Most small-business owners eagerly anticipate the arrival of the new year. We’re entrepreneurs—we’re not afraid of the unknown. In fact, we welcome it.
But we also try to gain every advantage we can. To that end, I’ve spoken with 11 experts and entrepreneurs to get their perspectives on 2014 and what lies ahead for your business.
Who: Independent workforce expert Gene Zaino, president and CEO of MBO Partners, a firm that offers business administration services for self-employed professionals
1. "Forget BYOD [bring your own device]. 2014 will be the year of BYOW [bring your own worker]. Managers, using the cloud, will be able to build their own teams and procure the help they need on a project-by-project basis."
2. "Employers will shift from being providers to being enablers. Instead of providing traditional perks and benefits, companies will focus on enhancing the workplace experience by providing such benefits as flexible workspaces and paid-time-off to volunteer."
3. "Employees will take a “build your own career” approach to establish greater responsibility and control over their work lives. [Since benefits will no longer be offered by employers,] we will see the emergence of new service industries to support these new burdens on the American worker."
4. "American workers will move in larger droves to self-employment, with more than 1 million more Americans joining the self-employed ranks in 2014."
Who: Raj Narayanaswamy, CEO and co-founder of Replicon, a provider of cloud-based, time-tracking software
5. "During the next year, SMBs will change the way they employ workers. Due to the Affordable Care Act mandates, some companies will choose to use more part-time employees to save money. To understand and manage the productivity levels of these non-homogenous workforces, companies will require additional analytics and control mechanisms."
Who: Mike Pugh, vice president of marketing at j2 Global, a company that provides both cloud services and digital media services to businesses, via the j2 Global 2013 End-of-Year SMB Survey
6. "Health concerns will be top of mind: 43 percent of SMB professionals vow to improve their health in 2014."
7. "Flexible work policies will increase in popularity: 36 percent of businesses plan to offer them."
8. "No more free work: 59 percent of businesses that plan to hire interns will pay them."
Who: Sam Gaddis, CMO of Mutual Mobile, a mobile technology consulting firm
9. "Small businesses will lead the way on accepting mobile payments and push the industry and consumers to embrace a mobile wallet. When information is securely housed on a wearable device, like a smartwatch, is when we'll really see mobile payments prevail with consumers."
10. "Consumers will take control of their privacy, embrace two-factor authentication and lose their fear of data collection. This will create endless opportunities for businesses to better understand their customers and [offer] improved services, but it also means businesses have to take security seriously and offer more than a six-digit code to protect their customers' data."
11. "Geography will become completely irrelevant to shopping. While we're still years away from unmanned drones delivering packages, fulfillment and shipping are becoming easier for businesses to navigate. Small businesses cannot rely solely on storefronts as the market becomes less Main Street, more World Wide Web."
12. "Small businesses will get smarter about applications—no more building an app just to build an app. Mobile initiative planning processes will continue to gain sophistication as marketers align business priorities with user needs, developing smart applications that makes their offerings stickier."
13. "Use of VoIP will continue to grow relative to cellular calling."
14. "Apps that blend multiple value-propositions and create a more convenient communication experience for customers will prosper."
15. "Instead of seeking venture capital funding, [technology] entrepreneurs will look more aggressively to angel investors for investment and more angel investors will look for successful technology investments."
Who: Matt Winn, marketing communications manager for Volusion, an e-commerce software and shopping cart solutions business
16. "Customer shopping behaviors are becoming more fragmented, so small-business owners [need to embrace] multichannel selling. Simply having an e-commerce site isn't enough; you [need to find] efficient ways to expand your presence, including integrations with various shopping feeds and other outlets that can reach more consumers."
17. "The need to turn to performance data from both a channel-specific and holistic standpoint is becoming even more important. Google Analytics is one of the best tools for this, because it allows business owners to measure their site traffic from multiple devices and referral sites, slice this data into different segments—customers and prospects—and set up metrics to show where to adjust your materials to increase conversions and reduce acquisition costs."
