The difference between businesses that survive and those that struggle in 2010 depends on whether or not you are online.
A number of 2010 forecasts, including our own, have pointed towards an increasing dependence in the small firm workplace on the internet. A small business in 2010 must be all things to everyone if it wants to secure customers. Consumer behaviour is driving the need for small businesses to adapt to an increasingly online world.
If you have a physical store you will also want to replicate it as best you can with an online e-commerce solution. Your customers are also likely to want a two-way experience with your online and physical store operation too. For example, if a customer buys a product from your website, they are also going to want the option of returning it in store should the need arise. Also, are you using social media tools to amplify your marketing message and listen to what your customers want?
What Small Business 2.0 can do for your firm, as an event, is bring likeminded and eager small businesses together to share their experiences of trading online. In addition, the line-up of speakers boasts representatives from small businesses that have now graduated to market leaders, as well as our humble MD.
The event takes place in London this Saturday and will consist of a range of workshops, discussions and presentations on how to run every aspect of your online operation.
You may already know, or at least think you know, everything there is about running your website but the day will take you across the spectrum of SEO, Google AdWords and social media to give you the confidence to turn your online operation into a strong profit-making venture.
One of the key features of this event is the low cost and relaxed format that it will take, making it a truly accessible event for small businesses. The Marketing Donut will be attending the event and shall bring all the pertinent thoughts from the day through Twitter and lengthier discussion pieces on the blog.
I don’t trust economic forecasts. This is mainly because forecasting is a more or less magical art that seems to me 10 per cent knowledge of previous events, 10 per cent observation of current conditions, 30 per cent guesswork and around 50 per cent wishful thinking. Even weather forecasters using detailed computer models admit they can’t look beyond a few days with any degree of confidence. Fortunately, after recent economic shocks, the financial pundits are tending to be a little more circumspect with their predictions than hitherto - but they’re still at it, nevertheless.
So I’m keen to stress this isn’t a forecast. It’s a series of observations that considers some things that might or might not happen in the world of small business in the next year or so, based on limited knowledge and personal prejudice. Maybe, possibly, perhaps.
The thing is, I can’t help thinking that the conditions are ripe for a surge in small-scale start-ups in 2010. It seems to me there are a number of strong trends apparent in the new year and, mixed together in the correct dosages, these could produce favourable conditions for start-up and small-scale businesses.
Trend 1: Shaky, but slightly increasing, confidence that we have "turned the corner" economically. The number of mortgages being taken out is increasing and house prices are climbing a little; Christmas sales figures were generally quite good. There’s a sense that we may be through the worst this recession has to offer.
Trend 2: The growth of e-commerce. The amount of money being spent online is growing year on year to the extent that it has become "normalised" within the marketplace. Big organisations like Amazon are the major beneficiaries, of course, but the opportunities for smaller businesses that market themselves well are considerable. E-commerce software is also becoming more affordable and easier to operate.
Trend 3: Social media marketing is going mainstream, and there are a host of new platforms emerging. Twitter, blogs, Facebook and the like enable business owners to reach many customers at minimal cost. Online information travels fast and wide, so many more market decisions are now based on word-of-mouth recommendation. Direct online engagement with customers helps to somewhat even out the playing field between large and small firms. In particular, look out in 2010 for mobile apps that enable you to reach customers within spitting distance of your business right now, "real time" search and "social search" - search engine rankings based on user recommendation.
Trend 4: Red tape and regulation aside, it’s easier to start, run and promote a business than since - well, quite possibly ever. Again, the Internet and other mobile communications are making it possible for small scale entrepreneurs to operate successfully in niche markets with low overheads. The large number of empty commercial premises also means there are good deals to be had, including on very short-term leases.
Trend 5: In a post-recession economy characterised by slow recruitment, there are a lot of talented people who are either unemployed or underemployed. It’s entirely feasible for them to start their own business without taking considerable financial risks - or even to do so alongside flexible working options.
Ok, so these few trends (there are many more) present a fairly rosy view of things. No doubt there are plenty of obstacles and the road back towards economic growth will be a slow and arduous one. I also expect it’ll be big companies that benefit the most in the long run, too, because they always seem to come out on top. For now, though, I think BigCo Plc does not have control of the major contemporary marketing channel and route to market, and this is very significant.
It’s my belief that we’re living through the "golden age" of the Internet before it becomes too regulated and controlled by government and big business. I think 2010 could likewise be a golden age for small scale start-ups using the web as a sales and marketing resource. Like all golden ages, it will likely be all too brief; but right now we have the motive, the means and the opportunity. So, could 2010 become the year of the micro-business?
What a year it has been for the Marketing Donut! We have had such a busy time with bringing small businesses the best resources to help them with their marketing that we are having a well earned break over Christmas and into the New Year.
The website and all its resources will be fully available but this will be the last blog post and there will be no Twitter activity from @MarketingDonut until Monday 4 January when we will be back with a renewed vigour and determination to help your small business take on the challenges of 2010.
If your craving for small business donuts is so insatiable, why not gorge yourself on our Facebook Fan page? Start a discussion with fellow small businesses or ask the community a question. If you can’t stomach any more Christmas television or you have lost your Radio Times, head over to the Marketing Donut YouTube channel.
We would like to say a big thank you to everyone who has helped make the Marketing Donut all that it is so far, be that our experts, sponsors and you, our readers. We wish you all a restful Christmas period and a Happy New Year.
James, Simon, Rachel and Kasia - the Marketing Donut team.