As we launch into the new year, here are the top 11 trends that entrepreneurs need to be aware of, think about, and for which we should all prepare:
1. Economy will still Struggle: This is the biggest question on everyone's mind. If experts in public relations and marketing were coaching me to write this blog to be popular, they would tell me to speak positively about the economic trends for 2011. But I just don't see it on a macroeconomic level, and I refuse to sugarcoat things for the sake of writing a popular blog post. I know of some entrepreneurs who are thriving and some who are struggling or who have already shut their doors. But most are treading water. And this will be the same news come the end of 2011. I'm saying it, even though you probably wanted to hear something differently.
In his post Yet More Evidence of Hunkering Down Among Small Business, Jeff Cornwall expresses concern that if entrepreneurs aren't positioning their enterprises to expand, a full economic recovery seems distant at best. But there are plenty of strong niches and unique opportunities that will continue to thrive at the hands of adept entrepreneurs.
2. Working Capital will be King: Yes, the saying usually says that cash is king. But tough economic times have taught many entrepreneurs that their working capital is sacred, primarily because it is the key to immediate and short-term cash. Those who make it more efficient (see Working Capital - Less is Often More) will out-perform their competitors. Those who protect it from being used on capital expenditures, excessive owner compensation, and other outflows not helpful to generating immediate and near-term gross profit, will find the empowerment it brings to succeed regardless of almost any external or economic pressure.
3. Results-Driven Marketing will be one of the biggest Difference-Makers of the Year: What happened to measuring marketing performance? Many entrepreneurs are so infatuated with marketing that they have become soft in measuring the results it generates. Some have justified spending more in marketing as a strategy to overcome the recession, and most of them are out of business now, having bled their working capital dry without a tool to measure if it was actually paying off. Marketing metrics will come back into fashion, and cost per lead and cost per customer acquisition will be numbers that successful businesses drive as low as effectively possible. John Donal Leavy has a lot more to say on this topic here: Outcome-Based Marketing in 2011.
4. Capital Expenditures will be up: Most businesses have held off on necessary capital expenditures in 2010 for two reasons. First, they were concerned they would not get the expanded Section 179 tax deduction for 100% of their purchases, and, second, they were concerned about over-spending in a tough economy. With the Section 179 deduction increase extended through 2011 and a still-shaky economy, most entrepreneurs are deferring that pent-up demand to 2011. Don't be fooled by it, because capital expenditures will likely drop again in 2012. You can read more about this in an article I wrote for American Express OPEN Forum--Five Finance Trends Every Entrepreneur Needs to Know.
5. Going Green will no longer be a trend--it will be an Expectation: A little ahead of this trend, in my opinion, the folks at Willoughby Design wrote: Going Green is not a Temporary Craze-It's an Expectation. If you haven't accepted this fact, your competitors will gain more traction and sustainability than you. Period.
6. Fixed Fee and Flat Rate will win more business: Whatever it is you sell, have a fixed price for it. If your customers feels, in any way, that their cost for your product or services is variable, it will decrease your chances of getting the business. Figure out how to price your products and services and deliver what your customers need. The argument that every customers' needs are different is becoming obsolete, and so are those who base their entire business model on it. Here is just one example from an attorney who wrote about how Customers Love Flat Fee Billing Based on Defined Deliverables.
7. Mobile, Cloud, and Social Technology will continue to converge: As these three technologies mature, they will continue to converge and become the future of how we think about and use technology. You can read just one of many opinions on this here: Convergence of Mobile, Cloud, and Social.
8. Entrepreneurial Borrowing will move further away from Traditional Sources: It will get harder and less attractive to get traditional loans from banks. Increasing an Entrepreneur's opportunities to adequately fund his or her business is a topic of heated debate, but few seem to really get it. You can expect more innovation in getting entrepreneurs access to the funds they need in 2011.
9. Compliance Enforcement will Increase: The IRS has $300 million more to spend in enforcement programs in 2011, and many state and local tax and other compliance agencies are spending more in enforcement as well. Plan for it, and then you'll be ready when it comes. It's becoming more likely that it will.
10. Social Security Temporary Tax Cut is a sign of things to come: One provision of the Tax Relief Act of 2010 left me scratching my head. Everyone knows the social security system is underfunded and will be bankrupt in a few decades unless the program is overhauled. So why did Congress reduce the amount paid into the fund by two percentage points, or up to $2,136 per worker? It just doesn't make sense, unless the long-term plan is to wipe-out the cap, currently set at $106,800, altogether, to match the same way the medicare tax is currently treated.
11. Hiring will focus on value-add, regardless of position or responsibility: Most studies and surveys say that hiring will be stagnant among entrepreneurial companies in 2011. But those who do hire will focus on the value each new employee and position will bring to the company. They will be Improving Your Business Hiring Practices and only hire when an employee is the only way to advance towards their goals and objectives.
Hopefully these trends and tips will help all of us turn 2011 into a year of prosperity and growth. To see the report card of my 2010 predictions, visit Report Card for Top 10 2010 Trend for Entrepreneurs.