In the first week of 2013, many small-business owners are setting goals for the New Year. Which is a smart idea, of course, but it might be easier to set a 2013 path by answering a few simple questions. What do you need? What do you want? What are your challenges?
Before you start answering these questions, it may help to find out what other small business are thinking. This past year Dell conducted six “Small Business Go Local Think Tanks” all over the country (with more to come in 2013), polling business owners in these cities, then gathering a group of them to discuss challenges and share solutions.
There are three main areas these entrepreneurs are concerned about: staffing, technology and money.
Access to qualified talent was a big concern for the small-business owners in all six regions, and yet the polls revealed that most of their businesses weren’t hiring or firing and have remained essentially the same size for the past three years.
These findings were underscored by the results of the American Express OPEN Small Business Monitor released last fall. The Monitor indicated small-business owners were sitting tight, not planning to grow, or hire or fire in the next six months.
However, the southern California Think Tank attendees were on the lookout for new employees. The problem? They couldn’t find qualified, trained personnel to hire. More than 80 percent of the entrepreneurs in all six markets agreed that access to qualified talent was crucial to their success. This spells opportunity, as there’s obviously a need for job training from both the public and private sectors, perhaps explaining why many predict online learning will be a “hot” business in 2013.
Technology is becoming increasingly complex for many business owners. The key issue here is finding help. For many entrepreneurs the ideal would be to hire a dedicated IT person, but very few companies actually have one on staff. For tech solutions, most turn to freelance specialists or do it themselves.
But is being in charge of your own company’s technology the smartest move for most small-business owners? Undoubtedly some of you have the skills, but do you have the time?
If you need help with some of the emerging technologies but don’t want to hire a full-time employee, consider outsourcing to an online freelance entrepreneur. Elance, a platform for online employment, reported in November that the demand for gamification freelancers with skills in cover design (up 303 percent), game development (up 88 percent) and game programming (up 76 percent) has skyrocketed this year, hitting record levels. Also in high demand are those with security experience as engineers (up 448 percent), analysts (up 326 percent) and Web security managers (up 87 percent).
If you want to be competitive in 2013, you might consider investing in technology. Most of the business owners polled in Los Angeles (62 percent), Austin (58 percent), Atlanta (57 percent) and Chicago (54 percent) expect small businesses to invest in technology next year to fuel growth.
Of course it takes money to do that, and unfortunately most entrepreneurs are still struggling to find outside sources of capital. Only the business owners in Chicago said banks were their primary source of funding; the entrepreneurs in the other five Think Tank cities had to rely on personal savings.
Perhaps the most disappointing data from the polls shows most entrepreneurs ignore foreign markets as a path to successful growth. In this global economy, a strong middle class is emerging in the developing nations, and many are looking to do business with Americans. If you’re still considering setting 2013 goals, exploring global markets would be a smart move for many of you.
The good news is entrepreneurs everywhere are feeling good about 2013. The Dell Think Tank polls show business owners in all six markets expect their finances and sales to improve. This positive outlook is mirrored again in the American Express OPEN Small Business Monitor, where 77 percent are optimistic about their business prospects.
Read more Business Growth articles.