Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Top National Trends for Small Business Development

I just returned from the National Conference for the Association of Small Business Development Centers in New Orleans.  There were over 150 different training opportunities; over 1000 attendees nationally and internationally and likely after viewing over 10,000 slides.

It was a great opportunity to learn best practices, receive network training and meet other advisors.  Whether it was a session on SEO, Business Valuation or Tax Strategies, the information was timely and relevant.

Here are the top five things I learned about current trends for small businesses to be on top of (many are probably no surprise):

1.  Mobile is in.
Unless you do not use the internet, you probably know that more people than ever have smart phones and use them.  Websites need to be optimized for mobile.

2.  Search Engine Optimization is more important than ever.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is positioning your website and web content so it ranks higher in Google searches.  The same still holds true as it did five years ago - if a web company offers you 'top rank in Google' searches, shop around.  There are a few basic tips that help your website rank higher in search, and there are also some things to avoid.  Top tip:  Claim your Place page if you have not.  Bonus Tip:  If you do not have a website, you could be losing business.

3.  Customer Relationship Matters.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is getting even more strategic.  A recent article talked about how restaurants track their customers by codes such as VIP, CT (Cheap Tipper) and more.  One presenter suggested that you should be in touch with a customer at least every 90 days - whether it's mail, a postcard, e-newsletter or phone call.  Relationship = retention.  You want your customers to stay with you, and more importantly tell all their friends and have them be your advertising.  Some methods are 'free stuff' or, technically included in the up front cost.  For example, an auto dealer that provides free oil changes for one year.  Who wouldn't tell their friends about that?

4.  Top Restaurant Trends.
Here's a news flash.  Customers expect more now than in the past.  It is not enough for a restaurant to have Good Food, Good Service and Clean Restrooms.  Dining out is an 'experience'.  The recession did have an impact on dining trends.  How many of us have said, "We'll just get take out and save the extra cost on drinks, appetizers, etc.".  Other trends are for fast casual, fresh-local, different diets (gluten free, vegan, vegetarian.  Top tip:  Kids = sales.  There's a good reason why restaurants will offer a free kid's meal.  It gets the parents in the door and gives them a perception that they are getting a good deal.

5.  Tax Strategies.
An oldie but a goodie - tax strategies isn't the sexiest workshop to attend but I got some great tips.  There are two tax deductions that are often overlooked by small business owners.  The home office deduction and auto deduction are two tax deductions to be aware of if you are a business owner, especially if you have a home-based business.  A home office needs to be a  dedicated space in your home; it can be a portion of a room, not typically garage space, but needs to be dedicated.  The auto deduction can be taken in two ways - by 1) keeping track of miles driven and then using the IRS standard mileage rate at 55.5 cents or 2) the actual expense method.  The most important thing for the auto deduction is documentation - either keep the log, or keep a file with all your receipts.