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Rhonda Abrams column: Seven small business trends to analyze

11:09 PM, May 25, 2013  |  Comments
Rhonda Abrams
Rhonda Abrams
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In my work with small-business owners all over America, certain issues consistently occupy most of their attention.

Small-business owners predominantly are occupied with the perennial issues that determine their survival: making enough money; keeping costs down; and being profitable enough to pay their bills, their employees and themselves.

But the smartest entrepreneurs also know they have to pay attention to new technologies and services to stay competitive.

A few key issues are emerging:

? Social media. Do your customers "like" you on Facebook, follow you on Pinterest? Do you tweet?

Small-business owners are struggling to figure out how and whether to use social media to market their products and services. Sure, it's easy to put a "follow me on Facebook" link on a website, but it's not so easy to keep the page fresh.

One of my first clients was a florist, and once a year, the owner would take out a Yellow Pages ad. Today, that florist would be urged to create content for her Facebook page every few days and pin pictures of new floral arrangements to Pinterest.

All of this takes time, and the return on investment isn't clear yet.

? Health care. By the end of this year, health care is going to be on the minds of virtually every small-business owner.

In January 2014, provisions of the Affordable Care Act require employers to provide health insurance or pay a fine. Many aspects and options remain unclear, such as the health exchange marketplaces for consumers and small businesses, and they're likely to stay that way for some time.

The obligation to provide health insurance or pay a fine applies only to companies with more than 50 full-time equivalent employees. The formula is complicated, but most small businesses will not be required to provide insurance.

? New payment methods. Various forms of mobile wallets and payment options are springing up.

And many small businesses are looking at whether to adopt new payment services such as Square, GoPayment, or PayPal Here.

Mobile businesses - electricians, lawn services, street vendors - have been the first to choose these new payment forms. But brick-and-mortar or service businesses increasingly are turning to them.

Getting approval as a vendor is easy, no fussy equipment is required, and the pricing is transparent. Key players in this field still are emerging, and small businesses are likely to be flummoxed with the range of choices.

? Cloud computing. This is one area where small businesses really benefit, but the decision to move to the cloud can be confusing and the transition somewhat disruptive.

The explosion of Internet-based services - sometimes called software as a service or on-demand software - helps small companies use more powerful services more easily with lower up-front costs. But the monthly fees turn off some small businesses because they don't fully understand the tradeoff with information technology maintenance and upgrade expenses.

? Crowdfunding. The Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act that passed last year will open up new sources of financing for entrepreneurs.

Now, only "qualified" investors can pay for a stake in entrepreneurial ventures, and the Securities and Exchange Commission is charged with devising regulations that would allow ordinary individuals to invest.

Once the SEC, which is behind on its original schedule, has issued regulations, expect a flurry of new crowdfunding sites to appear - and aggressive marketing to get entrepreneurs to raise money on their sites. Fraud, too, will be inevitable in spite of the regulations.

? Mobile marketing. Virtually everyone is doing business on their smartphone - buying stuff, searching for nearby businesses, researching products, making reservations.

But mobile is a real challenge for small businesses. They don't know how to create or manage mobile applications or mobile-friendly websites.

? Global prospects. Overwhelmingly, small, local businesses aren't thinking globally, but for some doing business globally represents both opportunities and challenges.

The biggest challenge may be global competition. But international markets also offer opportunities to find vendors and customers.

Smart entrepreneurs know their long-term survival depends on being responsive to new trends. But they can't afford to adopt every passing fad.

These trends seem to be the ones with lasting impact.

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