Small Business and Startups: The Trends for 2014 (Pt I)

This morning I was awakened by a dream with a soundtrack of Christmas Carols running through my subconscious. As i pulled myself out of a sleepy torpor, I realized that the songs weren’t in my dream, but were actually playing on the bedside radio. Why? Because apparently Christmas advertising has begun! Yes, it is that special time that comes earlier and earlier with each passing year. Used to be it started around Thanksgiving, then somehow it slipped unnoticed to Halloween and now it continues it inexorable march towards Labor Day. I suspect that by the time my grandchildren are grown, they will be going to the mall to view the decorations sometime around the 5th of July. So, along with the holiday cheer and the ceaseless adverts accompanying it, it is also time for the raft of end-of-year-wrap-ups and New Year prognostication. So I thought to myself, “Self, it’s time to write that next-year-trends blog post again.” Perhaps a little earlier this year, but hey, why not get on board with the spirit of the season? The problem is there are so many trends to list that it is too much for one post. Therefore, I propose to split it in two. Yes, I have whittled it down to 10 trends worth writing about, but my attention span is short on most Sundays, so I figured I would write about 5 this week and 5 more in the next post. Here ya go:

1. Back to basics. In 2104 companies will start to place less emphasis on social media and online marketing. A few months back, Ross asked in this blog  whether small business should simply give up on social media marketing and outlined several trends that would support the decision to do so. Posts like these beg the simple question:  do many of the newest marketing tactics actually work? Many businesses are answering that question in the negative and are focusing their efforts on the old and true methodologies and turning back to their father’s way of doing business: watching competitors and competing industries to learn what works for others; listening more closely to customers via simple surveys and high quality customer service; looking internally for great ideas and new strategies by listening to the team; reading books and attending conferences to better understand  the business environment; and, finally, turning to personal networks for advice and insight from trusted sources.

2. Health care and employees. I (along with around 3,672,435 other bloggers) have written a great deal about the impact of the Affordable Care Act on small businesses and startups. Well the time has come, the rubber has met the road, the online health insurance exchanges are open, and… it’s a disaster. But it is a qualified disaster and one that will be repaired and improved upon over the next few months. The problem is not the law itself, nor the underlying assumptions abut how it will make quality healthcare available to millions more people, reduce health care costs, improve economic growth, and lower our national debt. Rather the problem is technical. Poorly executed web sites with bad UI, broken and inadequate databases, slow servers, and massive traffic combined to bring the process to a frustrating crawl the minute the exchanges opened for business. But as most internet-based business managers know, these problems are fixable and with a little more time, an infusion of hard work, and some creative problem-solving there is no reason to think this Obamacare thing will finally get up to speed. For small businesses in particular this is great news. Meaningful choice in health insurance products will become readily available, not just for consumers and the self-insured, but for businesses that provide coverage to employees. This means that costs will drop, options available for coverage will improve, and businesses will be more able to deliver on the promise to their workers that they will be taken care of.
3. New payment methods. They’re here: electronic wallets, mobile credit card payments, smartphone powered gift cards, combination transit/debit cards are available today and they will grow in importance and ubiquity in 2014. It starts at the street level: walk into a Starbucks today and, of course, you can pay with that crumpled up $10 bill in your wallet, or you can have them swipe your credit card, but you can also pay with your smartphone, using  Starbuck’s own app or with Square Wallet a third-party  payment system. Google Wallet is available as a payment in thousands of retail stores as is PayPal. These innovative approaches will make cash transactions increasingly rare in the next few years, while increasing our dependence on the Internet backbone for our transactions. Hmmmm. Makes me think about stashing some gold coins for when the whole thing crashes…

4. BYOD and self-service. More and more and more, businesses large and small are revamping how they approach IT and their employee’s computers and mobile devices. The cloud has changed everything in how business is conducted, hot software is distributed, and how workers access data, improve productivity, and interact with technology. Security is critical for companies making the switch to a “bring-your-own-device” policy and several companies are offering apps and suites of programs to provide accessibility via worker’s own devices while maintaining a secure environment for the enterprise.

5. Offering suite solutions. Office space gets more expensive and leases get more onerous, while remote work becomes more common, tools for distance collaboration get more sophisticated, and people get used to approaching work more flexibly. The combination is bad news for landlords and great news for co-working facilities and companies like Regus that offer shared office solutions and short-term facility rentals. In spite of Yahoo’s much-noticed change in policy this year, more and more companies will be reducing their office footprints as their workers choose to work from home, work from Starbucks, or work from their car while on the way to someplace even cooler.