Tuesday, December 18, 2012

7 Hot Trends for Small Business in 2013

By Barry Moltz, OPEN Forum

The year ahead will test all small-business owners. The country is at the edge of the fiscal cliff. Taxes are expected to go up for the wealthy. The lower capital gains tax and home mortage deductions may be a thing of the past. Who really knows what Obamacare will mean to their business?
 Here are the hot opportunities and risks all small-business leaders face in 2013:
1. Micro startups are everywhere. With unemployment still high, many people are forced into business for themselves. These “solopreneurs” collaborate with others on a per project basis. The opportunity: It’s now less costly for small-business owners to find the exact resource they need when they need it. There’s no longer a requirement to hire employees with skills that are only utilized sparingly. This reduces the company’s fixed costs.

2. The remote workforce goes mainstream
. One of the biggest issues for companies was locating the exact skills they needed in their geographic area. Now through Internet collaborations, companies can hire people almost anywhere in the world to get the exact skill required.The risk: How can a small-business owner form a company culture for a remote workforce when people never see each other? Collaboration tools such as Jam, Tracky and Wiggio can help build a cohesive culture. And while it takes discipline, video conferencing becomes a critical tool.

3. Alternate financing increases
. There has been very little increase in bank financing of small business in the past year. The opportunity: Companies are forced to run cash flow positive business and keep closer track of their finances. It also forces collaborative vendor and customer financing. Crowdfunding with the Start Up America Actshould vastly increase for companies looking to raise capital online.

4. The role of the distributor is shrinking
. The Internet is a place where almost every product can be found without help from any type of intermediary. This has drastically changed the supply chain for many businesses. In addition, every consumer products distributor is now forced to compete directly with Amazon. The risk: This presents a danger for any company that buys a product from a vendor and marks it up in its original form to sell it to a customer. Small-business owners need to find new ways to add “value” in every supply chain.

5. Mobile payments are accepted by every employee. 
For retailers, long lines in front of the cash register are gone. The mobile payment model that Apple uses in its stores—where each employee greets the customer, assists with product selection, processes the transaction on an iPhone and e-mails a receipt—is the future. The opportunity: The salesperson on the retail floor can greet customers and stay with them through the entire sale, increasing prospect to customer conversion rates.

6. Earned media is what counts
. Expensive paid advertising no longer attracts the most customers. Earned media like online reviews and referrals are the key part of the customer’s buying process. The opportunity: Forget one-off advertisement placements and instead invest in a long-term strategy of building a community of supporters who talk about the company’s products online. 

7. Every employee and consumer has his or her own device.
 Companies no longer have to supply employees with their phones and computers. Most employees bring them with them (commonly called BYOD, or Bring Your Own Device). Customers also want to access their information at a company from a variety of devices. The risk: The company has to make sure all these devices talk to their business applications. In addition, each unlocked device presents a separate security risk that needs to be managed.

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