It’s never easy to run a successful small business, especially if you have aspirations to turn your modest little enterprise into a much larger organization with revenues to match. To stay ahead of the curve, it’s important to be able to keep track of trends that affect the small business sector. This includes trends already in motion, as well as those that will come along in the near future.
Naturally, predicting the future is hardly a foolproof endeavor, but, even so, certain general business trends can be detected with a fair degree of accuracy. Having said that, let’s take the plunge and make some predictions about developments in the small business sector that may transpire during the year 2016.
If you’ve been following the news, it’s likely that you’re already familiar with the coordinated protests of fast-food workers in various areas who are fighting to increase their wages. This is part of a broader, nationwide movement to boost the minimum wage, and these efforts have already led to labor-law changes in several communities. In one of the most dramatic success stories, the Los Angeles City Council voted in May 2015 to hike the local minimum wage from $9/hour to $15/hour by the year 2020.1 We will probably see similar increases across the country in the near future.
So, what does this mean for the small business owner? For one thing, businesses that are skating precariously on thin profit margins may soon have to contend with mandated wage increases. As a result, many small businesses across a number of industries may be forced to raise prices; they may also begin automating certain functions as far their budget and current technology will permit. Wage hikes could also force businesses to make hard decisions about which departments and operations are truly essential, and which can be safely scaled back or eliminated altogether.
Growing Reliance on Freelancers
The number of freelance employees is growing steadily. In 2012, the U.S. workforce was over 14% freelance1—and this figure will almost certainly rise in the future. There are a number of reasons for this phenomenon, not the least of which is the recession of the last decade, which made steady 40-hour-per-week jobs relatively scarce and convinced many workers of the need to hold part-time positions at multiple companies.
Juggling job duties at different companies is easier when they can be managed on a freelance basis. These days, it’s possible for many jobs to be performed in front of one’s personal computer, and that’s what many employees are doing, often working remotely for two or more different businesses without leaving the house.
Some small business owners are reluctant to depend too heavily on freelancers, and their hesitation in this regard can be justified, to some extent. The IRS places restrictions on the use of freelancers, making them undesirable or impractical for certain positions. Also, it’s easier to maintain control of your workforce when they’re working on site. Yet it’s undeniably true that many businesses large and small, are adjusting well to our increasingly freelance-based workplace, and owners should consider abandoning their reluctance to join this trend.
Rising Usage of the Cloud
The cloud is basically a virtual environment maintained by a number of servers to ensure a safe level of redundancy and optimal uptime. Like the Internet, a cloud environment doesn’t really exist in a specific place—it can be accessed by any device capable of connecting to it, provided that it has the proper credentials.
Due to the influence of this highly flexible technology, the business world has begun the process of shifting away from reliance on desktop computers and similar apparatus. Among other benefits, this means that companies will be able to spend less money on this kind of equipment, free up office space that would otherwise be devoted to unwieldy hardware, and scale back their IT departments.
New Developments in Cybersecurity
A lot of small business owners think they’re too “under the radar” to attract the notice of cybercriminals who presumably would rather target large corporations that command far greater revenues. They’re wrong. Criminals can and often do hack into digital assets controlled by small companies. In fact, no less than 60 percent of all cybercrime activities are aimed at small businesses.2
The world of cybersecurity continues to evolve, and businesses of all sizes must be able to keep pace with these ongoing developments. If your business accepts credit cards, then you must remain compliant with the rules of the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) in order to ensure that this sensitive data is safely handled.
Flouting these rules can result in a damaging data breach as well as serious fines levied by the major payment card organizations (e.g., Visa, MasterCard). You also need to keep your firewalls and anti-virus software updated, as new threats emerge from cyberspace all the time.
The Mounting Importance of Mobile Technology
It seems like everyone spends much of their time glued to their smartphones nowadays. That’s not news, of course—but a lot of business owners aren’t fully aware of the impact this trend is having on consumer habits. It’s becoming increasingly common for people to make purchases on their cell phones, which means your business must be able to provide the tools to accommodate this preference.
One important step is to make sure that your company’s website is designed for tiny mobile screens. Failure to do this may alienate customers who prefer to do their shopping on their portable devices.
Greater Dependence on Call Center Services
Outsourcing as a tactic to save money has been used by the business world for some years now; this is another trend that will be with us through 2016 and beyond. As we have noted, a growing number of business functions are being handled off-site—sometimes on the other side of the world.
Call center services are among those responsibilities that today’s businesses, increasingly, are leaving to third-party companies to manage. Bear in mind that a good third-party answering service can do much more than merely pick up a phone and take a message; it can also provide emergency dispatch, order entry, event registration, appointment setting, and alarm monitoring services—and this is not a complete list. These services are also very cost-effective, allowing businesses to offload some burdensome tasks at a reasonable price.
Customer Service Will Become as Vital as Ever
There was a time when dissatisfied customers had few outlets for resolving grievances against a given company. They could ask for a refund or, failing this, turn to the Better Business Bureau. In today’s 24/7 Internet-based society, however, customers have a number of options to voice complaints and possibly damage a company’s reputation.
Sites like Yelp provide an easy-to-use platform for consumers who feel they have been mistreated by a company with which they have done business. As a result, one unhappy customer can create a lot of trouble for a company by maligning its reputation across several high-traffic websites. This makes reputation management a pressing concern for small business owners. You need to continually monitor business review sites so you can address customer complaints and clear up misleading information.
Local Marketing Continues to Surge
When we talk about “local marketing,” we’re talking about promotional efforts addressed to the immediate area around the physical location of your business. This involves mailed flyers, print ads in locally distributed magazines, commercials on local TV stations, search engine optimization to attract local customers (e.g., ranking well for location-dependent Internet searches such as “nail salon Cincinnati, OH”), and similar tactics. A good local marketing campaign can persuade local customers to patronize your business rather than the better-funded “big name” franchise a few miles away.
For more information about how your small business can take advantage of call center services, visithttp://www.callcenteragency.com/call-center-services-inbound-call-center.html.