Following a tempestuous election year, 2017 has proven to be a positive year for business, with a booming stock market and increased confidence among small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) that the economy is strong. In fact, SMBs are continuing to grow at a record rate, and 99.7 percent of all U.S. businesses are considered “small” with fewer than 500 employees. According to the National Small Business Association, the biggest concerns for SMBs continue to be economic uncertainty, the cost of health insurance, the decline in consumer spending, and regulatory constraints. These challenges are ongoing, but there are specific business trends emerging in 2017 that should get attention from every SMB owner.
Innovative Trends in Small Business
As the economy continues to grow, market forces are having a direct impact on SMBs and where they need to focus to maintain success. Changes in business practices, hiring strategies, technology, and other areas are forcing SMBs to rapidly evolve, so it’s essential to keep pace with the latest innovations.
Here are just six small business trends that we have been following in 2017:
- Embracing the Millennials. SMBs are recognizing the value and unique contributions of Millennials (i.e. those born from 1980 to 2000). This is the internet generation; a group that has grown up online and feels the need to connect, collaborate, and make things better. Millennials bring a new energy and attitude to business, always looking to improve things and jump-start change. And Millennials are more interested in teamwork and contributing to the group than doing it on their own to impress the boss. Embracing Millennials means retooling company culture and creating a new collaborative environment where everyone wins.
- More use of technology. All aspects of technology are revolutionizing small business. Cloud computing has made enterprise applications affordable, secure, and fast to deploy, so every SMB these days is using hosted customer relationship management applications, accounting, marketing automation, inventory management, and other business-critical applications. New analytics techniques and even big data also will provide SMBs with better insight into operational efficiencies and market trends.
Emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things also promise to have a dramatic impact on SMBs.
- More e-commerce. SMBs realize they can make more money with less overhead selling online. Just as Millennials are changing the workforce, they are also the biggest consumers, so they are changing the way we buy goods and services. Fifty-one percent of Americans prefer to shop online, and 96 percent have made an online purchase at some time. To attract these online shoppers, SMBs are becoming smarter about setting up online stores, leveraging SEO, using social media, and finding ways to increase the size of each sale. For example, research shows that 58 percent of shoppers are willing to buy more items to get free shipping.
- Connecting with customers rather than selling to them. Another small-business trend is the emergence of collaborative commerce. In the age of web shopping, consumers are used to “free, perfect, and now”: finding exactly what they want immediately and at a price they are willing to pay. Smart SMB owners understand they can’t necessarily compete on price, so they have to compete with better customer service. We are migrating to a connection economy, where businesses connect with customers using mobile apps, social media, web-delivered information, and word of mouth. It’s no longer about selling consumers but rather connecting with people to build trust and offering customers convenience and responsiveness.
- Training remote employees. Remote workers and telecommuters are no longer a novelty but the new small-business norm. According to a recent Gallup poll, 43 percent of Americans say they do some work remotely, and 31 percent say they do some work remotely four or five days each week. More small businesses are embracing this trend with the use of social media, Skype, chat, video conferencing, and other tools and technologies. SMBs also are doing more training and establishing best practices to ensure remote workers are efficient and effective.
- Better collaboration and communications tools. Embracing Millennials, increased technology adoption, better customer communications, and support for remote workers are creating demand for better communications tools and protocols. Unified communications has been a growing trend because it consolidates various forms of interaction and collaboration in a single toolset. Similarly, handheld devices and smartphones will play an increasingly important part in business communications, because mobile devices have become an integral part of business and personal communications. In fact, 74 percent of organizations already have embraced bring-your-own-device strategies, recognizing that employees are more productive when they get to use their own smartphones and mobile hardware.
Supporting Small-Business Trends with Technology
Products like Spoke are designed to support these small-business trends, giving SMBs a cost-effective collaboration tool that lets employees use their own smartphones for business communications and collaboration. Spoke converts employees’ smartphones into an office phone system. Spoke routes incoming calls to remote workers; offers standard business calling features such as auto-attendant, voice mail, smart directories, call routing, and group calling; and even offers innovations such as presence and call prioritization. With Spoke, employees are always in touch to collaborate on a team problem or provide customer support.
To stay competitive, small businesses need to stay abreast of the latest trends and especially the latest technologies.
That doesn’t mean they have to follow the herd. Rather they need to understand the latest small-business trends and how to adapt the best of emerging technology to build their own success.