R.E.M. once sang “Change Is What I believe in.” That has to be the credo for small business owners. Here’s what’s on tap for 2014.
1. Certain uncertainty
The economy is always in flux, and political changes overseas don’t help anything. Ripple effects from the Affordable Care Act only add to the uncertainty.
2. Increasing competition means more focus
Some of the major retailers, including Amazon and Wal-Mart, are adapting and offering an unprecedented battery convenient services such as increased personalization, same-day delivery. This means the table are turned and it is now small businesses that will have to adapt. Here are some strategies: offer a highly-specialized or customized product or service, focusing on an tight niche, building an engaged community of customers, and cooperating with other local businesses to save expenses and cross-promote.
3. Using virtual assistants and contractual workers
The small business community as a whole is hedging its hiring plans. According to the February 2014 Small Business Economic Trends survey, just 12% of respondents reported plans to hire in the early part of the year. One reason for this is that respondents answered that the net economic conditions over the next six months would be worse.
When there isn’t the optimism to consistently hire at a growth rate, the demand for VA’s and contractual workers rises.
4. Difficulty attracting talented employees
There’s plenty of talent out there, but it’s hard to snag for small businesses. Particularly in tech fields, the talent is going to big companies in a rich-get-richer scenario. Talented employees have no more reason to be optimistic about the economy than business owners do, and signing up with a small company can appear risky.
5. Possible Raises of Minimum Wage
The city of Seattle just approved a hike of its minimum wage to a slightly dramatic $15. This particular raise is actually good for small businesses, because it affects only owners of large businesses. We’ve seen McDonald’s employees clamoring for raises in the minimum, usually involving an increase along the lines of $14 or $15 per hour. Small business owners need to be up to date on laws in their state or city, even before the laws pass. Some hikes will apply to them and some won’t, and planning accordingly, taking into account all the strategic factors, is key.
6. Need for Rep Control
Consumers are increasingly empowered to share their opinions, thanks to online product reviews, social media and viral video both good and bad, about the products and services they use. This means that small business owners must be vigilant in monitoring their online reputations.
7. Mobile business monopoly
The developing trends in mobile business include mobile marketing, mobile payments, and mobile-friendly devices. These demand responses from small business owners–tools and services are out there and relatively affordable.
In addition to using these technologies, there’s the matter of linking them to customer interactions, by linking mobile payments, mobile marketing, and location-based services, to customer loyalty programs.
8. Skepticism Toward Social Media
Social media have been around for a while now. Many small business owners are aware of tools and metrics for quantifying the ROI of particular social marketing campaigns. In 2014, we’ll probably see small business owners mounting a backlash and getting rid of social marketing campaigns that don’t work. Two to three years ago, you were a dinosaur if you weren’t using social media. We’re now reaching the other end of that cycle, in which people are stepping forward and admitting to unacceptable ROI when these are the case.
9. Visually-simple web designs
You’ve probably noticed spare web designs, with few frames and many pictures. We’re also seeing increasingly- sophisticated data visualization, the process of turning complex data sets into easy-to-understand visual material.
10. Growth of alternative finance
Scrappy small business owners will, in the last months of 2014, continue to turn to alternative financing, such as microloans, , peer-to-peer lending, accounts receivables factoring and crowd funding, to help regulate cash flow and sustain growth and expansion.
So, there you have the top trends for the balance of the year.