As has become a tradition now, this is the time of year when I offer my annual look at the top 10 trends in small business. While not a prediction column, there is by necessity a tad of prediction in it, since trends, by their very nature, are gathering forces.
Certainly this was true last year when I listed, to no one’s great surprise, the economy as the top trend of the year, and sadly, it didn’t disappoint. I am sure I speak for many of us when I say we are happy to say goodbye to 2009.
This year, the top trend is also related to the economy, but is thankfully it is not bad news. In fact, it offers fantastic opportunities for the savvy entrepreneur . . . but I am getting ahead myself. That will need to wait until next week.
Here then are the Top Trends in Small Business, 2010:
No. 10: The New Frugality: A variety of factors have coalesced to create an era of frugality – the bad economy, stubbornly high unemployment rates, and the burst of the housing bubble to name just a few.
The upshot is that people are spending less, saving more, and are looking for bargains. For the small business person, this has several ramifications: First, as you well know, it’s tougher to get people to spend, and spend more. That isn’t going away any time soon. Secondly, you have to give people what they want, and what they want are bargains.
No. 9: The New Employee: This trend is another directly related to the changing and challenging economy. More and more, employees are shifting, or are being shifted, to part-time or independent contract status. It might be a forced furlough or a forced downsizing, but whatever the case, full-time employment with full-time benefits is becoming harder and harder to find, and to offer.
It is not hard to understand why employers are doing this – it saves money – but it also creates a far less satisfied workforce. I know, “they should be happy they have a job!”, but really, can’t we begin to raise the bar again here soon?
8. Less Money, More Responsibility: It is not my way to be the bearer of bad news, and I promise that the rest of this list is not so gloomy, but this trend is real and it ties in with the previous two.
The fact of the matter is that more and more small business will have to learn to get by on less, even while their financial burden grows. There are a variety of factors at play here again, and all are equally culpable: Fewer customers with less to spend, banks who won’t make loans, tighter credit generally, the end of the home equity ATM, etc.
Yet, while the trend is less money to go around (although it will certainly be better than 2009), the financial demands on small business continue to grow. Thankfully, Congress tried to do something about out of control health care costs for instance, but if it helps (debatable, hopefully) it won’t be for several years.
Want to help us Mr. President? Get banks lending to small business again, or, as my colleague Rhonda Abrams put it so well recently, give a tax credit for hiring our first, or more, employees.
7. Welcome the Era of Hyper-Connectivity: Whereas your online life and brand used to consist of independent activities that were essentially stand-alone silos, the accelerating trend is towards using a variety of tools to create an e-interconnectedness. As explained by Adam Ostrow Editor-in-Chief of Mashable, it is easy, and smart and important, to now connect your blog to you Facebook account, which can also connect to your Twitter account, as well as MySpace, YouTube and more. Every time you update your blog for instance, your content automatically filters across your interconnected online world.
The opportunity and challenge is that you can increase your online presence multi-fold. Do it right and prosper, do it wrong and don’t.
6. Green Opportunities: The failure to reach any sort of comprehensive, legally binding, climate agreement in Copenhagen is further proof that Trend No. 6 is real and growing: There will continue to be opportunities galore in the eco-sphere for the entrepreneur. Governments may not be able to create green energy or zero emission cars, but the sharp business person can. There is and will continue be a growing and lucrative market for products that heal the environment.