18. "Expect usage of mobile and tablet devices in terms of commerce to accelerate as mobile adoption continues to increase and more mobile technologies become available. Small businesses need a mobile-optimized version of their sites, preferably with mobile-optimized checkout. Small retailers should test their sites across multiple mobile devices and pay attention to new technologies, such as the introduction of the smartwatch."
19. "Changing Google algorithms means traditional SEO tactics, like keyword usage and density, are falling by the wayside, and there will be an increased push toward quality, unique content and social media. Look beyond writing product descriptions and basic website content, and begin creating useful, more lifestyle-oriented content in the form of blog posts, videos and other types of media that encourage sharing by readers."
20. "Small, online businesses need to become more nimble in how they compete, both from a price, customer service and marketing standpoint. Conduct internal and competitive analysis to identify your true point of difference, particularly against major retailers like Amazon, and then showcase [that differentiation] from a marketing and branding perspective."
Who: Damon Schechter, CEO of e-commerce order fulfillment firm Shipwire
21. "It will be easier for consumers to buy online, making the online experience better than offline, and shrinking the globe."
22. "To increase sales, more businesses will cover the cost of returns and offer same-day and next-day deliveries."
23. "Look for more mobile and tablet e-commerce tools. Global e-commerce is growing rapidly, and major brands are interested in engaging their buyers directly, with great branded e-commerce experiences regardless of where they're located."
Who: Alastair Mitchell, CEO and co-founder of Huddle, an enterprise content collaboration platform provider
24. "A huge number of organizations are already supporting mobile workers. Next we’ll see an increasing number of companies roll out secure, lightweight and easy-to-use tools that support secure content creation, such as memos, meeting minutes and to-do lists for people on the go."
Who: Clint Oram, co-founder and CTO of CRM software company SugarCRM
25. "2014 will be a pivotal year for CRM. The solutions will become more innovative, personalized, affordable, intuitive and social [to increase customer engagement]."
Who: Judd Hollas, CEO of EquityNet, an equity crowdfunding and angel investment firm
26. "Equity crowdfunding [ECF] will become a global phenomenon as countries seek to implement it to maintain economic competitiveness. In some countries, such as the United Kingdom, ECF is already legal. In the U.S., Title III of the JOBS Act will allow almost any investor to participate in ECF sometime in 2014.
27. "According to a 2013 crowdfunding report from Massolution, around $5.1 billion [was raised] globally in 2013—a 100 percent increase from 2012. ECF accounted for about 4 percent of that total, or $204 million. Assuming that the global crowdfunding market will again experience a 100 percent growth rate, ECF could generate between $500 million to $1 billion in 2014."
28. "A significant number of ECF platforms will no longer be operational by the end of 2014."
Who: Josef Holm, CEO of TubeStart, which provides crowdfunding for Web series and digital video
29. "Having an innovative idea will not be enough anymore. Companies seeking crowdfunding will need to create strong marketing plans to raise money."
30. "Video marketing will drive more online sales. Already 52 percent of web traffic is video based, leading consumers to buy and invest."
31. "Social media will no longer be a stand-alone, informal effort. Instead, small-business owners will integrate their social media plans into their overall marketing strategy."
32. "More companies seeking funds will employ mobile-friendly marketing solutions to reach potential funders. Currently more than 40 percent of consumers access the Internet via their mobile phones."
33. "Print solutions—brochures, business cards and marketing materials—will still be an important component of a small-business marketing plan, but they need to be connected to the company’s online presence."
34. "In order to cement customer relationships, small businesses will need to offer exclusive content, including video, special offers, discounts or e-newsletters, to their fans and followers."
From what these experts have to say, it sounds like 2014 will a challenging, but fulfilling year. But what do entrepreneurs think? According to the just-released Rocket Lawyer December 2013 Semi-Annual Small Business Survey, while more than 50 percent of small businesses “experienced growth that met or exceeded expectations” in 2013, 80 percent expect 2014 will be an even better year.
What do you think is going to happen in 2014? Share your predictions in the comments below.
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