As 2018 approaches, so too does the realisation that I didn't see through my resolution to run a marathon this year. In spite of this, many exciting things did happen this year and with that comes the inevitable outlook of what business trends are going to emerge from 2017 to shape small business behaviour in 2018.
A statistic from June of 2017 from Xero revealed that the biggest problems still faced by small businesses in Australia is cash flow and confidence, with 49.3% of small businesses running in the red in the last financial year. With that in mind, embracing new social and business trends is going to be key in seeing your business succeed in the new year.
Below we look at 5 small business trends to look out for in 2018,
1. Welcome to AI, how can I help?
Start spreading the news (that you've probably already heard), artificial intelligence (or AI for short) is coming to shake up the way businesses interact with their clients. It is easy to think that AI is something that only your tech giants like Apple or Google are integrating in their operations, and to a point - that's true. Whilst AI is vast in it's functionality and complexity, it's small scale application is something that you will want to look at in your small business. The answer?
Chat bots. Previously a seemingly disingenuous addition to a website that offered 'assistance', they have come a long way since. Now, chatbots such as Drift (we use these guys), Intercom or, Frontapp offer bots that can easily integrate into your website and can be fantastic for quickly connecting you with your customers. Even better, AI enables them to detect frequently asked questions and provide timely, and accurate responses without you having to do a thing. They also provide a great data collection tool, whereby you can collect important customer data, and generate leads, without having to lift a finger.
2. The rise of the "experience" economy
A continuing trend from 2017, the effect a customer experience has on a brand simply cannot be understated. Consumer crave experiences, focusing on ways that you can provide this experience is your ticket to making a lasting emotional connection with that individual.
Want to know what this looks like from a big company perspective? Take a look at the below:
Nike attaches a meaningful emotional experience alongside the products that it sells. Emotional content attracts a far longer attention span than traditional content. How can this be translated into small business? Make the customer journey about the buyers experience, not just the end product.
3. Be a brand of value
Did you know that a consumer study conducted about Meaningful Brands indicated that 74% of consumers wouldn't care if the brands they used disappeared? Further, brands that are considered to be meaningful create loyalty and relationships with their consumers that can increase the recurrent purchase behaviours, and increase consumer barriers to exit.
How can your brand be of value? Have an emotive philosophy, a reason for being, and connect that with what you do for your customers. Customers expect you to know what matters most to them, and act upon it. Know your customers, and know what they need to be able to better connect and deliver on their needs (even if the customer doesn't know what those needs are yet - more on that later.)
4. Serving the community to serve yourself
Have you heard of the buyer's journey? It's the theory that your potential customer goes through an 'awareness', 'consideration' and 'decision' stage prior to coming on board as a customer. In 2018 that process will get a whole lot less linear. Get ready to see the continued rise of communities of informants and decision makers having the power to drive people towards your products or services, when they'll already be at the 'decision' stage of the aforementioned journey.
While I’m aware this sounds a lot like word of mouth, the difference is that because of the sheer wealth of information available through social media and the internet - consumers are more empowered than ever to band together to promote particular brands that they feel connected to.
How can you take advantage of this? Deliver consistent value. By being the authority of knowledge in a particular field, or the subject matter expert that creates content that connects with your community, even if it's not necessarily for an immediate financial gain. Creating content for your target market with no expectation of immediate fiscal return will inevitably work in your favour in the long run.
5. You're the solution to the problem, people need to know they have
Finally, in 2018, small businesses will continue to focus on the problems that their products or services solve, or the value tangible or not that they add to the lives of the people that purchase them. NOT the features of benefits of the product or service itself.
Long story short is that customers want to know less about the solution that you’re offering, and more about the problem that you're fixing, and how your service or product fits into that problem. Consider the example of cash flow for instance, if your business wanted to provide a solution to the ever present cash flow concerns that plague small business, you wouldn’t want to tout the features of the service; rather, how your service might positively eradicate the problem of poor cashflow.
And that’s it! Our 5 trends to look out for in 2o18 in a nutshell. If you want to find out more about what your business can do to succeed in 2018, check out our eBook, “The Cashflow Handbook: 6 ways you can improve cash flow in your business” Go on, it's free...