By: Emily Bennington, Monster Contributing Writer
The start of a new year is obviously a good time to assess your small business strategy -- and the small business trends that can help your business succeed.
However, if you’re like most entrepreneurs, just running your company doesn’t leave a lot of extra time to brainstorm new small business ideas. So -- we did it for you.
We rounded up some of the most innovative thinkers in small business today and asked them one question, “Name something you think every entrepreneur should consider in 2012?”
Here’s what they had to say about upcoming small business trends.
1. Technology Trend: Telecalls
We all know the traditional BUY MY PRODUCT NOW sales approach isn’t cutting it anymore.
Leery of advertising, spam, and outright scams, consumers are searching for companies they can trust and, according to branding strategist Deborah Shane, offering free online content is a great way to start building credibility and enhance your company branding.
“Using telecalls more frequently to bring people together for short sessions is outstanding for list building and data gathering,” she says.
Regardless of whether you have a product or service-based business, Shane recommends packaging a 20-30 minute informational telecall occasionally along with a monthly email newsletter to clients.
The good news is you can do this at no cost. FreeConferenceCall.com and FreeConference.com are both services that allow up to 1,000 callers plus recording features and attendee information for follow up.
“Telecalls help you add value to your customer experience and interact with them more directly,” says Shane, “without the time and expense required to create a full webinar.”
2. HR Trend: “Entrepreneurs” on Staff
Dan Schawbel, founder of Millennial Branding, recently partnered with data firm Identified and surveyed a whopping 50 million Facebook profiles to discover the employment preferences of Gen-Y.
Small businesses in particular lean very heavily on younger employees (in part because they usually don’t have the stiff salary requirements of their seasoned peers); many owners are really struggling with how to maintain a company culture that motivates Gen Y’s and Millenials.
What Schawbel found in the survey was that only 7 percent of those studied worked for a Fortune 500 company and the fifth most popular job title was “owner.”
Clearly, this is an entrepreneurial generation like no other in history -- something managers need to consider when it comes to keeping staff onboard.
“You need to allow Gen-Y to embrace their own entrepreneurship spirit if you want to keep them engaged,” says Schawbel.
“Of course they have to accomplish their regular tasks, but if they see new opportunities to add value at work, you should find ways to support them in their pursuit.”
3. Product Trend: Made in America
As more and more jobs and products go overseas, it’s no secret that consumers have begun to look at shopping as a form of patriotism.
Tory Johnson, workforce correspondent for Good Morning America and CEO of Women for Hire, says she’s “bullish” that businesses with products that are US-made leverage that in promotions.
“Every day I hear from people who are determined to bring their materials and production to the US,” she says, “and others who say creating American-made products and services is the single best way to revive the economy and get this country thriving again.”
Johnson says the enormous outpouring of interest she’s received in US-made products is proof that business owners should add a dash of Uncle Sam to your marketing.
If you’re wondering where to start, it could be as simple as putting a small sticker on your external packaging that says “Made with Pride in America.” (Assuming your products are, of course.)
For her part, Johnson is so committed to supporting entrepreneurs with products made in the US that she’s heavily showcasing many on her 20-city Spark & Hustle tour this spring.
4. Big Company Trend to Steal: Strategic Partnerships
When Target started partnering with big-name designers to create affordable clothes, they launched a win-win for the ages.
One example: Less than three hours after the new collection featuring Italian label Missoni was released, Target’s website shut down from all the traffic. Not easy to do!
Adelaide Lancaster, author of The Big Enough Company: Creating a Business That Works for You, says entrepreneurs should take note of Target’s success and find ways to build their own strategic partnerships -- especially with larger companies. “Bigger businesses are interested in leveraging the creativity and independence of smaller brands and smaller businesses are often eager for the additional exposure and larger platform.”
Lancaster adds that it’s essential that both parties be very clear on expectations (read: get it in writing) and, of course, only partner with organizations that are compatible with your mission.
“Think about what businesses would be fun and exciting to work with and look for mutually beneficial opportunities. You’ll never know what ‘could be’ unless you go for it.”
Emily Bennington is coauthor of Effective Immediately: How to Fit In, Stand Out, and Move Up at Your First Real Job. She is a frequent speaker on the topic of career success and has been featured on Fox Business, CNN, and ABC, as well as quoted in publications including the Wall Street Journal, New York Post, and Washington Post Express. In addition to Monster, Emily is a featured blogger for The Huffington Post, Forbes Woman, and US News and World Report. Emily’s second book, a career guide for young women, will be published in the fall of 2012 by AMACOM. She can be reached online at emilybennington.com, on Facebook, or on Twitter @EmilyBennington.