#SmallBiz Trends to Watch in 2017

The thing about trends is that they are always changing. And if you aren’t paying attention, you will be left behind looking around in astonishment like a lost teenager in an overhyped dystopian fantasy movie.
As a good small business owner, you have a responsibility to your customers and yourself to not get left behind in the changing tides. And they change, more often than you think. That’s why we are sharing seven top trends we predict will make a huge difference for small business owners in 2017.

1.    A personal brand is just as important as your business brand – and they should connect seamlessly. Your business brand is your opportunity to separate yourself from the competition. Your personal brand, when strong, is what keeps people coming back.

The keys to creating a brand are knowing who you are, what you want to project, and how you can be different. But how to create it and how to do it effectively, are not always easy. A brand must be consistently executed to truly be a brand. You may have an image of who you are and what you do, but do your customers recognize it?

A personal brand also means that you can expand your business into new forays because your brand isn’t completely tied to a product or a service; rather, it is more connected to who YOU are. And people follow people, not things. 

Which leads us to trend #2.

2.    Focus more on connecting with customers rather than selling to them. Successful small businesses are those that look to connect people to services that meet their needs (i.e., Uber). Direct product selling is decreasing. It’s selling a service versus the sale of a product. But at the heart of what makes service selling so strong is the human connection. And the human connection does not have to be limited to service-selling, but can also be used in product-selling.
For example, if you are selling a tangible product versus a service, consider connecting with customer’s first making direct product promotion secondary. In other words, be kind, considerate, think about your customers beyond what you can sell to them. And use that personal brand!
And, with the rise in online ad-blocking software usage, small business owners have to get cleverer in how they connect with their customers. A side-bar ad will not generate the results it used to. This means you have to humanize your services and your products through social media, blogging, YouTube and more. 

3.    Business Intelligence for small businesses becomes easier and more accessible. Tools offering services like customer tracking and social media analytics are on the rise. Some even, like Cyfe, integrate with other platforms expanding the core offerings to also include marketing automation and search engine optimization.  You can monitor individual departments, multiple websites and anything else using dashboards. And you can keep track of your data on multiple devices. Optimizely is another great option. And these tools offer free trials and multi-level services for different needs and budgets. 

4.    Small businesses will need to be more open to customer criticism as social media makes “word of mouth” increasingly more important. And customers have higher expectations for services and products. More and more options mean customers and clients become increasingly aware of quality. They have the ability to find and use the best, so they will. 

This means that business owners will need to be more open to customer criticism addressing disappointed individuals with more than a coupon. Listening, evaluating the veracity of the complaint, and responding appropriately are imperative. 

Business owners will have to run their businesses as if their mother were looking over their shoulder because she likely will be.
— Mark Deuitch, CEO of PeopleClaim

5.    Mobile friendly websites become a must. This may not seem like a new trend, but it is more important now than ever. If your website doesn’t utilize a responsive mobile design, you will be harder to find, and your potential customers will either see you as sub-par or not even know you exist. Your SEO ranking relies on the speed and responsiveness of your website, so it is extremely important that small business owners make sure their website meets the Google Mobile Optimization Guidelines found here.

Buying decisions are increasingly made via mobile devices, so make sure your site is mobile optimized! If not, you are missing out on a key group of people and their loyalty.

6.    New technology adoption is not an option – it is a must. Staying on top, or even remotely aware of, new technology for small businesses can sometimes feel like a full-time job. And it often seems more overwhelming than it is worth it. My advice is to make others do the work for you. 

You have several resources at your disposal. First, your customers are invaluable. Listen to them, and your true ones will be willing to tell you if there is some service that you are missing out on that they have seen used well in other places. Second, read, read, read. Check out online publications, such as Inc.com and entrepreneur.com. Third, check back here as we make attempts also to stay on top of rising technology and report it to you. 

Keep in mind that not all technology will be for you. But at least you will be making educated decisions on what to pursue and what to leave behind.  

7.    Video is king! From Instagram Stories to Facebook Live, video is everywhere. People like to see the face and hear the voice of the person they are spending their money with. They like to know who's behind the purchase. And just as desire for human connection increases, video serves that need. 

The key to doing this well is a good video and sound quality, not just clicking the “Live” button but having a purpose for your appearance, and being honest. Let them see who you are in all your glory. 

Some trends will come and go; others will shape how we work and grow for years to come. It is important to keep an eye on them, watch and learn thoughtfully, and embrace the ones that resonate with you and your customers. 

Not all trends are as bad as teased bangs and frosted tips.