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In case you can’t tell from other posts I’ve written here on BuildFire, I’m no fan of generic advice.
In fact, I loathe it.
I’m the kind of online small business owner who’s fanatical over the juicy, intricate details. I’m much more concerned about the “how to” steps than the “what.”
Anyone can point their fingers and tell you what to do, but it’s a true leader who’s willing to walk through the trenches with you and help you uncover the things that’ll guide you to your next level of success.
So in this post on small business trends, I don’t want to talk about Facebook Ads or creating “conversation” on social media. (Social media is a big duh, and you’re either using it or you’re not, depending on your business type.)
I’m also not going to talk about the “chip vs swipe” for accepting credit card payments, because in the grand scheme of things, that’s such a minuscule detail that will take care of itself with time.
Instead, I want to talk about the actual brass tacks of business for small business owners.
You know, the things your successful peers are doing and things that you probably need to do too if you want to really spread your influence in your niche and grow your bottom-line revenues.
The trends don’t have any over-arching theme except for core business growth, so don’t be surprised when you’re reading about one trend and then we jump to the next one and it’s totally different.
Small business management is an adventure and requires you to wear a ton of hats, so in this post, we’re going to honor that.
Believe it or not, the “older” millennials are now in their early 30s.
It’s generally agreed on that the “millennial” generation starts with those born in 1982 (and ends in 2004), so the oldest of this generation are 34 years old.
One of the biggest markers of the millennial generation is how info- and tech-savvy they are, relying more on the research they do themselves and how they feel about a company rather than historic public opinion.
They’re huge fans of how technology can integrate into their lives, and with evergreen content living on the internet, there’s never an on/off time in regards to having a conversation with them—it’s always on.
This doesn’t mean you have to be available around the clock for that conversation though. It just means that for a long-term strategy, you need to plan out how you’ll have your constantly-available information presented (Facebook? Google? Blog? All 3?) and the messaging you’ll use to connect with the millennial audience.
And because the first millennials are starting to mature, this means that for the next few decades, keeping them at the center of your marketing will be important since they’ll continue to have increasing incomes as they age and get more professional experience, promotions, and raises.
The smartest small businesses are either already implementing a millennial “always on” marketing strategy, or are planning out what their messaging and strategy should look like.
Side note: Not all businesses market to millennials, I realize this. If you focus on children or older adults, this is not your niche, so don’t worry about it.
Today, everything you do in business is trackable by software.
You no longer have to keep a pen-and-paper ledger of transactions, items sold, and inventory.
Instead, you can scan everything into a bookkeeping and inventory management system (like QuickBooks) and have all of that tracking done for you.
So let’s say you’re thinking about introducing a new project, or you’re thinking about pivoting your marketing strategy a little bit. Addressing your data tracking dashboards for past and current trends will drive smart (not just emotional) decision-making and help you optimize for the best bottom-line results.
And even if you don’t want to make a change, keeping tabs on your data by reviewing your dashboards every few months is a great way to notice trends you wouldn’t have seen otherwise and figure out ways to optimize them.
And honestly, if you’re not using data tracking, you need to start.
Sure, you can have a successful business without it, but why put it to chance?
Also, access to data tracking software is pretty inexpensive, especially when you consider your potential for profit from them. (If one costs you $20 per month but shows you patterns that increase your monthly profits by $200 and then $2,000, it’s worth it, isn’t it?)
An inventory tracking software like this one (Quickbooks shown here) lets you see the history of how well products sell, which can give you good ideas for new products or seasonal marketing campaigns.
Since so much work can now be done remotely and online, a lot of small business owners are benefitting from saved employee costs.
You no longer have to hire someone on-site to manage your books—you can hire a firm or a freelancer to do it for you, remotely and part time.
You no longer have to have a “web guy” when you can hire for the exact task you need done via Upwork or other platforms.
And you certainly don’t have to produce all your marketing materials and strategy from within your own four walls.
You can do all those things, but it’s unnecessary and is becoming more and more popular for small business owners to outsource their most mundane tasks to workers in other states or overseas. Because… why not?
It helps you manage your profit margins with a little more breathing room, and opens up more bottom-line revenue you can use to reinvest back into your business to grow it to the next level.
A lot of small businesses have to start out with a loan of some sort.
If you don’t have the cash to fund your first six months yourself—or the business model to bootstrap from $0.00—you have to borrow money from someone to get started, it’s just the way it is.
You can go with a bank loan, which you pay back over a number of years in full with interest, or you can go with investors, who fund you up front in exchange for a percentage of your long-term profits.
With a bank loan, you’re responsible to pay the amount back whether you’re successful or not.
With investors, you’re not necessarily responsible to pay them back (it’s presented as a risk on their part), but you do have a moral obligation to make sure the people who trust you with their hard-earned money don’t totally lose out.
The bad thing, though, is that proving yourself “good enough” for a bank loan or investor money is a lot of work. (And if we’re totally honest, it usually takes some money upfront to test your business idea and “prove” it before you’re granted a loan or an investment.)
With crowdfunding and online lending though, the playing field is more equal.
People who don’t have the cash to front in their businesses can still start one, provided they’re willing to invest the time it takes for successful marketing via the fundraising platform they’ve chosen.
For example: this non-toxic deodorant company on Kickstarter. Instead of returning a percentage of profits back to their investors, they promise products or other valuable things based on the amount given.
For loans that don’t involve suit-and-tie meetings with your local banker, check out a platform like SoMoLend.
