In addition to the holidays, one of the reasons I love December so much is because I can look forward to the New Year and think about the small business trends that are likely to continue or develop. Anticipating what’s around the bend and making adjustments in the way you conduct your business can go a long way to increasing profits and avoiding pitfalls.
Below are 10 of the small business trends I believe will be among the most important ones in 2018. My hope is that some of this information will help you enjoy your most profitable year ever!
Consumer confidence hit a 17-year high in October, and the market has been up nearly the entire year. But as we all know, these things tend to be cyclical and we never know what’s coming. Just as you should diversify your financial investments, you should also diversify your business revenues streams. In other words, don’t place all your eggs in one basket. If all of your customers are in one limited demographic or geographic area or profession, they could all be negatively affected by one unfortunate event.
Choose Value Over Gimmicks
Whether your target audience is composed mostly of Millennials or senior citizens, everybody seems to be suspicious of gimmicks, glitz and glitter these days. Being flashy may attract attention, but I’m not so sure it translates to sales very often. Focus on communicating the value that your products or services offer. This is a message that will get through to everybody.
Trust Your Data
Study your data relentlessly to discover what’s working and what isn’t in your marketing strategies. You say you’re not an expert on data analysis? That’s OK. Hire someone who is, or invest in the type of software that will figure it out for you. Seemingly random data can be transformed into valuable insight regarding the ways customers interact with your business.
Use Stories to Communicate
People don’t want to merely buy products. They want to make an emotional connection with the company selling them. Emotion drives attention and ultimately sales. Current and potential customers are much more likely to make a connection with a story you tell about your products and services than they are a bunch of “salesy” words trying to convince them to choose your business over your competition. People want to buy from companies that fit with who they are and that share values with them. Your stories can facilitate that important connection.
Beware the Hacker
As cyber criminals become even more sophisticated, hacking will take strides forward. Do whatever it takes to secure your intellectual properties and your customers’ personal information. This might cost you in the short run, but not nearly as much as you’ll be hurt if word gets out that your business has been compromised by hackers.
Hire Remote Workers
Consider hiring remote employees if you don’t already have some. The perceived downside to having remote workers is that you can’t watch them constantly. But is that really how you want to spend your time? Hiring remote employees gives you a much larger field on which to graze. If you hire the right people – responsible and talented – you’ll get just as much or more from them if they work remotely than if they were physically in your office. Make it clear to them that the benefit they receive from working at home must be matched by the production they consistently supply.
Lose a Little to Win a Lot
Be willing to lose a little money. Yes, the purpose of running a business is to make money. But sometimes you have to lose a little first. Consider selling one or two of your lower-priced items via a third party such as Amazon. You’ll reach a much larger audience that way. Some of those new buyers will connect with your brand and visit your website to see what else you offer. And some of those people might become longtime customers.
Internet vs. Brick and Mortar
Internet sales will grow in 2018. Brick and mortar sales will shrink. If the economy is growing and unemployment is shrinking, why are brick and mortar brands dying? Because they have too much overhead, which drives up prices. The Macy’s, Sears, JCPenney’s and Radio Shack’s of the world are closing stores by the hundreds. It’s projected that one-half of the country’s 1,200 malls will close by 2023. Amazon and other online retail sellers are systematically destroying them. Even if you already have a brick and mortar storefront, find ways to sell your products online.
Publicize “Made in America”
With the Trump Administration heading into its second year, it’s likely that more trade agreements and tariffs will benefit those who sell products made at home. Many companies are on-shoring jobs that were previously out-shored. If your business is local and focuses on local customers, take it a step farther and proclaim “Made in (Your City)”.
Excel at Customer Service
You could plug this one in every year because it’s always going to be a difference-maker. Figure out how much customer service your competitors are giving their customers and then out-do them. Use professional, knowledgeable and friendly people to answer your phones 24/7. Nothing aggravates current and potential customers more than listening to an endless series of recordings telling them to push this or that button. A live voice is what they want, and if you can give it to them every time they call, you’ll have a customer for life.
Allen Baler is a leading entrepreneur and Harvard grad. Allen Baler is a Partner in 4Patriots LLC, based in Nashville.
Disclaimer: This blog post is not a substitute for the sound advice of a business professional with expertise in the subject matter discussed. Please seek appropriate counsel on what strategies make sense for your business.