What do our columnists think the year ahead will bring? Everything from investments in green initiatives to new mobile apps and more accountability from corporate and governmental leaders. Meanwhile, legal eagle Nina Kaufman sounds a cautionary note: She believes cloud computing could lead to a whole new class of lawsuits.

Here are their predictions, in their own words:

"Women running multimillion-dollar businesses have been pushing themselves hard for the past two years. Now that business is starting to flow a little more smoothly, they are focusing on their personal lives.

"I'm not saying -- by any stretch of the imagination -- that they are coasting. But they don't feel such intense pressure as they did this time last year. As a result, they're starting to reward themselves; they may spend a weekend at the spa or take a luxury cruise. The sense is that they have won the battle and now are taking a little time off to celebrate."

-- Mary Cantando, "The Woman's Advantage" columnist and creator of The Woman's Advantage series of products

"In 2011, There will be a continued outcry for leaders across industries and in public office to take principled stands. The nation has experienced 'self-interest fatigue,' and we're looking for leaders who put themselves last and create followership based on our collective potential. Markets will continue to improve slowly but steadily. Leaders who create a path forward will thrive.

"I also predict (and hope!) that education reform will stay on the front burner as states experiment with how to teach the math, science and critical thinking skills essential for our work force."

-- Kristi Hedges, "The Leadership Factor" columnist and founder ofThe Hedges Company 
  1. Commercial real estate will continue to be the best investment value in 2011.
  2. Organic, green initiatives and renewable energy will continue to be among the hottest investments and trends.
  3. Health care, energy and the financial industry will be great investments into 2011. The financial industry especially will be a value buy.
  4. Financing will continue to be difficult into 2011; most small business will turn to non-bank asset-based lending and pay more on the amount borrowed. Lenders will screen out businesses that don't have a solid business model.
  5. Unemployment will continue to rise. Small business will continue to lead innovation in the marketplace.
  6. More Fortune 500 companies will market to women specifically. So watch the marketing segment grow in 2011.
-- Chia-Li Chien, "Financial Independence" columnist, principal of Chien Associates 

As the world becomes more digital, the distinctions between online and offline will become irrelevant. This has a lot of implications for brands:

  1. Brands will have to play well with others, as companies have less and less control over how, when, where and with what other products their brands are experienced.
  2. We will need to move from thinking about individual products to thinking about cohesive experiences.
  3. We must continue the evolution of integrating online and offline brand experiences.
  4. We have to get into the mind of our customers so that we are delivering brand experiences where, when and how they want them.
-- Lynn Parker,  "Branding for Real" columnist and principal of Parker LePla 

Next year you will see a large increase in apps usage as more and consumers use smartphones in their business as well as their personal life. Here are the business apps I recommend for 2011:

  1. Square. Square is a mobile credit card payment system. Just plug the free card reader into your smartphone and start swiping.
  2. Bento. Bento is a personal database that helps manage everything from to-do lists and exercise logs to event planning and business contacts.
  3. 1Password. 1Password remembers your user names, passwords, credit card numbers and other sensitive information, so you don't have to.
  4. iTimeSheet. The iTimeSheet app helps you track your time by client. You can also view activity reports, create invoices and export the data into Microsoft Excel. So you'll never forget what you did yesterday, last week or last month.
  5. Cisco WebEx Meeting Center. Being out of the office doesn't mean you have to be out of the loop. You can make your meeting by using Cisco WebEx Meeting Center in real time over either Wi-Fi or 3G.
  6. StartTalking. The StartTalking App makes texting-while-driving 100 percent hands-free and eyes-free. Just start talking to your mobile phone. StartTalking does the rest.
-- Francine Schill,  "The Successful Gal" columnist, founder of The Successful Gal and president of G&G Motorsports Marketing

There's a storm brewing in the clouds, and it's not rainfall. Cloud computing can be a phenomenal innovation for working collaborations. It enables solopreneurs and small firms to work in real time and leverage resources with great efficiency. But it's also a potential cauldron for lawsuits. As companies migrate more data to the "cloud" (including social media), they unwittingly enmesh themselves in collateral issues: confidentiality, data storage, data security and the need to preserve digital information for e-discovery. Law seems to lag behind technology by about a year or so -- so 2011 seems about ripe to start seeing lawsuits crop up.

-- Nina Kaufman,  "Business Law Advisor" columnist and Making It Legal blogger; principal of Ask the Business Lawyer 
  1. People will talk less and text and e-mail more.
  2. As the economy continues to improve, the solopreneurs who took jobs to survive in 2008 and 2009 will relaunch their practices or other new entrepreneurial endeavors.
  3. The number of networking groups you can join will continue to increase, forcing those groups to be more strategic about their message and the value they provide.
  4. The trend toward allowing information seekers to replay webinars and live events at their convenience will continue.
-- Kim Lysik Di Santi,  "The Mother Lode" columnist and president of Total Strategy 

I suspect that we will see more peer-to-peer business planning. Because of the need for prompt business idea validation and feedback, startup incubators may emerge as key components of business planning for next-generation entrepreneurs. Business plans will start to appear in a more compact and digital form., making them more accessible to potential funders, mentors and potential customers.

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-- Cheryl Issac, "Plan With Pizzazz" blogger, owner of Isaac Business Services and  The 48 Hour Business Plan Challenge