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?
The current economic climate is having an impact on businesses large and small. Many are suffering while others are discovering new opportunities. In fact, some people who have recently lost their job, be it through redundancy or otherwise, are thinking about launching their own business. What is clear is that the uncertainty in the economy means that researching a business’ market has never been more important.
Market research is an important tool for any person who wants to launch a business and for small firms looking to grow their business by launching new products or services. Market research involves scientifically-led studies to collect necessary market information, enabling entrepreneurs to make the right commercial decisions.
It’s an essential stage in the business start-up process but many entrepreneurs don’t do it – not least because of the supposed cost. Market research determines the feasibility of a project and it’s a way to adapt a business’ strategy (communication, pricing policy, products range…)
What it is...
It’s important to carry out market research in order to:
confirm an idea
make a project credible
professionalize the setting-up approach
convince financial partners and others
Online research has revolutionised market research, providing both opportunities and challenges to researchers and research users. Online market research has grown rapidly in recent years as a key form of data collection for primary research activities.
What it offers...
Online market research offers both large and small research focussed organisations the chance to eliminate the costs involved with face-to-face, postal and telephone data collection.
There are a number of benefits to commissioning online research, including:
Easier targeting of respondents across numerous segmentation variables provides access to a precise and qualitative panel which ensures the collation of reliable data on sensitive issues.
Multi-country projects no longer need to be an obstacle to research – worldwide research can be conducted at the click of a button.
An inexpensive way to conduct large research projects - it is possible to get hundreds of responses for less than a thousand pound.
Most large research suppliers have access panels which provide an easily accessible, reliable respondent base which can respond promptly to online questionnaires.
It allows for a very rapid turnaround – research can be undertaken and results received within a few days as opposed to several weeks involved with face-to-face and postal data collection methods.
The use of video, images and audio for richer questionnaire environments will return a greater quality data.
For a business which needs to gain a general view from a large cross-section of the population, and in as short a time as possible, there is no doubt that online research offers a viable benefit.
Starting a business? Launching a new product or service? Test the market first!