5 Major Small Business Trends in 2011 and How Virtual Services Will Help

Small Business Labs recently released its list of Top 10 Small Business Trends for 2011 and it points out some of the trends that might benefit from virtual services. Here is our take on the five trends where virtual solutions would enable cost minimization and optimization of business processes.

Variable cost models – pay-as-you-go approach

This payment model brings along a marked change in the way services can be availed. With this model expertise will look much cheaper and affordable, and businesses will start looking at options to choose services from. Pay-as-you-go model is highly practical, smart and more importantly, accountable in relation to the service offered. With businesses coming out of recession and running on tight financial schedules, more small businesses, service providers, virtual assistants are now offering this variable cost payment model to create an overall financial and growth nurturing environment.

Business on the internet

The internet and online systems are helping small businesses to easily find, sell and support customers. New companies are letting go of the idea of setting up “brick and mortar” offices and stores and are rather excited to launch themselves on the “click and order” internet. And with more customers finding it easier to get things done online, even more existing small businesses are putting up their online face. Recent surveys suggest that small businesses’ budget for 2011 is up by 20% to 25% for e-commerce based website development. And if you are not online yet, there are virtual assistants who can help you launch online and join the league of vendors with online ordering points.

Social media moves to main stream

What started as a platform for online social interactions has emerged as a major marketing platform for most businesses. Facebook is ranking no.1 in website visits and add to it other giants like Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. Small businesses are reaping rich dividends by investing in social media marketing and the trend is only set to outgrow regular marketing budgets in 2011. According to a survey by StrongMail across the globe, two-thirds of the surveyed companies will increase their spending on email marketing, and 57% will put more dollars toward social media marketing. The trick here is to get the best techniques and technology for social media marketing; and if you are not up to it, you may be left behind. But do not bother, with social media marketing services made available by virtual marketing assistants your social media marketing is in for a real kick start.

Freelancers realize that they are small business owners

Freelancers are turning more professional and are setting up virtual businesses on a larger scale. Even big business houses are relying more on freelance based services apart from engaging other business groups. Though this is a good sign for freelancers, it comes with the burden to act professionally and work efficiently for sustaining the business. By Q3 of 2011 whichlance.com expects quarterly billings of freelancers to be in the region of $150m across all the major marketplaces. This makes freelancers more inclined and focused on delivering their expertise and also take ample care of other important business activities like marketing, phone answering, customer service, accounting, back office administration, and so on. This is where these freelancers can make excellent use of virtual assistants by diverting much of their non-core tasks to them.

Working in the cloud

Computing is ever changing and 2011 will be no different. Cloud, mobile computing is gaining steam and the benefits it brings is really worth taking. It cuts down the software cost and at the same time gives you access to the best software services. With online services like Google Apps, Basecamp, Amazon Web Services among others, more and more content is being created and maintained online in the cloud. It also removes the hassles of conventional software procurements and maintenance which is proving costly for small businesses. And with virtual assistants offering these kinds of services at competitive prices, it has become a profitable proposition for most small businesses.

2012 Small Business Trends

Okay so, 2012 is an interesting year for small business, mostly because the economy seems to be expanding, no not much, 1 to 2% growth in GDP is about all, but that’s a lot better news than we had in 2008 and 2009. Of course, starting a small business is going to be tough because although interest rates are at an all-time low, qualifying to get a business loan is not nearly as easy as it was. Meanwhile the GAO has just put out a report that the small business administration needs more regulations in its small business loan program. We will see what happens with that.

This is a good time to go find a good deal in leasing a business location, unfortunately it may not be such a great time to start a business because our economy is not yet firing on all cylinders, and we don’t know if it will accelerate from here on out, or if the debt that we are building up will come back to haunt us with higher taxes, and slower growth. We are in an election year, so the rest of this year should be at least decent economically speaking.

There are some other challenges on the retail front, namely online sales, and this new trend of consumers going into stores to check prices, without buying anything only to report those prices online. Yes, competition is good for America, but it sure hurts the small retailers. Energy costs are also increasing, most of this is due to the manipulation in our energy sector with regards to subsidized alternative energy. We should expect electricity costs to continue to climb.

