December truly is the most wonderful time of the year for small business owners. Besides the spurt in shopping activity, it's the time when business pundits provide predictions for next year's trends.
I'm feeling pretty good about my track record in picking winners -- you can check out my 2011 predictions post. OK, maybe most businesses didn't splurge on IT this year, but there were definitely more IPOs, QR codes gained in popularity, and cloud-based software and services were huge.
What changes in the business climate are just over the horizon as 2011 winds down? The overall economy is expected to grow just 2 percent, but your local mileage may vary. I've sifted through stacks of forecaster pronouncements to find the best bets.
Here are my favorite predictions for 2012:
- Volatility ahead. With Europe now teetering, economic uncertainty will remain the big issue for every small business owner, with 44 percent of owners naming it the "one thing that stands between where you are today and growing your company," a Guardian Life Small Business Research Institute study found. Winners will have flexible long- and short-term plans so they can shift gears quickly.
- "Right-time" multichannel marketing. Watch for new tools that will help business owners better analyze complex customer behavior and comments on various social-media platforms. Then, you'll use that data to monetize your business's social-media presence with tailored marketing campaigns that reach the right customer at the right time with the right message, opines Joe Cordo on the MarketingProfs blog.
- More cheap online ads. Marketing will center around a move to low-cost online tactics such as paid search, says Kenneth Wisnefski, founder/CEO of the SEO firm WebiMax. "Merchants and retailers who chose innovative and less-expensive advertising channels including social media and paid search were rewarded well during the Thanksgiving weekend," he says in reference to the spike in online sales.
- Customers in charge. More businesses will involve customers directly in merchandise and marketing decisions, Susan Reda writes in STORES magazine. How? Here's a hint: If you aren't doing online customer polls yet: Facebook makes those insanely easy to set up.
- Mobile purchasing grows. "Those retailers not optimizing their website for mobile phones need to start as soon as possible," says Diane Buzzeo, CEO of ecommerce-software provider Ability Commerce. Research firm eMarketer adds that m-commerce more than doubled this year to $6.7 billion, and expects it to quadruple again by 2015.
- Credit gets easier. Business owners may finally get the capital they need, says Odysseas Papadimitriou, CEO of the credit-card portal CardHub. Underwriting standards relaxed this year and will continue to loosen up in 2012, he says.
- Services head offshore. Service-sector businesses will be in demand overseas, Elance forecasts. This year, U.S.-based contractors exported their services to more than 140 countries through Elance's freelance portal.
- Daily deals die down. Experts agree: The daily-deal space is oversaturated with competing offers. Also, many business owners lost money doing daily deals. Expect a shakeout, both in the number of deal companies and in the types of deals offered.
- Retail-format experimentation picks up. From pop-up stores to smaller-format Wal-Marts to food trucks, expect more retailers and restaurateurs to experiment with their store layouts. As the economy slumbers, retailers will look for ways to make cheaper, smaller footprints work, the Booz & Company's "2012 Retail Industry Perspective" report says.
- More collaboration. This one's my prediction: the small businesses that stay afloat will be the ones that reach out to complementary businesses in their town or their industry and find ways to help each other.
What's your prediction for 2012? Leave a comment and add to my list.