What will 2012 hold for small businesses? We asked a handful of business trend-watchers and business owners for their opinions on how the coming 12 months will likely shape up. Their verdict? Overall, businesses will build on the social media lessons they learned in 2011, and will turn to technology to boost productivity and flexibility. Next year will also bring employee-recruitment challenges, and it will bring about a new appreciation for relationship building as an important stepping stone towards financial success.
1. Tech Labor Shortage
Hall Martin, director of the Austin Entrepreneur Network, believes that small businesses in this Texas city often find it difficult to corral the technology expertise they need to bring new products or services to market. “Technical labor is a big challenge in this part of the world,” he says. Businesses of all sizes will lean more heavily on cloud-based software to facilitate project and client management as an increasing shortage of technology labor affects businesses in 2012.
2. Freedom & Flexibility
Companies will embrace videoconferencing more than ever next year in an effort to be more flexible, especially when it comes to employees. Brian Difeo of Hive at 55, a Manhattan co-working facility, says the latest generation of potential employees insists on being able to work wherever they feel most productive. If that means at home, on a customer’s premises, or at a café, businesses will need to offer ways for those employees to keep connected.
“While videoconferencing has been around for a while, typically it’s only used by a small percentage of professionals. I think that’s going to grow,” Difeo says.
3. Be Where Your Clients Are
Many businesses took keenly to social media in 2011, using sites like Facebook and LinkedIn to broaden their reach to customers. In 2012, forecasters are saying that while some companies will deepen their use of social media and roll out integrated social networking programs, some businesses will abandon social media altogether. While the commercial zeitgeist suggests every company should use this technology, in 2012 organizations will scrutinize the benefits carefully to avoid wasting an investment that may be better placed in traditional media, as that may be where clients are.
4. Tough Customers
Here’s something that isn’t going to grow: customers’ willingness to pay more. Jayme Soulati, head of PR firm Soulati Media Inc. in Dayton, Ohio, says many businesses have been discounting their products and services since the start of the recession. As the economy struggles to its feet, clients won’t want to go back to paying pre-collapse prices.
“It’s the new normal,” she says. “Unfortunately, consumers have become spoiled.” For 2012, businesses will either find ways to reduce their own costs to restore margins, or they’ll zero in on the few customers who may be willing to pay more, given exceptional service and best-of-industry products. Relationship building will be the key to winning over those clients, Soulati says.
5. Tough Lending for New Small Biz
Want to borrow in 2012? Prove you’re worth the risk. “Banks aren’t going to open their purse strings to SMBs that don’t have incredible credibility,” Soulati says.
Businesses trying to win over banks and other lending institutions will have a tough audience next year. While lenders will be more willing to lend in general, they won’t be willing to lend to businesses that lack excellent business plans – and in this day and age, you can bet that a number of new companies (many started by people who until recently had traditional full time 9-to-5 employment) are vying for the banks’ attention.
What do you think will be trending in 2012? Vote for one of these five below or tell us what you see for the future!