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The Tech Gap: How Real Small Businesses Adopt Technology

Mona Bushnell
Mona Bushnell

Thinking about adopting new tech? Find out how the community handles it.

When CEOs of tech companies talk about small business technology, they paint a picture of a fast-evolving landscape and a bright future filled with automation, blockchain technology, machine learning and AI that's accessible for all. Use cases are typically limited to highly tech-oriented businesses that are rapidly edging toward enterprise level. This is all well and good, but it doesn't provide an accurate representation of how most small businesses operate or how such businesses approach tech adoption.

For whatever reason, there is a massive gap between how major B2B tech companies and publications think small businesses adopt technology and how they actually adopt technology. To find out more about how the community approaches tech adoption in their own businesses, we went straight to the source. More than 200 of our dedicated newsletter subscribers responded to our survey. Here's what your answers and our research told us.

1. How big is the "average" small business?

According to the Tax Foundation, there are currently more sole proprietors, or single-person companies, than there are corporations in the United States, and there are a staggering 30 million pass-through businesses operating nationwide. Research from the U.S. Census Bureau and Small Business Administration shows that, of small businesses in the U.S., an astonishing 78.5 percent are non-employers without any full-time employees.

However, our survey showed that readers are more likely to have employees than the national average. Only 15.61 percent reported being non-employers, while the largest segment of the group, 48.78 percent, reported having 1-5 employees. A little more than 21 percent of our readers have 6-19 employees, which is notably higher than the national average, but less than 5 percent have more than 70 employees.

2. Do you have a website?

Most tech pros would be shocked to learn that nearly 50 percent of small businesses in the U.S. don't even have a website, but that was the stat as of 2017. Of course, users are a self-selected group of entrepreneurs who enjoy following up with business news online and learning about the latest in B2B technology, so it's unsurprising that this community has a higher rate of adoption than average.

According to our tech adoption poll, a little more than a quarter of readers (27.6 percent) do not have business websites. While the majority of users already have business websites, our survey results still show a lot of variety in the sophistication levels of those websites and the satisfaction levels of the entrepreneurs who own them. Approximately 20 percent of readers said they have a basic website that functions well, while nearly 24 percent said they have a basic website that could be improved. Additionally, nearly 24 percent of those surveyed report having excellent mobile-friendly websites. Surprisingly, considering how frequently apps are touted as essential small business tools, only 4.17 percent of readers report having both mobile-friendly websites and separate business apps.

We asked readers to select all the pieces of technology they use, and the results show that entrepreneurs aren't afraid of outfitting their businesses with a variety of hardware.

When it comes to computers, small business owners don't appear to favor laptops or desktops, with 72.43 percent of those surveyed claiming to use desktops and a nearly equal 72.92 percent claiming to use laptops. Since users could select as many pieces of hardware as they wanted from our list, these results suggest that most readers use both desktops and laptops. Tablet use is also common, but less so, with around 44 percent of the same users claiming frequent use of such devices.  

The single most used piece of hardware, according to reader responses, is smartphones: 82.16 percent of readers said they use smartphones as part of daily business. This is hardly surprising, considering the proliferation of apps that boost business productivity, but small business owners jumping on the smartphone train doesn't necessarily mean they're ditching their landline connections – 48.11 percent of these same entrepreneurs said they still use landlines as part of their daily operations.

These results show that small business tech adoption isn't about upgrading just to upgrade or getting rid of something just because it's considered old technology; it's about getting a job done.

4. There are lots of reasons small businesses don't implement more technology.

It's generally thought that price and lack of tech support are the two primary barriers to tech adoption among the small business set. Indeed, readers' poll responses underscored price sensitivity, with a little more than 41 percent citing expense as a reason for not investing in more tech solutions. However, only about 24 percent of readers said lack of tech support was an obstacle to tech adoption, which is surprising, considering only 21 percent said they have in-house tech support. Surveyed readers were able to select as many reasons for not adopting additional technology as they wanted, and while they did overwhelmingly identify price as a challenge, they also illuminated a truth that's sure to resonate with entrepreneurs everywhere: If it isn't broken, don't fix it.

