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By Sonjui L. Kumar Email By Sonjui L. Kumar
January 2018

Although 2017 was a volatile year geopolitically, the business climate remained positive with continued growth in most sectors. Small businesses are especially bullish with 52% of owners expressing optimism for the next year, according to Forbes magazine. A recent survey by Microsoft Store found that one-third of small businesses intend to either hire 1 or 2 employees, start a new marketing strategy, or give back to the community. Here is our annual roundup of what to expect for small and midsize businesses in the coming year.

1. IOTAIML. The Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and Machine Learning (ML) dominated the technology landscape this past year and will continue to work their way into many aspects of daily business operations. From automated responses to frequently asked questions to location- based advertising, smaller companies can leverage these technologies to increase their capacity and reach. Monitoring industry websites and attending technology events and conferences is key to identifying the software and hardware products that will contribute the most to the bottom line of your enterprise.

2. It’s Still about the Millennials. The generation born between 1982 and 1996 has become the largest age group, bypassing Baby Boomers and comprising almost 28% of the population. Consequently, the buying and working habits of this group will continue to matter greatly to retailers and employers. As consumers, millennials crave experiences over luxury goods, are drawn to personal interactions with their vendors, and prefer businesses that are transparent and do good over brand loyalty. These same qualities transfer to the workplace where millennial employees look for feedback and encouragement over compensation, and focus and purpose over rank and titles. Small and mid-size companies are often well positioned to attract millennials by targeting these needs and highlighting the local nature of their business.

3. But Watch out for Gen Z. Companies are already focusing on Generation Z, the oldest of whom are now in their late teens and make up about 25% of the U.S. population. Gen Z communicates, buys, shares, and finds everything it needs on its mobile devices, valuing speed and access above all. This generation is risk averse, having seen their parents struggle through the great recession. Marketing to these consumers and potential employees relies on hidden or incognito sites such as Snapchat, especially sites that their elders are not using. Start building loyalty amongst Gen Z.

4. Distance or E-Learning. 2018 will see a proliferation in new educational platforms. Institutions ranging from traditional universities to LinkedIn are focusing their investments in the online learning business. Younger workers are opting for online certification and credentials over traditional degrees. Employers like being able to retrain or up-skill their workforce without the cost of a graduate education and loss of employee time during business hours. Businesses that focus on supporting or enhancing the e-learning experience will see more opportunities.

5. Health, Mental Wellness, and Financial Programs. As employee stress increases, more businesses are establishing programs to help their employees with these issues. Larger companies, like PwC, offer 24/7 counseling services and a mental health toolkit. Mental health is coming out of the shadows as employers recognize its impact on the workforce. Companies are offering debt restructuring services and financial courses to employees in an attempt to help reduce stress from those factors. Small businesses can offer these benefits more cost effectively than large enterprises.

6. Be Prepared to be Hacked. It’s not if but when you will be hacked according to most industry experts. After Equifax, the prevailing wisdom is that any business needs to be ready to have its website, internet operation, and emails locked up or hijacked for some period of time. Cybersecurity professionals indicate that some sites may already have been hacked but will not know about it for months or years until the adverse party decides it’s the right time to cash in on their actions. So the time is now for every company to prepare for the inevitable by insuring and preparing for a security breach, especially if their operations involve the collection and storage of personally identifiable information (PII), i.e. health data or social security numbers.



Business Insights is hosted by the Law Firm of KPPB LAW (www.kppblaw.com).
Sonjui L. Kumar is a founding partner of KPPB LAW, practicing in the area of corporate law and governance.
Disclaimer: This article is for general information purposes only, and does not constitute legal, tax, or other professional advice.

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