Small businesses are on the verge of an exciting new era. Big data, artificial intelligence, and user-friendly technologies are revolutionizing the way societies, economies, and businesses operate and build relationships with each other.

Smart cities--urban centers that promote interconnected sectors through innovative technologies and data analysis-- is an important trend that is starting to go from idea to reality. Already, smart infrastructure and tech are allowing business owners to market and connect with consumers in more sophisticated ways. Blockchain and virtual reality products are just two examples of smart tech at the early stages of helping businesses maximize their potential.

It takes time to adapt to and harness new technologies, and small businesses need to start planning for the future. As people navigate smart cities and their intriguing developments, what do small business entrepreneurs need to know to help grow their businesses? 

Here are four steps small businesses should consider to create more prosperous, cost-efficient business models for the future:

1. Leverage Big Data Analytics

Smart cities use big data to help solve contemporary urban problems like reducing pollutions and emissions. Big data also allows small businesses to leverage intimate knowledge about their local customer base. Companies can use hyperlocal data generated by smart cities to adhere to niche groups of customers. Small enterprises can benefit from massive amounts of online and offline information to make informed, data-driven decisions to gather, analyze, and understand data for marketing, product design, and promotions without spending too much money. Small enterprises can do this by using big data solutions including:

  • Google Analytics and TensorFlow
  • IBM Watson Analytics
  • Qualtrics
  • CanopyLabs
  • InsightSquared

2. Utilize IoT

The Internet of Things (IoT) is finally becoming more prominent with tools like Philips Hue and Amazon Echo in everyday homes and companies. Even if you’re not in the tech sector, IoT will highly impact the way you do business and will be a main staple in how smart cities and their economies function efficiently. By 2020, it’s estimated that anywhere from 30-50 billion devices will be connected. IoT can help businesses track and manage their inventories and in the future IoT will be able to track inventory changes automatically to free up workers for more important, complex tasks.

In addition, since new tech-minded platforms will offer customers better access to research and purchasing options, the production and buying cycle will be much faster. Partners, suppliers, and logistic service providers will have similar technology to speed up customer service in interconnected smart economies. Soon, the smart office will be everywhere.

3. Leverage Smart City Export Initiatives

According to the Department of Commerce’s Smart Cities, Regions & Communities Export Opportunities Guide, more than 60% of 2050’s smart cities have yet to be established. This gives small businesses a major opportunity to leverage their services. The guide shows ways to promote businesses and export opportunities for companies that focus on urban challenges within the energy, transportation, telecom, water, and health sectors. Even if your small business isn’t based in these sectors, it can provide services or support for other businesses that focus on these fronts.

Since smart cities are expected to quadruple between now and  2025, small business can use the Smart City Export Initiatives to their advantage by focusing on three key areas:

  • Capital -- The program provides funding and financing for smart infrastructure projects. Companies can choose from the public or private sector for funding from agencies like the U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA). Multilateral banks, like the World Bank, also offer funds.
  • Trade Promotion -- The program also promotes several activities. The initiative aims to help businesses find funding, provide market research and intelligence, advocacy, advertising and promotional events. Market entry and expansion, counseling, matching services, and strategizing and planning projects are also areas where the program assists. The initiative provides valuable smart city information for each country including key projects, contacts, and future events.
  • Industry Sector Knowledge -- Small businesses should can get in contact with their local International Trade Agency office to tailor their offerings to target sectors quickly and efficiently.

4. Include Consumer Participation in your Campaigns

A hallmark of a smart city includes user-friendly data and community participation. Small businesses should include customer interactions in their campaigns and in hyperlocal marketing platforms and analytics that smart cities are starting to provide. Most customer feedback and participation will be online-based through new technologies. These new technologies will also bring new customer needs. Smart cities and their citizens will demand more integration, more efficient tools, and more accessories from businesses large and small. New IoT connected tools will make the customer service, purchasing process, and product review easier.

Don’t forget that marketing your businesses services will take on a new role as well. Highly authentic, interactive immersion tools (like AR and VR) will help attract customers to products and help them learn about your small business’ mission while constructing personalized relationships with your company. These relationships will be especially important for smaller businesses who get to know customers more closely in the cities or towns where they’re established.

So hang onto your wits, smart cities are about to offer increased opportunities for small businesses to grow. As we adapt to the wave of new technology, we can begin to create more efficient business models that personalize business services to a (Io)T.