If 2012 was a year of "wait and see," for small business technology, 2013 will be a year to "go for it."
One key reason is that small business optimism is already rising. According to the Fall 2012 Bank of America Small Business Owner Report, more than half of small business owners project sales will grow in the next year, and almost one-third plan to hire. Just 7% expect sales to drop and only 3% plan to lay off employees. And entrepreneurs typically believe they're local economies are doing better than the nation as a whole. (That can't be true for everyone, of course, but it still speaks to increasing optimism.)
That's not all. Some 45% of business owners in a recent Kauffman survey believe consumer demand will grow in 2013. Record sales over Black Friday weekend sales suggest consumers have "frugality fatigue" and are ready to spend again. Consumer debt is falling, the housing market is improving, and even the job market is showing signs of recovery-all of which could increase consumer spending by 3.5% by late 2013, according to Moody's Analytics. With pent-up demand for everything from housing to personal services to travel, there will be plenty of opportunity for small businesses who aren't afraid to seize it.
As always, though, technology trends will make a big difference in determining which businesses will be most successful. Here's what to look for:
1. Death of the desktop? Mobility will increasingly change how we do business. Already, according to The Mobility Edge: CDW's 2012 Small Business Mobility Report, 36% of small business IT managers say some of their employees have replaced a desktop or laptop computer with a smartphone or tablet. An additional 20% predict even more employees will do so by 2014. Adoption of tablets in the workplace is projected to grow a whopping 117% by then, while smartphone adoption at work will surge 33%. Smart entrepreneurs will tap into mobile's potential to work faster, more efficiently and more effectively.
2. Understanding your tech options will be critical. While small businesses recognize the opportunity technology presents, they're often confused about how best to implement it. In a Techaisle study, 54% of small and midsized businesses say their technology "pain points" have increased in the last three years, and that they're most mystified by cloud computing, virtualization, business intelligence, remote managed services and marketing automation.
3. Competition for talent will get tougher. It's never been easy for a small business to compete with big-company salaries, perks and bennies, and in 2013 it will become even more difficult, as employees are eager to search for those greener pastures. That's especially true for technology experts, so small businesses will have to find other ways to meet their tech needs.
4. Outsourcing will become an even better option. Freelancers and contractors, on the other hand, will be easier to find. MBO Partners' second annual State of Independence in America study projects the number of independent workers (contractors, consultants, freelancers or solo-preneurs) will grow from nearly 17 million to 23 million in the next five years. That will make it easier to hire the talent you need on a temporary basis.
5. SoLoMo goes shopping. Social/Local/Mobile is becoming the standard way to shop. People shopping on their mobile devices, "showroomg" (use their phones to compare in-store products with prices online), and use local search to find retailers and social media to find products. In a new study from the Advertising Research Foundation, nearly one-third of shoppers said social media affects their choice of brands; meanwhile, a survey by YP says 40% of consumers use local search daily. Making sure your website is optimized for mobile viewing and (if appropriate) developing a mobile app are the bare minimum of what you need to do in 2013.
6. Connected millennials - and their moms - matter more than ever. Much of the change in shopping behavior is driven by two key consumer groups: Millennials and moms. Both groups are constantly connected, rely on their friends' opinions (as well as those of social rating and recommendation sites) and aren't shy about sharing their own opinions of your business online (and in person). In 2013 it will be more crucial than ever to monitor and reply to what's being said about your business online.
7. Social means more than Facebook. Facebook and Twitter are still the big names in social media, most used by both consumers and businesses. But 2013 could see a shakeup from newer social sites as Pinterest, Tumblr and other visually oriented social media grab the attention of Millennial and younger consumers. And don't rule out Google+: The site's unique visitors grew by 80% in 2012, says a report by NM Incite.
What are we missing? What do you think will matter most in small business technology in 2013?