Small business entrepreneurship has laid the foundation for economic growth within all sectors of the US Economy. New technology is making it easier than ever for a person to take their idea and build it into a successful business. This is especially important for the disability community, where underemployment and lack of growth opportunities leaves many with low-income employment and social support. According to the 2012 American Community Survey, 67% of working-age adults with a disability reported lack of employment.
The Business in a box project consolidates the available, accessible technology that supports the various aspects of running a small business in many areas including customer management, social networking, employee payroll, point of sale and bookkeeping among others. It also explores the growing presence of mobile and cloud-based applications for business management.
Mobile technology has fundamentally changed business management. The phone and tablet bring customer management and sales out of the office and into the customer’s environment. Further, mobile platforms, such as iOS and Android, provide built in accessibility functionality, and the relative ease of implementing accessibility support in mobile apps opens up new possibilities which were often hard to attain in their legacy desktop relatives.
Examples of mobile technology making it easier for business management
QuickBooks for mobile transforms the estimate process by taking advantage of the user’s location to prepopulate business identification and making it easy to build and share an estimate while at the client’s location.
Many applications take advantage of the mobile device’s camera, such as LookTel Money Reader for determining currency, Intuit’s GoPayment for scanning credit cards, and banking apps for mobile check deposits. Photographs and video can easily be incorporated into the workflow.
OCR programs such as the KNFB Reader app for iOS make it easier to quickly process printed materials, incoming mail, and business cards
Cloud-based data storage allows mobile devices and desktop applications to seamlessly synchronize data. This allows greater collaboration and accuracy.
Many business-related apps have moved to a web-based implementation, which allows for increased mobility and employee flexibility. When these apps are also programmed to meet accessibility standards, they also provide new avenues for independent business management. Examples include shopping cart and order management solutions such as Zencart, accounting software i.e. Quickbooks Online Payroll, and advertising platforms such as Facebook for Business. Many state agencies are also transitioning to electronic filing and records retention, which means the potential for increased accessibility.
Running a business requires a team of staff and tools. The goal of the Business in a Box was to find the tools that satisfy the myriad of tasks commonly performed by business owners and managers. Ideally, the goal is to identify accessible solutions for every facet of business, allowing for complete independent control of the business if desired.
Business in a box also provides an outlet for helping businesses find these applications and sharing feedback about usability with assistive technology. One potential solution is modeling this resource after an app directory, allowing for ratings, comments, and accessibility tips. It would be most beneficial to combine this resource with human interaction such as a mentoring program, business coaching, or classes. Some businesses may also benefit from a pre-built startup package that would provide basic installation and consulting services for a fee.
Inclusion within the box requires a tool to provide an accessible experience for customers and business managers. The product should also be readily available and reasonably priced to be a valid option. Ideally, there would not be a large additional cost to add accessibility features to a product or service.
Intuit’s QuickBooks has become the industry standard for small business financial management. The desktop and mobile products provide an accessible solution for managing sales, inventory, invoices and expenses, and payroll. Intuit also provides several task-specific applications that make it easy for very small businesses to begin their management on a solid foundation.
A business cannot survive in a vacuum. Growth is dependent on marketing and social media. There are many tools, such as WordPress and Easy Chirp that deliver accessible administration and marketing output. Advertising platforms provide an additional means to market a business and expose it to potential customers.
Finally, the small business must be able to provide great service to their clients, regardless of ability. This requires a set of tools from point of sale to customer management solutions. For example, web-based shopping carts provide a mechanism for accepting online orders while also including inventory management and sales reporting capabilities.
There are many mobile payment solutions, but their accessibility is hampered by the dependence on the earphone jack for credit card swiping. Fortunately, there have been some advances in providing alternate methods of obtaining the credit card information, from using the device’s camera to case-based card readers. Additional technology that provides accessible customer support includes:
- Bar code scanners
- Camera based currency detection
- USB based card scanners
- Bone-conduction headphones
- NFC payment solutions
- Location beacons
- Voice recognition
The Business in a Box needs to be flexible and adapt to a variety of business types. Businesses, which sell physical products, have far different requirements from those providing services or labor and would likely use a different set of apps.
Today’s entrepreneurs have great options for starting and building their businesses. The Business in a Box project provides a consolidated, crowd-sourced package of resources that give business owners, their employees, and their customers a delightful experience, regardless of their physical and cognitive ability.