Moving forward, we have some unfortunate trends having to do with healthcare and the future implementation of ObamaCare. It appears that it might cost as much as $4500 more per employee per year than what it cost previously. This will cause many smaller companies to shed labor, which will increase the unemployment, and mean there will be less money floating around in the communities for the other businesses.

Wages are increasing, but the consumers seem to be putting the money in the bank rather than spending it, this is not good for our smaller companies. Increased minimum wage initiatives also look to be coming forward, and those will also tap into the profit margins for our smaller companies. Well, these are just a few of the trends we will be dealing with in 2012, if you’d like to learn more about future trends as they are happening, you might wish to subscribe to my articles, so you don’t miss anything. Please consider all this and think on it.

Top 10 Online Marketing Trends For Small Businesses

Internet has changed the very fabric of marketing, and as new ways of communication and associations are blossoming between individuals, communities, societies and countries, business builders need to embrace the traits and trends of marketing for this new-age online platform. Here we present the top 10 online marketing trends for the year ahead.

Email marketing

With so many sales emails bombarded every single day and add to it the spam mail menace, the key is to get the recipient open your email. So the trend shall switch from sales mail to informative sales mail. This calls for friendlier and credible email ids, subjects, useful content, better targeting and personalization. Secondly, your email contents, including images and HTML design, must be ready for all kinds of desktop and mobile browsers. According to Adology’s survey, the top place where small businesses will put their marketing dollars in 2011 is e-mail marketing (72.7% in 2011 vs. 56.6% in 2010).

Social media marketing

You are getting closer and closer to your prospects with social media networks. It’s so crowded and informative that you have to devise more effective and actionable plans to get your ideas working.

In a survey conducted: the number-one advantage of social media marketing (by a long shot) is generating exposure for the business, indicated by 85% of all marketers, followed by increasing traffic (63%) and building new business partnerships (56%).

The key here is to put aside conventional marketing techniques and try to get along with your prospects, and understanding their very specific like and dislikes.

Smart online advertising

Blindly consuming all online ad space is foolishness. The trend is to be seen where you ought to be seen and not to be seen everywhere. This requires you to study your prospects online browsing habits and then follow him wherever he frequents. This kind of intelligent ad space hunting should be the new thing to look for.

Globalization of ads and campaigns

Through the internet you are talking to a global audience, so do you think that one ad fits all needs? The crux here is to design ads based on local tastes and culture so that you improve the effectiveness of these ads. Studying the local search trends and optimizing your marketing for those keywords is important.

Informative marketing

Sales ads are passé the need of the hour is to deliver quality and relevant information to your prospects and draw them to you. You can opt for articles, blogs, forums, videos and so on. The key is to get identified, as someone who provides quality information rather than projecting a salesman kind of image. According to Adology’s survey 45% of businesses plan to use online video in their marketing in 2011 vs. 28.4% in 2010.

Web and mobile analytics

This will always be a trend that keeps on renewing. All the marketing, campaigns, optimizations will become semi-productive if new innovative ways aren’t adopted for analyzing visitors. And with smart phones engaging customers most times of a day, mobile analysis is getting the much needed importance. Marketers would need to invest in digital analytics to great optimization of their marketing initiatives.

Mobile marketing

Among the 300,000 odd mobile phones sold in the first quarter of 2010, 50,000 were smart phones, and its sales alone are set to overtake PC sales by 2012 or maybe earlier (Gartner report). This clearly hints at the impact smart phones can have on marketing. According to Adology’s survey 35.9% of small businesses surveyed plan to use mobile advertising in 2011, vs. 21.3% in 2010.

Free online services

With information becoming easily available over the internet, most web users are happy to get stuff they want, free of cost. This is can work either ways for an online business, they could lose customers if someone else is offering similar services free of cost or they could gain by first offering basic services free of cost and make the customers stick to them for later up-selling.

Local search engines

Businesses are of course focused more on popular search engines but it’s time to shift the focus equally on local search engines. Local search engines can get you faster and some real good business, which most businesses seldom anticipate, as they are more worried about the global online markets.

Instant support and sale

Competition is all around; you are now a global producer vying for global consumers. Customers are showered with choices, and the trend will be to make the best of it when the customer visits us. So the focus will be on instant support, information and sale, in a single conversation.