Granted, nobody really knows what the future truly holds. Nonetheless, after years of surveying the landscape, spotting trends and deep analysis, industry experts have honed their prophetical talent.
Among them is Jim Squires, director of market operations at Instagram. He recently shared some insights with Small Business Computing, predicting that entrepreneurs will face no shortage of opportunities for success in 2017.
Yet, capitalizing on them requires knowing what to look out for. Through the lens of its millions of users, Instagram has a unique and revealing perspective on how consumers and brands interact.
Squires shares some of that wisdom for the year ahead.
SMBs Will Act on Their Global Ambitions
Expanding into overseas markets used to be practically impossible for all but the multinational corporations and luxury purveyors of the world. Next year, small and midsized businesses (SMBs) can confidently set their sights beyond their local markets.
"Mobile marketing has opened new doors for small businesses to connect with customers across the world," Squires said. "On Facebook, for instance, more than one billion people are connected to at least one business in a foreign country."
There's no shortage of tools to help SMBs find and connect to new customers in other regions, he added. "In 2017, we'll start to see more domestic businesses become international ones."
Mobile Will Matter More than Ever
No more excuses. Mobile consumers are breaking sales records and making their e-commerce preferences known.
"It's no secret that people love their mobile devices, with American consumers now spending three hours a day on their mobile device," Squires said, citing data from eMarketer. "In fact, shopping on mobile reached record highs this holiday season, with Black Friday becoming the first day in retail history to drive more than $1 billion in mobile revenue at $1.2 billion, up 33 percent over last year."
The writing is on the wall. "Customers are increasingly turning to mobile, so small businesses need to as well."
Creativity Will Be Democratized
No ad agency? No problem.
"It wasn’t long ago that creating a video ad was only available to big brands with hefty budgets. But in today's mobile economy, small businesses can easily develop creative and effective ads from the palm of their hands," Squires said.
Sure, your efforts may not rival an award-winning ad campaign from Madison Avenue, but their potential reach is simply staggering.
"With a mobile phone and a few creative tools and resources that can help them be more agile and capture real-time moments, SMBs can create effective ads in mere minutes with built in distribution to 600 million people across the globe," Squires noted. "Expect small businesses to push the limits of creativity in 2017."
SMBs Will Deepen Customer Relationships
It's no longer enough to tell a story to customers, they want to be part of the story. In 2017, it will be easier than ever to welcome them into your world and make them feel invested in your success.
"Customers crave real-time engagement with brands – as do small businesses with their customers. SMBs will continue to make strides in 2017 to connect directly with their customers, be it through calls, texts, emails, online chats and even tools such as Messenger," Facebook's messenger app, Squires said. (Facebook acquired Instagram in 2012.)
Lower Barriers to Entry Will Pose Challenges
There's some good news and bad news for small businesses in 2017, said Squires.
"With the proliferation of new, affordable technologies and platforms for starting and running a business, becoming a business owner in 2017 will be cheaper and easier than ever before," he encouraged. "Companies like Intuit, Shopify and Square have solved many of the pain points facing small businesses, allowing them to focus on what truly matters most: finding new customers and growing."
The downside is that vendors are flocking to the space, creating a crowded small business technology landscape that's tough to navigate. "Choosing platforms that help your small business stand out will be essential," Squired advised.