With changes to the tax code going into effect and a strong stock market, many businesses are feeling excited going into 2018. Looking ahead into the new year, businesses can shift their models and adapt business processes to thrive in the future. What trends could impact SMBs in 2018?
Bubble(s) Will Burst
While the markets continue to reach new heights and bitcoin beguiles investors, analysts have been waving the yellow flag of correction for quite some time. There's a general consensus that one or more bubbles will bust in 2018. Only time will tell whether it will be bitcoin, the housing market, or the stock market.
If a bubble does burst, it could spell tough times for B2C SMBs who rely on consumer spending. To prepare for a 2018 burst bubble -- which is unlikely to affect all consumers equally -- SMBs should diversify their revenue streams by demographic, geographic area, or industry. This way, a decline in customers from one area can be offset by increasing acquisitions from another state or city.
Automation Will Increase
Automation is nothing new, but 2018 may be the year small businesses dip their toes into the chatbot pond. Salesforce found that "thriving" small businesses used technology to automate core functions 1.6 times more than competitors.
While critics decry automation as a way to skimp on hiring, the opposite may be true. Automation reduces time spent on repetitive tasks, allowing employees to get more done and to focus on nuanced job duties, such as direct customer service. So rather than replace human interactions, automation allows employees to tackle more challenging and rewarding duties that grow the company, leading to increasing hires.
Chatbots are a simple way to get started with automation for basic customer service. Chatbots can handle minor issues while allowing customers who require human assistance to reach help quickly, easing a common pain point. 80 percent of businesses want to use chatbots by 2020, per BI. Get in on this trend now to delight customers and compete in your niche.
Live Marketing Will Engage Audiences
Businesses have been using video to market for some time; in 2018, this will increase with the focus on live marketing. Now, companies will live blog, live interview, and livestream to dazzle audiences hungry for unique content.
While content marketing through blogs won't disappear, the focus will shift somewhat to ways to directly engage consumers. Research from Event Marketing Institute backs up this shift in direction: 74 percent of consumers report feeling more positively about a brand after a live event. SMBs looking to grow their market share, increase customer loyalty, or win over a new audience should start planning for live events next year and beyond.
Good news for SMBs is that event marketing doesn't need to mean big spending. While the big players can afford to put on a music festival, for instance, a small company can sponsor an indie performance, livestream a corporate event, or create an interactive scavenger hunt experience for brand fans.
Remote Workers Increase
Less than one third of employees spent all their billable hours in the office in 2017, the Staples Business Advantage's Annual Workplace Survey found. With a low unemployment rate and flat wages, employees may feel comfortable asking for more from their employers.
Over 40 percent of workers feel the ability to work remotely is essential -- not a perk. SMBs who wish to attract top-tier talent should take note of this trend, since sticklers to the 9-to-5 may come under fire from new hires who are accustomed to flexible schedules or working at home.
While employees like this new trend, remote working also boosts a company's bottom line, since the business needs less office infrastructure to support a team of employees. To ensure remote employees can be as productive as possible when working remotely, invest in cloud infrastructure that enables anywhere, anytime access to mission critical digital assets. Keep open lines of communication with a good business phone system, chat system, and video conferencing capabilities.
Cybersecurity Remains Top of Mind
For all businesses, cybersecurity will remain top of mind in 2018, as data breaches continue to wreak havoc for companies and consumers alike. What's more, as unsecured Internet of Things devices proliferate, attackers will exploit these devices to gain access to sensitive data.
In 2017 alone, DDoS attacks increased by 91 percent, largely due to the increased adoption of IoT devices. In a DDoS attack, cyber criminals can take down a company's site (resulting in lost profits) or steal sensitive data. Given the major internet security risks posed by IoT devices, manufacturers are expected to build stronger protections into next-generation IoT devices to reduce risk. SMBs that have been thinking of adding connected Things to enhance productivity may be safer waiting for these next-generation devices, which reduce their risk.
Best practice for SMBs is to invest in cybersecurity detection and mitigation over prevention, since it simply is not feasible to prevent every attack.
Prepare for 2018 and beyond by determining which of these trends will most impact your small or medium business and charting a course for success in the year ahead. It may not be financially feasible to prepare to implement all of these trends, but your company should be able to determine which are the most critical to business operations, then budget and implement accordingly.