This week, the Plymouth Chamber of Commerce invited me to speak at its annual economic forecast breakfast, and asked me to share my predictions for the coming year. While prognostications and predictions aren’t really my business, I do enjoy looking at trends in the workplace – especially those that affect the entrepreneurs and small businesses we work with at AMDG Financial. If you didn’t get a chance to attend the Chamber breakfast, here are my observations about the trends your business might see in 2019.
These days, it’s easier than ever for consumers to do business whenever, wherever and however they like. The challenge for businesses will be in how to differentiate their goods and services from those of their competitors. As an article in the New York Times pointed out this week, the hotel industry is responding to this trend by offering speedier services for business travelers. With countless options for hotels, some industry players are hoping that grab-and-go food outlets, express workouts and quick morning blowouts will give them an edge with busy travelers.
Because it may take longer for large businesses to adapt to a changing marketplace, I believe small businesses have an advantage when it comes to serving customers, because there are fewer layers between the owner and those who purchase the business’s products and services. Owners and their teams can listen deeply, apply innovations quickly, and offer more personalized experiences.
In 2019, I expect more small businesses will invest in technology, but not for technology’s sake. Instead, they’ll use technology to support and augment their customer relationships. Smart businesses realize the importance of building personal relationships with their customers, and technology – with its ability to improve efficiency and save costs – will free entrepreneurs and small businesses to spend more time working directly with their customers and connecting with them in their preferred environments, whether it be through social media, email, websites, or in person.
From Equifax to Marriott, data breaches seem to be in the news all the time these days. What does that mean for consumer trust? According to PaymentsSource, consumers are increasingly wary of sharing their information. Now, imagine the effect that a data breach might have on a small business! If strong cybersecurity equals trust, I suspect more and more businesses will invest in technology to help protect customer data in 2019.
Earlier this year, we saw the European Union implement the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR. This may also apply to your business if you offer goods or services to, or monitor the behavior of, people living in the EU. Since the internet is global, and because hacking is persistent worldwide, we may see more regions besides the EU implementing similar regulations in 2018. Even if you don’t do business in Europe right now, you may want to consider becoming GDPR compliant anyway. And be sure to monitor any similar legislation in 2019.
I predict that traditional advertising as we know it, with its “one-to-many” platform, will continue to struggle in 2019. It’s impersonal, hard to measure results, and doesn’t necessarily meet consumers where they are in the buyer’s journey.
Customers have increasingly shown that they trust non-salesy, informational content that answers their questions, helps narrow their choices, and provides a fair comparison among their options. This inbound marketing approach helps attract visitors to your website to view your content, rather than bombarding them with messages they don’t want to see. Consumers also seem to prefer authentic, original photography over stock photos, and even though most of us still use stock photography on a regular basis, I think we’ll see more and more small businesses posting original photos – even selfies – to connect with their customers.
If you don’t have a blog on your website, get one ASAP, and make sure you use local keywords. Generic blogs provided by a parent company or a content service can cause problems with search engine optimization (SEO) if multiple franchises are using the same content. In addition, most consumers can tell the difference between canned and original content and may not find it as relevant.
More than three-quarters of Americans have smartphones now, and if you are one of them, you may be one of the millions of people who use their phones to conduct research and purchase goods and services. In 2019 and beyond, businesses will be learning even more about how to market to people on their phones.
eMarketer predicts that mobile ad spend will make up nearly half of the country’s advertising spending by 2020, and as marketers become savvier and learn more from their data, I expect we’ll see even more in the way of geo-targeting and geo-fencing to personalize a consumer’s experience.
Before you make a purchase, do you research online reviews? According to BrightLocal,86 percent of consumers read online reviews when making local purchasing decisions, and more than half of consumers say they’ll only use a business if it has four or more stars!
Lots of reviews also help with SEO, making your company appear more frequently in Google searches. In 2019, I think we’ll see more businesses get serious about incorporating reviews into their marketing strategies and find ways to improve their review scores. Unfortunately for us, testimonials and reviews are tricky territory for advisers. The Securities and Exchange Commission prohibits us from publishing, circulating or distributing testimonials, and can charge advisers who violate that rule.
Just like last year, voice-controlled smart speakers, like Amazon’s Echo, Google Home, or Apple Home Pod will likely be hot Christmas gifts in 2018. With more than 47 million U.S. adults accessing these gadgets, it’s fair to assume that consumers will increasingly ask their speakers to search for information. Small businesses will need to incorporate conversational long-tail keywords into their SEO strategies to capture these kinds of voice queries.
Keeping Employees Happy
Right now, the national unemployment rate is around 3.7 percent, and some small businesses may be experiencing problems hiring qualified candidates for open positions in your companies. We’ve seen a number of companies offering perks, higher wages and other benefits to attract high-quality employees, and in 2019, I think we’ll see even more businesses trying to keep the employees they have by making the workplace, and their company cultures, even more attractive.
A book called “The Happiness Advantage” cited research saying that happiness at work raises sales by 37 percent, productivity by 31 percent, and accuracy by 19 percent. Who wouldn’t want that?
We all know it’s both expensive and time consuming to replace an employee, so I predict we’ll see increased efforts by businesses to keep their employees happy.
Let Them Work Anywhere
Part of that happiness could involve where the employee works. More and more people are working remotely, and that’s leading employers to find better ways to communicate with those employees.
As an example, at AMDG Financial, we have employees who work in our Plymouth office, as well as a partner in St. Louis, a partner in Denver, and an employee who is in the process of relocating to Dallas. This year, we invested in Zoom, which is a software we use for video meetings and webinars. It enables us to see each other every day, work collaboratively on projects, and connect with our clients who are scattered all over the U.S.
Where it makes sense, I believe more employers will become open to having employees who work remotely, if only part of the time. This type of perk may help small businesses attract top employees as long as the job market stays tight.
Download My Presentation Slides
If you missed the Chamber breakfast, or are just interested in learning more, please feel free to download the slides from my presentation. As a small business owner, myself, I enjoy working with other entrepreneurs, and will soon publish my first book, The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Financial Well-Being, to help fellow business owners understand the importance of finding an adviser who can help them be successful in scaling their companies AND producing long-term wealth for their families. More on that in a future blog!