Baby boomers were born between the years 1946 and 1964, which means they currently range in age from 52 to 70 years old.
Which is also, coincidentally, around the time most people retire.
And for baby boomers who own small businesses, especially if they’re not handing it down for family management, it means selling their business so they can exit and enjoy their work-free retirement.
So if you’re a small business owner who’s still got years of business left in you, this can be a great thing for your business’s growth.
Basically, because there’s simply so many baby boomers, the market will be flooded with businesses for sale, giving you a better deal if you’re in the market to buy one.
And the benefits of buying an already-established business rather than starting one from scratch is huge.
You don’t have to put in all the startup work, you already have dedicated customers, and you can put it under the umbrella of your main business as a way to expand your operations and bottom lines… maybe even doubling them.
As a small business owner, you usually don’t have to do things at scale like huge corporations do.
In fact, you’ve probably actively avoid it, since having a personal touch is such a key differentiator between you and your corporate competition.
However, a lot of small business are learning a lesson from corporate operations and putting the bulk of their marketing on autopilot anyway.
Your marketing can still have a deeply meaningful message, but letting software handle the grunt work and not re-doing everything over and over again by yourself is a huge benefit for your productivity.
Having that extra time will free up your mental energy so you can allocate it to the rest of your business, so you can focus on growth rather than maintenance.
If you decide to follow suit, you’ll spend less time and money on grunt work, but you’ll still be able to put automated actions and messages in place to make sure you keep your customer loyalty strong.
Most of this automation happens online, and you can use it to do the following:
And honestly, since there’s a lot of competition in this area, nearly any tool you sign up for to help you do this will be really good, so you can just choose one.
Once that’s done, you just need to map out the course the vast majority of your customers take in your current marketing strategy, and implement it to happen automatically.
It might not be perfect at first, but if one piece isn’t working well, your data dashboard will tell you, and you can fix it for an A/B to figure out what does work.
There’s been a lot of buzz in the past few years about mobile beacons, so I’m kind of breaking the rules I set out in the beginning of this post by talking about them.
But I’m going to go ahead and do so, because I think they’re so, so important to how you can market and do business as a small business owner that they absolutely shouldn’t be ignore.
Plus, as these things are getting wider and wider acceptance rates from more small businesses in more locations, you’ll be putting yourself behind the curve if you don’t use them for yourself or partner up with a business who can help you take advantage of their technology.
If you’re just getting started in mobile marketing, having your own app and location-enabled notifications might be out of the question for the moment. But you can totally take advantage of other companies who’ve invested in the technology and are willing to help small businesses get ahead via their apps and investments in beacons and geo-tracking.
On a super basic level, letting people do social media check-ins at your location is a great way to boost simple word of mouth—and it’s free. All you have to do is setup your location and log it within the platform (like Facebook) and people will happily tell others that they’re patronizing your business.
On a more advanced level, you can use location-based mobile ads or sign up to work with apps that specialize in helping shoppers and diners find good deals close by so you can bring that revenue into your business and not leave it to chance.
These apps are the ones harnessing the geography-tracking aspect of smartphones, and you’re just paying a little bit to access it without having to do all the work yourself.
For those of you small business owners who sell physical products online, you know convincing your customers that the product will be exactly what they’re expecting can be a bit of a challenge.
There’s size concerns, color shading, and photography angles that might not always show every side and aspect of the product.
When you put that product on video though, you not only help clear those doubts and show people that your claims are true, but you enhance desire for that particular product.
And the reason is this: when a human sees another human doing a something (anything) in front of them, they subconsciously project their own narrative onto what’s happening.
Further, when they see someone else doing (or using) something that’s desirable to them, they feel like they’re doing it themselves, create a connection with it, and want it more.
So honestly, this is the main reason smart small business owners who sell products are using more and more video.
But recording product video shots and using them in your marketing is also a great idea because it’s speculated (and highly probable) that video ads will soon be included in search engine results.
This kind of goes along with the automation we talked about in #6, but it takes it to a whole different level. (A much better level, if you ask me.)
Because while automation helps you send out the same messages to different people over and over again as and when they sign up to be in your funnel, personalization takes their behavior into account as well.
In simple automation, when someone signs up for your lead magnet, you send it to them via email and then follow up with a sequence of messages that’s exactly the same for everyone.
With personalization, when someone signs up for your lead magnet, you still deliver it to them via email, but if you have data on items they were shopping around for on your site, for example, you can send them emails with more information about those products to help them move their decision-making forward.
If someone opens a sales email and clicks through but doesn’t purchase, you can send them a different nurture sequence than someone who never even opened that sales email in the first place.
Yes, this “personalized” automation takes a lot longer to set up.
But with it, you can speak to people where they are, make yourself far more relevant, and increase your purchases and revenue because of it.
For example, here’s an email I got from American Airlines. I never take them up on their offers to buy miles, so every time they run a promotion like this, all I get are these reminders that the promotion is going on. But I’m willing to bet that people who do buy in get a different “thanks for participating” type of email sequence instead of the constant reminders. It’s basic personalization, but it makes sense.
Alright, so we’ve just talked about nine different small business trends a lot of people are doing, but don’t talk about that much.
If you’ve already started trying some of these, how are they working for you?
If you haven’t, is there anything you’ve started doing in the past year or two that gave you a total “Aha!” moment when you started?
I’d love to hear about it in the comments!