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5 Trends That Will Shape Small Business in 2013

This post originally appeared in my column for American Express OPENForum.

photo credit: Joel Bedford via photopin cc

As you start preparing for next year, you may wish you had a crystal ball to see what’s in store for your business. Lucky for you, for the past three years at Open Forum, I’ve been suggesting imminent trends that will most impact small businesses in the coming year.

Well, it’s that time of year again; and hopefully this list will help you position your business for growth.

The most significant change I’ve witnessed over the last few months is that both consumers and small-business owners have accepted that some things have changed forever. There’s also a sense that, regardless of technological advancements, businesses need to return to being more about people.

Here are the five trends that I see will significantly impact businesses in 2013.

1. “Crowdsolving” becomes a hot innovation trend. Some of the greatest challenges we face in the world, challenges that have to do with health, energy and education, are being tackled in unique ways. Instead of relying on the existing machines and organizations to address problems, innovative organizations such as the X Prize Foundation are creating competitions that reward disparate groups of individuals to collaborate and create innovative solutions in ways that had not previously been possible.

These teams can often throw off the traditional bonds of politics and industry class structures to think in totally new ways. This form of what is being called “crowdsolving” will make its way into the mainstream of business innovation. Asking our customers, vendors and employees to act as a community think tank will become one of next year’s hottest innovation trends.

2. Technology evolves to assist human contact. A great deal of technology developed for businesses over the last few years has focused on three things: making us more efficient, developing so-called relationships with thousands of people regardless of location, and enabling us to do more with less human interaction.

Instead of a world lacking human connections, these technological innovations have actually made it easier for some to create real human contact—one-to-one. For example, medical-monitoring devices provide the opportunity to create better doctor patient relationships and care; new scheduling and meeting services make it easier to connect in real life; and sharing ideas in virtual space leads to a greater desire to connect offline in social settings.

3. Content-filtering becomes a significant marketing practice. It’s official, we are all drowning in information and the days of “more content is better content” are coming to an end. Moving forward valuable content must include insight, and filtering should be a central practice in order to help people and prospects get what they need when they need it.Service providers will be chosen based on their ability to find and share the good stuff in addition to making sense of the changing stuff.

4. Visual simplicity becomes the desired communication method. From a design standpoint you don’t need to look beyond sites and services such as Pinterest, Pinvolve and The Fancy to see that people want visual content.

The current trend in Web design takes a cue from this desire for visual scanning and marries it with the need for simplicity and white space. Data visualization will become a renewed art form along the teachings of Edward Tufte. Keep things simple.

5. Tablet optimization becomes the mobile standard. We’ve all been rushing around the last few years talking about optimizing everything for the mobile device. The other day I witnessed three different women fish tablets from their purses while they were shopping.

The new generation of mini tablets are going to impact responsive design and what we’ve been calling mobile devices. Tablets and mini tablets will see a tremendous jump in server logs and become the de facto design standard for mobile content. That doesn’t mean mobile phone size browsers aren’t important, it means there will eventually need to be a divide in how we address tablets vs. phones.

These are just predictions of course, but when you spend enough time listening to, reading about and hearing from small-business owners and entrepreneurs, you get pretty good at understanding trends.

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