With 2018 upon us, it's time to revamp and rethink your strategies for your small business. Align your goals with what's trending to ensure you meet, or even possibly exceed, your expectations.
From hiring to technological advances, here are 10 small business trends you should keep in mind when setting your 2018 goals.
Marketing & Customer Service
Micro-influencers might be more effective for your small business.
Influencer marketing has been an effective method of targeting potential customers, but it's not always possible to have a high-following influencer promote your products or services. For 2018, consider focusing on micro-influencer marketing instead.
Micro-influencers are influencers with less than 100,000 followers. These influencers might actually be more effective for your small business as people can relate to them better. Micro-influencers have a more attainable lifestyle than those with millions of followers and multiple sponsorships. They also offer cheaper contracts for sponsoring your small business. If you weren't successful reaching out to influencers in 2017, target micro-influencers for 2018.
Target Generation Z customers through personalization.
Generation Z (those born between 1996 and 2010) will soon accumulate 40 percent of consumers in America. These customers want a more personalized experience when working with your small business, and you'll want to target them as their buying power exceeds $44 billion.
You can target these customers through social media and email (60 percent of Generation Z consumers say email is the most preferred and personal way brands can target them). Leverage videos, images and customize your emails to specific psychographics. Remember that Generation Z aren't millennials. You should master personalized visual communication to capture their attention and loyalty.
Invest in artificial intelligence.
By 2020, artificial intelligence (AI) is projected to be a top five investment priority for CIOs, according to NFIB. Some small businesses are already hopping on this trend, with 59 percent collecting the information they need to build an AI strategy. As a small business owner, you should begin investing in data collection, integrating AI into your small business and training your team for AI.
Rather than creating a machine-learning tool, most small businesses will rely on larger technology companies to filter the tools into their cloud platforms (currently, 70 percent of businesses with less than 100 employees use a cloud platform). Incorporating AI will allow you to anticipate your customers' needs, identifying your most profitable customers based on their behaviors.
Cybersecurity grows more complex.
Cybersecurity became a hot topic in 2017 after the Equifax hack and many others. In 2016 alone, 55 percent of data breaches were targeted toward businesses. Despite this, 90 percent of small businesses report that they don't use data protection for their company and customers' information. The cost of an informational hack is vast for small businesses, ranging anywhere from $84,000 to $148,000.
Ransomware has become a larger threat, and although small businesses don't believe they're worth targeting, 43 percent of attacks are aimed at them. Investing in AI can also help your cyber defenses as machine learning tools can predict and identify attacks. You should also invest in application and patching testing. Testing your security shows you how effective your system is at protecting sensitive data and where you need to make patches.
Cashless payments expected to grow 80 percent by 2020.
By 2020, it's projected that 56 percent of customers will use mobile payments. While cash currently remains the most popular means of payment, non-cash transactions increased 11 percent between 2014 and 2015 while checks decreased 13 percent in 2015. As check payments fall, mobile payments should help you with your invoicing methods, giving you, your customers and suppliers more ways to pay.
To keep up with cashless payments, adopt mobile wallets like Apple Pay, Samsung Pay or Google Pay. You can also offer in-app, in-browser and person-to-person (P2P) payment platforms.
Outsource where needed.
Outsourcing is expected to continue growing in 2018 but not without its own trends and challenges. Cloud-based outsourcing is one popular method. Ninety-five of businesses in a study claimed to use cloud computing systems. Cloud-based outsourcing offers fast scalability and pay-as-you-go methods, but employees based in this system often don't work long-term.
Consider outsourcing the areas of your small business that you're not as well-versed in. If you're bad with numbers, outsource a bookkeeper and an accountant to help you keep up with your financials. If you're not a marketing strategist, outsource a social media manager, content creator or search strategist.
Gen Z has different desires for the workplace.
Millennials are rising into leadership positions in their careers as the oldest are 35 now. Soon, they'll be managing Gen Z. Born after 1998, Gen Z begins to make its presence in the consumer and workforce space. However, each generation has its own ideals in terms of their career and what they want in a workplace.
Although both grew up with devices and technology, Gen Z has different desires for their careers and workplace. Gen Z is more independent than millennials, which could lead to a return of closed-off workspaces (unlike the open-floor plan millennials crave). As they've grown up with multiple technological advances, Gen Z can adapt to technological advances more quickly than generations before. Gen Z are also more likely to be in pursuit of a steady paycheck instead of millennials, who are more likely to pursue happiness.
Allow your employees to work remotely.
Did you know that 60 percent of employees believe they can do their jobs remotely (and 72 percent prefer working at home!)? Remote work can actually save your small business some funds if you have employees who work full-time remotely. Studies show that businesses save an average of $20,000 a year for these full-time remote employees, see 22 percent increases in employee productivity and see a 50 percent decrease in employee turnover.
However, if you'd rather not have your employees work remotely every day, offer them other options. If they have a longer commute, offer one or two days a week where they can work from home. You could also allot a certain number of remote days a year (similarly to allotting time off or sick days).
Make your small business a place people love to work at.
You should also aim make your small business a fun place to work. While it's not possible to make every moment of every day fun, you can try offering a variety of workplace perks, big or small, to boost positivity around the office. You can also offer outdoor workspaces, which are proven to lower stress and boost morale. If your business is the type to have it, put a ping-pong table in the caf‚Äö√†√∂¬¨¬© or offer massage chairs. If you'd rather offer free snacks, dress-down days or once-in-a-while free bagels, do that instead.
Show that you care.
One of the best ways to improve your company's culture in 2018 is to show that you care. If employees are dealing with personal matters, show them compassion. If they have new ideas, encourage their innovation. Express gratitude for big wins or even for small tasks they performed outside of their duties.
You should also listen to your employees. See what they value in a workplace, what they take pride in working for your small business, what they would like to change and how they'd like to be commended for their work.
With the right strategies, you can attain or even exceed your expected yearly goals. These 10 small business trends will help you stay ahead of the game (and your competitors) in 2018.
About the Author
Constantina Kokenes is an SEO & Content Specialist at Kabbage, a fully-automated online lender for small businesses. She holds a Master's degree from Northwestern University.