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The Top 5 Small Business Trends for 2012

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Apple iPad

In my column last week I started looking at the top 10 trends, factors, and events that will shape your business in 2012. This week we are down to the Top 5.

No. 5. Internet video takes center stage.

Consider these statistics:

• According to Cisco, online video now makes up 50 percent of all consumer Internet traffic.

• Last year, almost 200 million Americans watched online videos every month, and on any given day, 100 million people will watch videos online

What does this mean for your business? Plenty. People love video, and it turns out that video increases sales. Onlineshoes.com says that its conversion rate is up to 45 percent higher with video and Zappos.com says it sells up to 30 percent more when videos are used to display a shoe.

The upshot is that you need to strongly consider adding video to the mix, be it an online video brochure, a tour of your store, video newsletters, or just some instructional videos.

No. 4. Social media is becoming the land of the have and have nots. There seem to be two distinct camps when it comes to social media vis-à-vis small business: Those who get it and use it effectively and those that don't give a whit about it (oh, and camp three — those that get it but dabble ineffectively in it).

According to the 2011 Impact of Social Business in Small and Medium Business Study, about 50 percent of small businesses use social media. Those that do, do so for the following reasons:

• 80 percent of online visitors use social media daily

• More than 50 percent of all social media users follow a brand

• Social media is growing exponentially — Facebook added over 200 million users in 2011

So for the small business that has figured out that social media must be a key element to their business model going forward, I say way to go. To the other 50 percent I say — what are you waiting for?

No. 3: The death of 9 to 5. Does anyone really work at a desk five days a week from 9 to 5 anymore? Of course I am being facetious . . . or am I? A myriad of things have combined to make it so that we can work anywhere, anytime (whether we want to or not): The Internet, laptops, tablets, smartphones, apps and software are the main culprits.

I say culprits because some of this work anywhere, anytime stuff is great (checking emails while waiting at the airport) and some of it stinks (checking emails while on the beach in Hawaii.)

As my sweet grandfather used to say: Too much of a good thing is a bad thing.

No. 2. Are happy days here again?

First a caveat: I am not an economic prognosticator and no one here is saying that the economy is peachy because it is not. But that said, there are signs that the economic doldrums we have been in for too long may be lifting a bit:

• Consumer confidence continues to rise

• Unemployment claims continue to fall

• Fourth-quarter GDP growth is looking to be in the 3 percent to 4 percent range

And while lowered expectations seem to be the new normal, it is nice to be able to report something other than dour economic news for a change. If this trend continues, it will surely shape your business significantly in 2012, and happily for the better.

And the Top Trend for 2012 is:

No. 1: Mobile mania! With iPads flying off the shelf and laptops outselling desktops, with smartphones all the rage and more than a million apps in the App store, with more than 20 percent of all searches being done on a mobile device now, it is clear that the era of mobile work is at hand.

For the small business, this sea-change will have all sorts of ripples:

• Employees will increasingly expect to work when and where they want (see No. 3, above)

• Customers will want to be able to interact with your business via their mobile device

• Sooner rather than later, you will be using apps to run your business

• Geo-targeting mobile marketing offers is a good idea

• Your website needs to be mobile friendly

• Mobile ad campaigns should probably become part of your marketing mix

And that's a wrap. Happy New Year to all, and sincere thanks for taking the time out of your busy day to read my column!

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