There is one thing we all know for sure about business as we go into the future:

The way your business wins in the future is very different than the way it has won in the past

Just when we think we have got it 'sorted out' something else comes along and again, small businesses fall behind the eight ball.

If I look back on the past 20 years or so, business has changed dramatically. 

  • Globalization is changing the way we work, play and learn
  • Technology affects every element of our lives and being
  • Employees have become the single most important part of any business
  • A person can no longer just blunder into business and expect to survive
  • Old business models and paradigms have changed and will continue to do so
  • Connecting with customers doesn't come just by word of mouth, a strong sales team or advertising in the local newspaper
  • People have changed.

There are so many things that have and are shaping our world and with that businesses are now required to make changes that not only impact their businesses but also the way their employees, community and stakeholders view them.

The way your company wins in the future is very different...

Shaping our world:

  • Emerging markets increasing in global power; i.e. China 20 years ago was not as powerful as it is today. 
  • Global banking seeks recovery through transformation
  • Governments are working with private sector, enhancing its ties and collaborating like never before
  • Technology innovation is creating a smarter, faster and virtual world, that everyone plays in
  • Demographic shifts are rapidly transforming the global workforce
  • The environment is no longer an after-thought, with areas like Cleantech providing a competitive advantage

These changes have significant affect on small businesses. Knowing what to do and when to do it is a challenge. Small business owners are grappling with understanding how to adapt to change, while still keeping a company profitable and moving forward.

An emphasis on the workforce with big global companies such as Google and Zappos taking the lead on investing heavily in employees to power company performance, has a domino affect on small businesses with employees demanding a more flexible, fun and employee-centric environment. While all of that is good and well, it is hard for any small business to invest in this change at the level of expectations from the newer generations, and still run a profitable business. It takes time, money, resources and knowledge to present this power play and mind-shift creating workforce environments that underpin a changing world.

"In order to achieve what I want, I need to empower people to achieve what they want"

We often talk about playing a customer-centric game, but rarely do businesses play it. Take airlines for example; they profess to be all about the customer, yet they let an old lady struggle to put a suitcase in the overhead bin, or won't change a ticket without charging exorbitant prices. They hike up prices as the flight becomes closer so that if you have an emergency, you will need to pay triple the price of what someone may have paid just days beforehand. Is this customer centric or plain extortion?

We know that "customer is king," but so too is the employee; where does a small business owner draw the line? Who is more important when something goes wrong?

Is marketing going to change?

Marketing is singularly one of the hardest investments small businesses make - simply because there are no guarantees, and the way we market is changing at such a dynamic pace that no-one really knows whether or not they are placing their hard earned cash in the right place or not. I listened to a speaker on marketing at a conference last week in Buenos Aires and was completely horrified by the dribble that came out of his mouth. When I questioned him on his lack of facts and alarming statistics that were clearly made up, he replied "I am here to entertain." Really? Here you have an audience who is either believing you or realizing that you are not necessarily sharing ideas or marketing techniques from experience, but rather from a script that you wrote backed by no substance. I was mortified and almost felt compelled to get up and tell the audience the facts. One thing he said to the audience is basically if you have a blog, you will be number one on Google. Plain bullshit! If you write a blog and you don't share it, or your website is not high quality and doesn't have search engine optimization - your blog is probably going to be a waste of time. People like this are "educating" and at the same time confusing small business owners who don't know who to believe.

I started working on my writing on a typewriter, and eventually moved to an old Mac and in 1996, wrote my first email. Marketing is changing and it is impossible for small business owners to keep up. The only way in which a small business owner can keep ahead of the game is to know your customers better. If you know your customers and understand what they want and help them achieve it, then you will connect with them in a way that no-one else can.  "When someone helps me get what I want - I want to be with them". If you are able to do this for your customers, then you have the answer that will provide you with the framework to be successful.

Things to keep in your toolbox for 2014:

  • Have a marketing strategy in place
  • Keep up-to-date with the latest marketing technologies. You don't have to be the earliest adopter, but you do need to know their value to see how they may work in your business to save money and create greater connections with clients
  • Know your customer better and keep communicating and gathering data that ensures you share this information with your team
  • Invest in your product or service in a way that you have never done before
  • Outsource to professionals that collaborate 
  • And last but not least, make your customers feel special.
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Mellissah Smith

Mellissah Smith is a marketing expert with more than 20 years experience. Having founded and built two successful marketing companies internationally, she is well recognized as a industry thought leader and innovator. Mellissah started her career working with technology and professional services firms, primarily in marketing, public relations and investor relations, positioning a number of successful companies to list on the various Stock Exchanges around the world. She is a writer, technology developer and entrepreneur who shares her thoughts and experiences through blogs and written articles published in various media outlets. Brag sheet: #2 marketer to follow on Twitter (2003), Top 150 Marketers to Follow (2015), Top 10 innovative marketers (2014), 60K+ followers on Twitter with 97% authentic.

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