Main image of article Tech Skills You Need to Become a Small Business Owner

Budding technologists often turn to a computer science program, coding bootcamp or certification program to learn essential skills. But say you want to start a small business, become an accountant or open a retail business like a bakery shop. You’ll still need tech skills to keep the operation running efficiently and on budget.

More than half (54 percent) of small businesses plan to increase spending in technology, according to research firm SMB Group. Although small-business owners need not be advanced technologists, they require an understanding of the core tools to run their business.

“Pretty much every small business now is a tech business,” says James Bergin, executive general manager of technology strategy & integration at Xero. “It may not be in the business of technology, but it has to be leveraging technology to be able to succeed.”

Before, you had to have a physical server. Now the cloud takes care of many capabilities required for small-business owners, Bergin noted. Cloud providers allow small-business owners to assemble and iterate on a tech stack without deep technical knowledge.

In a small business, consider what services you are offering and how automating that work with software can help, advises Laurie McCabe, cofounder and partner at SMB Group. McCabe sees small-business owners taking an interest in learning areas such as analytics and SEO, but they often don’t have the time to go deep into many tools.

“In small business you have to wear a lot of hats, but you also have to know when you think you want to get somebody that has a hat already and wears it really well,” McCabe said. “Have them help you if you can.”

How you learn the skills you need depends on the business problem you’re trying to solve, according to Bergin. Some business owners may choose to learn in a community or through resources like LinkedIn Learning or Coursera. Others may learn by listening to a podcast. Also consider certification programs in the areas you’re looking to learn.

“It's really for a small-business owner to try and figure out how much they need to know to solve the problem for the customer,” Bergin said.

Here are some key areas to explore as a small-business owner:

Accounting Software

Small-business owners can use an app like QuickBooks or Xero to manage their cash flow. Or they can hire an accountant. “A lot of new startups go out of business because they can’t manage their cash flow well, and all of a sudden they’re belly-up,” McCabe said. “So that’s critical.”

Many account applications cater to small-business owners who are not experienced accountants or bookkeepers. Xero has an onboarding process to provide guidance on how to use the products. After a customer is onboarded, Xero provides tech support through Xero Central.

“Before you had to go and manage your ledgers, and the books were literally books,” Bergin said. “I think moving away from that to more of a cloud-based capability changes what's possible.”

Website Building and SEO

Establish an online presence where you can highlight the services you offer and how people can reach you, McCabe said. That will require learning some basic tools for creating a website, such as WordPress.

“It doesn’t have to be a daunting thing, and you don’t have to be a programmer to do that,” McCabe said. (However, as you get into e-commerce, you may want to hire a programmer.)

As you build a website, you’ll also want to learn how application program interfaces (APIs) work to connect the various tools you need. The Postman API development tool lets users build, test and edit APIs. “Get to know the platforms you use and then what connections or integrations there are to others that would make your life easier or even better,” Bergin said.

You’ll also want to explore search engine optimization (SEO), which lets you make changes to your website so it ranks higher on Google. SEO tools include Moz, SpyFu and Semrush.

Email Marketing

Email marketing lets small businesses distribute newsletters and promotions relevant to customers. Despite the spam it may create, email marketing is an effective way to nurture relationships with potential leads, McCabe said, noting that new small-business owners can learn intuitive tools like Mailchimp.

Social Media Management Tools

Consider using social media management tools, which let users manage their profiles across multiple networks. These include Zoho Social, Hootsuite and Sprout Social.

Zoho Social is a good fit for individual creators, while Hootsuite is ideal if you use many platforms. SproutSocial is a resource especially for analytics, according to Forbes Advisor.

CRM Software

Customer relationship management (CRM) software is a must-have skill for small-business owners looking to organize customer contacts. On services like LinkedIn Learning you’ll find several courses on how to learn CRM tools.

Mobile Payment Processing and Security

Small businesses often collect payments for their services using apps like Google Wallet and Venmo, so you’ll need to be up-to-date on how to use the latest mobile payment apps. Securing mobile payment solutions will be essential: Study the basics about security and seek help from a managed service provider when it comes to protecting customer data, McCabe advised. 

“Unless security is your business, you're not going to find that a fun area, and it's so complicated it changes so much,” McCabe said. “So I say get help there.”

Project Management Software

Tools like Basecamp, and Wrike let you collaborate among other stakeholders. Some apps like Wrike provide automation and analytics as well as time and budget tracking. Also, explore basic collaboration tools like Google Workspace or Zoho, McCabe said.