Okay, every year I've offered some insight into the year ahead for small businesses. In fact, I think it's quite common for any consultant and would-be psychic to demonstrate their astute prowess and outline clear bets. And this year is no different!
So - in a very envelope-to-forehead moment - here I go: my five predictions for the small business in 2011.
1. Lean. Call me a nattering naybob but I'm still not convinced that postponing tax breaks is going to eliminate uncertainty, nor is sustaining the current level of taxation going to put more money in people's pockets. I mean, it hasn't already so...? Economists are forecasting flat employment growth throughout 2011. So I think the small business is going to stay lean. They might even get leaner, employing some of the trends and tech below to reach even higher economies of scale and automation. Small businesses are learning - must learn - to do more with less, consistently, to survive. Look for some small businesses to fold whereas others take more drastic steps to achieve profitability: fire bad customers, lay-off entire regions or divisions, or, eliminate the need for a building.
2. Cloud. Why own when you can rent? That's really the idea being tossed around in the housing market but it's also applicable to small business computing! Why own a server, or, an application, when you can rent it for a period of time? And when you don't need it any more, ditch it? Efforts by all of the major vendors is making the cloud easier to reach and use by everyone. More small businesses will adopt cloud-based technologies and abandon the use of local servers. Look for more small businesses raising their hand and asking about the maturity of some of this technology, and for developing a migration strategy.
3. Social. If mass media is too expensive and budgets are tight, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to believe small businesses will start looking at social media as a viable alternative. Social networks allow businesses to get closer to consumers than ever before and to personify their brand. Yeah, we're going to see more of that. Look for small businesses to out-pace enterprise adoption, and to apply this technology more creatively, winning-over tight-wad consumers and convincing them to spend their scarce dollars locally! You just watch ... look for a substantial shift in marketing expenses away from television, radio, and print as traditional media continues to writhe and die a horrible, prolonged death.
4. Mobile. Next year will bring a gaggle of new gadget tech. The new iPhone 5 that'll feature 4G; a new iPad 2; a bunch of Android competitors; more eBook readers. Personally, I don't know where consumers are going to find the funds to invest in all of these disposable toys but, hey, the demand seems to be there. Look for small businesses to start leveraging Cloud and Social strategies across Mobile platforms to offer themselves greater flexibility in staffing and building expenses. Watch for people who passed on the iPhone 4 to scoop up the iPhone 5, and Apple - whose being fiercely eaten alive by Android in terms of market share, will announce some really cool features and enticements to retain their customer-base and pull-in defectors from the Android camp.
5. eBooks. Everybody's getting into them. Amazon, Google, Apple. This whole decade will be about transforming the distribution channel for books and video into an electronic medium, just like last decade was about music. Everybody, including you, are changing your consumer preferences! Self-publishing is here. Also, self-service is here because of plentiful low-cost bandwidth. Look for downward pressure on growth for large chain booksellers and video outlets; look for small/niche/specialty sellers in local communities cropping up to take their place. Look for our consumer habits to shift with more people consuming digital media over paper.
Predictions? Or perhaps I've just a command of the obvious? Meh, you decide.
By the way, I really liked this article from the Business Insider articulating 10 ways every small business should be preparing for 2011. Really good read!