As you know, we live in an environment where it’s “blink,” and you missed it. Still, there’s always an urgent need to keep on top of what is happening so that you can stay ahead in business. I own several companies and, candidly, I don’t think there’s a single day I’m not thinking about how to make things better and improve our competitive advantage in our industries.
A couple of days ago I read an article about a luxury yacht company that had been in business for generations, and although they had client orders on hand, in the tens of millions of dollars, they fired everyone and shuddered their doors. They were hemorrhaging money and not paying attention to the changing winds.
The reality is that I can sit here today and write what you want to be looking for in business trends and then a year from now, write the same sort of article with different ideas to keep an eye on as business and society evolve. Still, there are some areas that I think will remain constant and you should pay attention to in your company.
Always Pay Extra Attention to Millennials
For decades and decades, the “darling” of generations were the Baby Boomers because of their sheer size and buying power. As the Boomers are now seniors, the same can be said about Millennials. They will be, and already are, a force for years to come and they are the first generation that is pure digital natives. Your products and services should be marketed to them and how they think. By 2020, Millennials will have an estimated $1.4 trillion in spending power.
Get Comfortable With AI, IoT, and ML
What used to be buzzwords such as AI, IoT, and ML, are not anymore. They are not the future; they are the present. Most of you know about AI (Artificial intelligence), IoT (Internet of Things), but maybe you have not heard about ML (Machine Learning). Machine learning is when computers do things without being programmed to do it because they are learning it for themselves. Through machine learning, we are given self-driving cars, excellent web search tools, practical speech recognition programs and a host of other platforms. As technology evolves, all of these elements will play a more substantial part in life and business.
I have a preference for my team to be onsite, but for some functions and aspects of our work, these elements are outsourced. Currently 40% plus of American workers are doing some work remotely, without having to be present at their place of business all the time. This trend creates demand for adequately training remote employees through video conferencing platforms, especially for social media and programming positions. All that is required is a computer and Internet.
Get Past the Clutter
The way you brand your business is essential. People are drowning in data and information, and you have to be able to cut to the chase immediately. Branding, which encompasses the name, logo, etc., creates instant identification. With excellent branding, you are perceived as an authority, successful and trustworthy because you pay attention to the details. Also it makes prospecting easier. Customers find you. You can hire better talent. Candidates seek you out rather than looking to apply for a position with an unknown company. Because of branding, it is easier to create more businesses under the same name.
Opportunity Exists in Buying Businesses
There are more businesses for sale due to the retirement of the Baby Boomer and Millennials will be buying them and then reinventing the companies they buy. Keep an eye out for your competition because there’s always an opportunity in looking to buy an existing competitor. For instance, you can buy their entire client base, or perhaps they’ve excelled in e-commerce, and you’re able to bring that into your portfolio. I’ve successfully purchased some of my competitors, and it’s only helped my businesses grow.
Small businesses can directly benefit from the cloud computing business trend by using cloud-based applications to cut down on the expense and trouble of doing the same thing themselves.
Using someone else’s mail servers through the internet can be much more cost-effective (and hassle-free) than setting up your own email server in-house, for example, – especially if you don’t have a dedicated IT person or department. Moving to a cloud-based accounting application can allow you to check accounts, send invoices, track expenses and more from your mobile phone or tablet.
(There are disadvantages of cloud computing for small businesses, too, but they are outweighed by the advantages in my opinion.)
But with increasing numbers of businesses looking to contract out business processes, small businesses are also well-positioned to benefit from the cloud computing trend by picking up some business. It’s not size or location that matters with the cloud; it’s expertise.
Social media is one of those business trends your small business can’t afford to ignore. Facebook isn’t just something that kids are using any more and social networks are increasingly becoming business networks as people’s social/personal/business lives converge.
Simply put, if that’s where they are, that’s where you need to be if you want to sell more widgets.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to get heavily into social media marketing this year (although if you do it properly, it can be a real sales booster). But you do need to at least start developing a social media presence for your small business.
If you’re just starting out with using social media for business, my advice is to choose one social media tool and work with it over time. For instance, you might put up a Facebook fan page for your business and try to engage customers and get them interested in your products and services.
Remember when people used to carry around a laptop and a phone? It’s something we’re seeing less and less of because increasingly, what people used to do on their laptops, they now do on their phones. You don’t need a separate computer to browse the web, work on documents or play games because phones are computers.
One implication of this trend is that you need to be sure your business is mobile friendly. Are your web pages etc. available in mobile versions, so they look good on phone screens? Another implication is that some of the desktops/laptops in your business may be redundant or replaceable with phones or tablets.
And a third is that it’s time to develop a mobile marketing strategy. Using mobile devices to research products is becoming common consumer behavior, and you don’t want your business to be left off-screen. Here are 8 Ways to Make Mobile Marketing Part of Your Marketing Mix.
Rise of the Phone/Tablet App
This trend is also consumer-driven and closely related to mobile computing. Above, I said the phone is a computer. But it’s also so much more, thanks to the public’s insatiable appetite for phone apps. Business-wise, phone apps are replacing everything from mileage log books through credit card readers. An iPhone app called Square, for example, lets you accept credit card payments by plugging a card reader into your iPhone. (The iPad can also be used as a POS system.)
Your small business can benefit from this business trend by using phone apps to eliminate some of your other office equipment and supplies. You might also benefit by creating and selling your own phone app. The Amazon App is an (in)famous example of a shopping app; it scans barcodes and comparison shops, letting customers know if they can get a better deal through Amazon’s website or not.
Corporate Social Responsibility
Corporate social responsibility isn’t just for big businesses; small businesses, too, can reap great benefits by being perceived as good members of the community. It matters to consumers; a 2010 survey by Toronto-based advertising agency Bensimon Byrne found that 66 percent of Canadians said that corporate reputation has a significant impact on the brands they choose (Chris Atchison, Being a good corporate citizen helps small guys compete, The Globe and Mail). And it matters to other businesses, who want to make sure that their suppliers are as green and socially responsible as possible and appropriate to their own corporate images.
The benefit? Besides being a good thing to do it itself, it allows small businesses to compete with larger companies and can significantly improve the bottom line. If you don’t already have a corporate social responsibility strategy, this is the year to get one in place and start publicizing your work for good causes.