Columnist Gary Miller forecasts six business trends likely to become the norm of the future
By Gary Miller – Managing Director, Consulting Division, SDR Ventures
Last year was big for businesses around the globe as major industries in America were shaken up by disruptive technologies and shifting definitions of traditional marketplace standards. While many of the developments concerned the bigger household names, they were no less relevant for the smaller business trying to grow to the next level.
This year promises even more progress, disruption and innovation — all of which can be very good for growth-minded business owners. While new technologies pop up every day, the basic premise for growing a business remains the same: grow the top and bottom lines while cutting costs wherever possible.
With this in mind, here are six trends that business owners will have to focus on in 2016 and beyond. I predict these trends will become the business norms of the future.
The rise of the remote and freelance workforce. The future workplace is more work and less place. Given the impact of new technologies, an uncertain economy, the demands of a new generation of employees, workers will spend more time out of the office than in the office. Many will now call in to meetings from the road. Most will use online collaboration tools and cloud services to get work done on the weekends and — unfortunately for family harmony — check e-mails at all hours.
As a result of this environment, top-performing companies will make a commitment to electronic tools to teach, monitor and mentor team members regardless of their physical locations. Podcasts, webinars and online courses will allow for on-demand support whether it is for technical issues, strategy or sales tactics. This type of career development will lead to a more engaged workforce and will help recruit top-quality talent.
Using freelance talent can benefit growing businesses especially, because the model allows owners to cut down on the overhead costs of paying full-time employees, who may be needed for only a few specific projects a year. Fortune is predicting that almost half of the workforce will be freelance by 2020.
The move to a “connection economy.” Many entrepreneurial leaders — Seth Godin, Clay Hebert and Ian Altman, among others — believe we are now in, or rapidly moving to, a connection economy. The connection economy rewards value created by building strong relationships and creating enduring connections with customers. The most valuable companies will connect buyer to seller or consumer to content. Personalized, data-driven marketing will become more refined. Business owners will measure and deliver results — not just solutions. Customers are sick of investing in solutions that do not deliver the intended results. Top-performing companies will invest in products and services that ensure success of each project for each customer. Doing so will lead to high customer satisfaction, customer retention and referral business.
The focus on customer retention. Reports from Forbes show that customer retention is the proven quickest way to maximize growth profits for business and is often cheaper than the cost of marketing for new customer acquisition. Making products better and services stronger and more dynamic will be required to remain competitive. In a connection economy, customer retention is paramount to survivability.
The importance of millennials. The largest group of individuals, according to the Census Bureau, is people in their 20s (80 million compared with 78 million baby boomers.) The group, often categorized as millennials, now represents the largest customer and employee segment. They will also become the largest business owner segment. From 1947 to 2010, baby boomers represented the largest segment of the population. Smart business owners will shift from complaining about millennials to embracing them.
The mobile device will become the center of marketing. From cellphones to smartphones, tablets to wearable gadgets, the evolution of mobile devices is one of the prime factors influencing the marketing world. Businesses will be able to strike up a more personalized customer relationship in the “connection economy” by leveraging the power of mobile.
The continuing need for strong content. Content, particularly visual content, will rule the roost in the online marketing. User-generated content will be the new hit. The power of user-generated content will surpass branded content as brands begin to relinquish control of their own brands’ marketing to customers. Business owners will tightly integrate content marketing into their sales process. When looking to make a purchase, how much research do you do on your own compared with the information you get from salespeople? Customers value impartial input from outside sources such as other users, third-party endorsements from editorial reviews and impartial research.
Gary Miller is the managing director of the Consulting Division of SDR Ventures, a Denver-based investment banking firm. Gary advises business owners on strategic business planning, M&A, and raising capital. Gary often speaks at conferences on M&A matters. Contact 720-221-9220 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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