There is this thing going around Facebook and Instagram right now, where you post a picture of yourself now, and one of you 10 years ago, to see how much you have changed.
How about a snapshot of your small business? How much has it changed in the last 10 years? If yours is like most businesses, the answer is – plenty!
The last decade has been one of the great changes in the business world. In fact, it can be said that over the last 10 years or so, running most kinds of businesses has changed more dramatically than any other 10 year period in recent memory.
It is also arguable if whether these changes have actually made running your operation easier, or that much harder. We will save that debate for a future column, but for now here are the Top Ten most significant changes that have occurred to the way we do business over the last 10 years.
- How We Communicate – How the average business owner communicates is probably the most significant change that has occurred over the last decade. Ten years ago, the phone and your receptionist was still one of the most effective means of communicating with current and potential clients. 10 years ago “social media marketing” was just becoming a thing. Today, businesses need to be able to communicate across many platforms, including how to “tweet” in 140 characters or less!
- The Impact of the Cloud – Gone is the days of huge banks of servers to store and access your data and applications. The Cloud is virtually eliminating the need for on-site computing. Cloud-based data management can now be leveraged by businesses of almost any size.
- The Virtual Office – Similar to the above, 10 years ago, a start-up may have needed to find an office space and equip it with 10 -20 desks upon which sat computer workstations. Today, the “virtual office” has eliminated a lot of the start-up and on-going overhead required to run a business. Applications being managed off-site, “hosted” phone systems, and “pay as you go software as a service solution,” have made the virtual office a reality!
- Lead Generation – A decade or so ago, most of your sales leads probably came from one source. That source was most likely a bank of telemarketers and business referrals. Today leads come in from multiple sources, primarily on-line sources such as pay-per-click ads, SEO based content, and special online communities or membership organizations such as Groupon or Living Social.
- Online Sales – And speaking of online, 10 years ago, eCommerce was still experiencing growing pains, now it is putting venerable “brick and mortar” retails into bankruptcy! And, it’s not just the “Big Boys,” like Amazon. Today, anyone can very easily sell just about anything online. It does not take a tech wizard to set up an online store, there are simple applications that allow anyone to do it. Even prolific bloggers can turn the blogs into stores easily, with free online templates that are designed to make blogs look and act like online stores.
- Social Media Marketing – It would be almost impossible to find a business today that does not make use of Social Media Marketing, yet, 10 years ago, it was in its infancy. Social Media Marketing is so prevalent now, that it has become a business unto itself, with companies you can outsource your social media marketing strategy to.
- Where’s the Paperwork? – While paperwork has not disappeared entirely, surely you are writing fewer checks, and no longer using paper invoices. And, when was the last time you sent anyone fax?
- Mobility – Of course, cell phones and mobile devices existed 10 years ago, but they were nowhere near as powerful or as indispensable as they are now. The ubiquity of smartphones started with Apple’s introduction of the iPhone, which ushered in a new era of mobility, as other manufacturers rallied to introduce similar devices with equal power and engaging features. Which lead to an evolution in network reach and speed, to where we are today, with not only true 24/7 mobility and productivity but a whole new marketplace targeting customers on mobile devices.
- Access to Global Resources – 10 years ago if you had a problem, or needed some business advice, you were pretty much restricted to your local network of colleagues and resources. Now, you can collaborate seamlessly with your creative director in the U.S., and your IT team in Ukraine, and just about anyone else, anywhere else in-between.
- Cashless Commerce – While this one is only slowly catching on with the introduction of apps such as Apple Pay, and PayPal, it is gaining steam, as more and more businesses are allowing, and seeing the advantages of “virtual payments” at the point of sale. This is going to increase for sure over the next few years.
The thing about evolution is it never stops. The evolution of business around the world will not end with the 10 things mentioned on this list. We are only just now beginning to see glimpses of the future of business with applications such as cashless payments and virtual wallets.
What will the next 10 years of human ingenuity and creativity bring to your small business? Only time will tell – hopefully they won’t have replaced me yet with some app, and I’ll still be here to write about it!