me to move my business around when I moved,” said Ishmael, 38. “People pay more money when they’re able to use their debit card or credit card. It grows your business.”

Customers nowadays expect businesses to carry options accommodating their plastic, and failure to do so could result in alienating patrons who don’t use cash, Crawford said.

With their “immediacy of processing” payment, mobile payment options are “probably the biggest advantages to businesses,” he said.

3. Try a customer loyalty program

It’s now much easier for Todd Gallinek to track what his most loyal customers want.

For years, he used swipe cards to follow customers’ purchases and give rewards, such as discounts.

A year ago, Gallinek, who co-owns TRUE Crafted Pizza in the Stonecrest Shopping Center off Rea Road and two Nothing but Noodles restaurants, switched to GetOne, an iPad-based digital loyalty system.

“The biggest reason to do it: The simplicity of it,” he said.

He pays $100 per month to use the program, which allows customers to enter cellphone numbers into a system that sends discounts and deals to their mobile device. Patrons who spend at least $100 at the pizza restaurant get $10 off their next purchase. In the past year, 712 customers earned that reward, Gallinek said.

Gallinek said at least 6,000 have signed up for rewards at his three restaurants.

4. Go shopping for apps

Apps have changed Hilary Broadway’s life, she said – or, at least, the way she does her job.

Broadway, broker-in-charge at Allen Tate Mooresville/Lake Norman, said apps – from Google Docs (for creating and editing files remotely) to DocuSign (for signing documents digitally) – have reduced her hours at the office and eliminated tons of paperwork.

That frees her to meet with clients in person, network with peers and spend time with family.

“The ability to have access to what I needed wherever I was – it’s just life-changing for a real estate agent,” said Broadway, 44.

“I think if people understood how much time they could save by investing a small amount of time to learn a few nuggets of technology, they would dive all in.”