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What Does 2012 Have in Store for Small Biz? What Does 2012 Have in Store for Small Biz?

By Features Business on Main

The world of business is changing more rapidly than ever, thanks to the economy and new technology. Find out what’s likely to impact you and your business in 2012.

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Has there ever been a time when business has changed more rapidly than the last 10 years or so? I would venture not.

Example: I wrote the second edition of my best-selling book “The Small Business Bible” in late 2007. But when I sat down to write the new edition, I found there was hardly any mention of social media outside of MySpace (!) in the previous version. Twitter and LinkedIn weren’t even in the lexicon back then. So yes, things continue to change rapidly — and happily, a new edition of the book with extensive social media chapters comes out in a few months.

All of which is to say it’s important to keep up with the latest trends in business, because it’s more than just an intellectual exercise — doing so can palpably help your company. So here are five things to look for in 2012:

1. Are happy days here again?
First, a caveat: Predicting the fate of the economy isn’t my job — and the debt crisis in Europe could change everything. That said, as of the end of 2011, I can report there is some welcome good news when it comes to the economy:

- Unemployment fell below 9 percent for the first time in seemingly forever

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- Holiday spending increased dramatically

- Consumer confidence is on the rise

No one is saying things are peachy — clearly they’re not. But that there’s at least some positive economic movement to report is a welcome change from the dire news we’ve all become so accustomed to.

2. Mobile mania continues to surge
When teenagers routinely tap-tap-tap on their iPhones, when grandfathers search for a place to take the family to dinner on their BlackBerrys, when even my technophobe pal Ron has an Android, it’s clear that the age of the smartphone is upon us. Indeed, Search Engine Land says more than 20 percent of all searches are now done on a mobile device.

For the small-business owner, this is a huge opportunity. People are relying on their smartphones for everything from searching to shopping to preventing boredom. This means that, at a minimum, small businesses should:

1. Make sure their websites are mobile friendly.

2. Consider mobile ad campaigns as part of their marketing mix.

3. Rise of the solopreneur
One result of this changing and challenging economy is that more and more people are choosing to go at it alone, either by choice or necessity. Certainly baby boomers who lost a chunk of their retirement in the past few years are increasingly looking at self-employment as a viable option. But it turns out that their kids are, too. Consider this tidbit from USA Today:

“Temple University officials noticed something a little out of the ordinary when they looked at the results of the post-graduation survey of 2009's undergraduate class: for the first time in the life of the survey, self employment ranked alongside banking, education and healthcare as one of the most popular career paths for recent graduates. … [As such], Temple officials scrambled to ensure that the resources offered by their career center adequately served current students with entrepreneurial ambitions. ‘We're taking resources that we already offer — such as networking workshops where we're educating students broadly about skills and strategies — and applying their approach to starting your own business,’ [said Rachel Brown, director of Temple's career center.]”

4. Whither Groupon?
If 2011 saw the rise of daily deal sites like Groupon and Living Social, 2012 looks like it will be the year when these companies tweak their business models to respond to criticism from businesses. Consumers, of course, love these sites because, hey, who doesn’t want a spa treatment for half price? That said, more than a few small businesses were burned because they either couldn’t keep up with the demand or couldn’t make a profit at the steep discounts that were required.

So no, Groupon isn’t going away — but expect to see some changes, especially as these companies’ stock prices continue to slump.

5. Election-year entanglement
Politicians love to talk about how small business “is the backbone of the American economy.” They do so because it is. The real question then becomes how the presidential election will affect business.

That it will have an effect, there is no doubt. For instance, look for stocks to be bullish: “The tail end of presidential election years tend to be pretty bullish for stocks most of the time, no matter which candidate eventually wins, says the Stock Trader's Almanac. The Standard & Poor’s 500 has risen in the final seven months in 13 of the past 15 presidential election years since 1950, Stock Trader's Almanac says.” (USA Today)

We’re also likely to see continued debate between the current administration and the presidential candidates about what policies will truly help small-business owners. But for now, we watch and wait.

In the meantime, here’s to a successful 2012 for you and your business!

Steve Strauss is a lawyer, author and speaker who specializes in small business and entrepreneurship. He also writes a weekly column for USA Today.

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