It’s accepted that the more than 27 million small businesses operating today in the United States form the bedrock U.S. economy. And in 2013, technology will increasingly enable this valuable economic sector to focus on establishing and nurturing client relationships, while automating and streamlining essential business functions, says Jerry Nettuno, founder and CEO of online appointment scheduling service Schedulicity.
Last year, Nettuno correctly predicted that 2012 would see an extreme contraction in the daily deal space, that social media would finally get its proportionate share of marketing dollars and that mobile functionality (including payment, location-based promotions and scheduling) would fundamentally change the way small business owners conduct business.
This year, he again pulls out his crystal ball to divine what’s in store in 2013 for small businesses:
1. Old-fashioned customer service is once again en vogue.
During the rocky economic environment of the past four years, small business owners turned to risky – and untested – marketing methods, such as partnering with daily deal companies, in an attempt to garner new clientele. In doing so, customer service began to take a backseat to customer acquisition.
However, the overall economic growth experienced during 2012 has brought with it a shift in confidence among business owners, and in 2013, there will be a steady return to traditional, “old-fashioned” client service empowered with new digital tools. Mobile scheduling and coupons, online sentiment tracking and mobile credit card processing are just a few of the tools that will expedite non-core business functions and allow service professionals to focus 100 percent on delivering great client service.
2. Tablet/mobile-friendly websites become a must-have for small business owners.
Having a web presence is no longer enough. According to a recent Web.com and Lab42 study, 84 percent of small businesses that use mobile marketing techniques report an increase in new business for their efforts. Mobile users are increasingly using smartphones and tablets to research local businesses, spelling good news for small businesses that allocate part of their 2013 marketing budgets for mobile.
3. Explosion of mobile payment services leads to lower cost and more options.
Although the volume of mobile card payments surged in 2011 to reach $86.1 billion by the beginning of 2012, payment card trade journal Nilson Report estimates that approximately 20 million small businesses in the United States still don’t accept debit or credit cards. With more than 100 providers of mobile-card processing services in the marketplace, the smartest players will be offering competitive pricing in order to attract this robust SMB population.
4. As SMBs become savvier with social media tools, the focus shifts from execution to ROI.
Small business owners, particularly those in service-based industries, are already wise to the benefits of using social media to attract new business, engage with current customers and build brand recognition and equity. In 2013, the conversation around social media’s ROI for small businesses will heat up, and small business owners will increasingly evaluate questions such as: “Should I track website visitors or blog readers? Monitor analytics on Twitter or Facebook? Track comments, re-tweets or followers?”
Small businesses will focus on leveraging new tools, such as the new social media reports introduced by Google Analytics in 2012, to measure the value of their social media efforts.
5. A-commerce is the new e-commerce.
In the United States, more than 70 percent of workers are employed in service-based businesses, and that number continues to grow. In recent years, the trend of small business owners turning to service-based businesses over product-based ones has been due largely to lower start-up costs, lower operational overhead and less overall risk. This trajectory is not likely to reverse itself anytime soon, firmly establishing appointment-based commerce, or A-commerce, as the trend to watch in 2013.