Small business owners already wear a lot of hats, and at the end of the day, it takes a lot of time and energy to implement solutions when old methods still work. Of those surveyed, a little more than 37 percent said they're not adopting any new tech because they don't need anything else, and more than 22 percent said it's simply easier to do things the way they're currently done than invest in new tech. Additionally, nearly 19 percent said that, when it comes to adding more tech into daily business, "the hassle of buying and implementing it isn't worth it."

Check out the full survey results

How Many Full-Time Employees Work at Your Business?

  • 0 = 15.61%
  • 1-5 = 48.78%
  • 6-19 = 21.45%
  • 20-39 = 6.83%
  • 40-70 = 2.44%
  • 70+ = 4.88%

Which Best Describes Your Business' Website? 

  • We don't have a website = 27.6%
  • We have a basic website and it works well = 20.31%
  • We have a basic website, but it could be better = 23.96%
  • We have a great mobile-friendly website = 23.96%
  • We have a great mobile-friendly website, and we have a separate app = 4.17%

How Many Cloud-Based Services Does Your Business Use?

  • 0 = 44.15%
  • 1-3 = 43.09%
  • 4-8 = 11.7%
  • 9+ = 1.06%

Which of the Following Items Do You Use for Your Business?

  • Desktop = 72.43%
  • Laptop = 72.97%
  • Tablet = 44.32%
  • Smartphone = 82.16%
  • Landline Phone = 48.11%
  • Call Center Phone System = 9.73%
  • Private Server = 22.16%

Why Haven't You Adopted More Business Technology?

  • We don't need anything else = 37.22%
  • It's easier to do things the way we do them now = 22.78%
  • It's too expensive = 41.11%
  • We can't find the type of product we want = 15.56%
  • We don't have enough tech support = 24.44%
  • The hassle of buying it and implementing it isn't worth it = 18.89%

 When it Comes to Hardware and Machinery, Do You Prefer to Lease or Own?

  • We lease and own, depending on the item = 29.21%
  • We prefer to own = 68.54%
  • We prefer to lease = 2.25%

How Do You Handle Tech Support for Your Business?

  • We rely on internal knowledge, but don't have dedicated tech support = 35.43%
  • We have in-house tech support = 21.71%
  • We rely on tech support from the companies whose products we use = 23.43%
  • We pay an outside company for tech support = 19.43%

Which of These Tasks Do You Perform Online? 

  • We use e-commerce to sell products/services to clients = 18.29%
  • We use e-commerce to purchase business supplies = 17.68%
  • We manage payroll online = 12.8%
  • We use online mobile device management = 7.93%
  • We use an online content management system = 6.71%
  • We use an online inventory management system = 3.05%
  • We conduct remote meetings online = 9.15%
  • Other = 24.39%

Which Area of Your Business Could Most Benefit from Technology?

  • Accounting/payroll = 3.62%
  • Analytics/Data = 15.94%
  • Human resources/employee management = 4.35%
  • Marketing = 51.45%
  • Customer Service = 10.87%
  • Other = 13.77%

What Are Your Biggest Tech Adoption Challenges?

  • Too expensive = 50.72%
  • Too complicated = 26.09%
  • Inadequate tech support = 31.16%
  • Not enough time = 40.58%
  • Other = 13.04%
Image Credit: ESB Professional/Shutterstock
Mona Bushnell
Mona Bushnell Staff
Mona Bushnell is a Philadelphia-based staff writer for and Business News Daily. She has a B.A. in writing, literature, and publishing from Emerson College and has previously worked as an IT technician, a copywriter, a software administrator, a scheduling manager, and an editorial writer. Mona began freelance writing full time in 2014 and joined the Business News Daily/ team in 2017. She covers business and technology.