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Cindy Bates

Vice President, US Small and Midsized Business & Distribution of Microsoft

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Top Trends in Small Business for 2017

May 04, 2017

Learn what's coming down the pike for small business.

Every year around this time over at my USA TODAY column, I gaze into my crystal ball and share what I see coming down the pike for small business. These annual prognostications are a mashup of briefings, data, trends and expert opinion shared with me over the course of the year. Not surprisingly, technology always plays an important part in these pieces, and that is no less true this year. Business success today requires keeping a keen eye on the technological needs and evolutions of core constituencies, especially those of customers and employees.

Here then, in no particular order, are the top trends in small business as I see it for 2017:

The rise of the millennial: At Microsoft Envision last spring, there were literally hundreds of sessions – everything from transforming your business to mastering the cloud to the future of productivity. But guess which session had the greatest attendance and engagement?

“Understanding the Millennial Mindset.”

Standing room only, the session was so popular because attendees knew that the demographics of the country, and their business, are changing. Millennials now outnumber Boomers, and they have disposable income often not yet bound to any one brand. That spells opportunity.

By the same token, not only are Millennials your new customers, they are likely your next employee, and those employees expect to be able to work when and where they want. That’s where technology fits in; your job as a small business owner will increasingly center around giving employees the sort of productivity tools they require and demand, whether it be mobile devices or any number of other tools.

The transformation of digital advertising: No, digital advertising is not dying. Far from it. But it is changing. You likely know that banner ad click-through rates are way down. That is partly due to the rise of social media, partly due to ad-blocking software, and partly due to, yes, our friends, the Millennials.

It turns out that not only do Millennials trust User Generated Content the most when making purchasing decisions, they often will not even buy without first consulting Yelp, blogs, online reviews, and social media.

Beyond that, content marketing is on the rise, and this means that for small businesses, beyond pay-per-click ads (which remain very important), other types of “advertising” should likely include a mix of podcasts, e-newsletters, webinars, live streaming (see below), and blogs.

The advent of live streaming: Video, as we all know, has been hot for quite some time. The news here is that live streaming is the new kid on the video block. While there are many sites jumping on the live streaming bandwagon, the most obvious example is Facebook Live.

Live events are great because 1) they engage your tribe, and 2) they can be recorded and shared at a later date.

Security gets secure: For several years now we pundits have been banging on the security drum. The good news is that entrepreneurs are starting to listen and give cybersecurity and data privacy the priority they deserve.

Part of that growing awareness comes from the rise and publicity surrounding external threats:

  • Ransomware attacks were up 300% in 2016
  • 60% of all cybercrime is now directed at small business

The other part of that new vigilance comes from seeing just how much attention big business is giving to security.

Everyone today is an entrepreneur: What is an entrepreneur? Sure, it is someone who takes a risk to build a business, but more than that, an entrepreneur is someone who:

  • Builds a brand
  • Takes initiative
  • Works independently

I bet that describes you. Between working in the cloud, online collaboration, remote teams, the rise of the self-employed, and job insecurity, in this work environment everyone is increasingly (and necessarily) thinking – and acting – entrepreneurially.

This article originally appeared on Cindy Bates’ blog.

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