If you were to pick one word to encapsulate the current small business climate, that word would be "change". Just like everyone else, small businesses are going through a lot of it in these times. These are the five most important small business trends because they are trends that small businesses can profit from.
The Social Media Presence
Most businesses have some form of online presence, whether it consists of a simple website with contact information and a basic description of business offerings or a full-blown e-commerce site offering a multitude of products and services for sale online. Many small businesses have a social media presence. They use social media such as Twitter and Facebook to find out what customers are saying about their small businesses and promote their products and services.
If you haven't, start exploring social media, finding out about the different channels available and doing a bit of dabbling to see which social media might be the best fit for you in terms of time and usefulness. If you’re just starting, try Twitter, because it's one of the most accessible and easiest to use.
If you're already using social media, review your goals for being there and evaluate your social media efforts to date. If you're not satisfied with your results so far, create a plan to refocus your social media efforts.
The Trend of Being Green
Environmental issues continue to be a growing concern of the bulk of the population. Enough people are concerned enough about issues such as climate change, global warming, flora and fauna preservation (such as preventing polar bears from becoming extinct or saving forests) and pollution prevention, for instance, to demand action – and be willing to spend money on actions that they see as making a difference.
In response, businesses have invested in greening their products and services in the hopes of capitalizing on consumers' environmental concerns. It involves both greening existing products, such as cutting down on the packaging or changing a process to make a product or service more environmentally friendly, and creating new products that claim to do little or no environmental damage.
Review your products and services from an environmentally friendly point of view. Do your products or services have green benefits that you could be playing up? If so, create a marketing campaign that will target the "green dollar".
If your products don't have any discernible environmental benefits, review your product or service offerings and see what green products or services you might add, or if there is a process change you might make that will give your product or service some green weight. For instance, you might find a closer supplier that will cut down on the environmental impact of producing your product or be able to change the packaging to make it recyclable.
Focusing on Customer Service as Differentiation
The big box and the chain have become dominant business forces, and small businesses have been forced to sidestep into niches or get run over. For many small businesses, good customer service has been the competitive shield that's allowed them to survive.
Small businesses generally can't compete with big-box or chain stores on price as they just can't match the buying power or supply chains of the bigger players. But they can compete by offering something that big box stores don't or can't, and good customer service is an obvious target.
Research your competition's customer service and consider how you can offer better customer service than they do. Prepare and implement a plan to use good customer service to differentiate your small business from all the other players in your market. This plan may include training staff and creating a new marketing campaign, for example.
Kiosks and Mini-Store Trends
Once again the large corporations led the way with this business trend. Somewhere, somebody at some point looked at an ATM machine and thought, "Gee, you really don't need a whole lot of space to make a transaction." Voila! The kiosk-within-a-store was born!
There's been a growing increase in businesses having smaller businesses conducting business in their stores. The bank with the branch in the grocery store, the ink cartridge refiller in the office supply store; businesses have found it profitable to either lease space in their commercial premises to others or to set up shop in someone else's store. You can use this small business trend to save money or to make some additional income if you have space you could rent out.
If you have commercial retail space, examine your space and see how things could be rearranged to provide you with space you could rent out. Then look for complimentary small businesses that might be interested in using that space.
If you're thinking of expanding your small business, consider the idea of opening kiosks or mini-stores in other stores rather than opening new full-size traditional storefronts.
Storefront? What Storefront?
Big and small businesses have become even more divergent in recent years. While big businesses have tended to strive to get bigger, merging with this or acquiring that, small businesses have tended to get... well, smaller - to the point that many small businesses now have no storefront at all. Thanks to the decreasing cost and increasing availability of technology, many small businesses find that all they really need is a phone and a vehicle, so they can communicate with their customers and deliver their products and/or services to them.
A few years ago it was a cell phone and a laptop that made small businesses truly mobile. Now it's just as likely to be a smartphone of some kind, so even the laptop is unnecessary. Depending on what they do, these small business people might have to store products or tools somewhere, but a storefront is definitely not a requirement.
If you currently have a physical storefront, examine your small business and see if having a physical storefront is necessary for you. In some cases, particularly service businesses, it might not be necessary.
From Trendy to Trendsetter?
Getting your small business involved in one or more of these trends will not only make your business appealing current to customers but improve your bottom line. And who knows? One of the things that you do to follow a trend may spark innovation, at your company, that turns you into the setter of the next big trend.