While many of the headline-grabbing business developments around the world mostly concerned the bigger, household names, they were no less relevant for the smaller business trying to push their growth to the next level.
2016 promises to be a year of even more progress, upheaval, and innovation, all of which can be very good for growth-minded businesses. While new technologies pop up every month, however, the basic premise for growing a business remains the same: the best way to assure consistent, continuous growth for your business is to cut down on costs wherever possible.
With that in mind, here are five trends business owners in growth mode should watch out for in 2016. These tips and trends are all very practical and cost-effective, assuring your business will stay on the cutting edge in the year ahead.
1. Explosion of the Freelance Market
Spearheaded by the boom of Uber around the world, 2015 saw more and more businesses questioning just what the relationship between employer and employee looks like in the modern world. Regardless of how you feel about the terms of that particular company's employment practices, it's impossible to ignore that the freelance contract workforce is becoming more and more of a major player in the global marketplace, with Fortune predicting that almost half of the workforce will be freelance by 2020.
Utilizing freelance talent can be especially beneficial for growing businesses, as the model allows business owners to cut down on the overhead costs of paying full-time employees who may only be needed for a few specific projects a year. The tech industry is already ahead of the game on this one, as many programmers, whose work doesn't require them to be located in a specific office, are opting for the flexibility of freelance work without the hypercompetitiveness of Silicon Valley. As rapidly growing companies are allowing companies to tap into this trend without sacrificing quality of talent, many growing companies are taking note and turning to freelancers from places like Toptal to solve their talent needs as they scale.
2. Rise of Remote Work
Similar to the way in which the boom in the freelance economy has brought into question the very nature of an employer/employee relationship, the growing popularity of remote work around the world has raised another interesting notion: why confine employees to one office location? Especially for smaller businesses looking to cut down on costs in the name of growth, wouldn't it be nice if you could eliminate a major source of overhead cost, namely, rent?
There has been a stigma against remote work for many years, with major suspicions leading people to believe that it promotes laziness and checks productivity, but recent studies have debunked this myth, proving that companies who allow employees to work remotely not only save tons of money but also get more productivity out of their employees. So, while companies like Yahoo may be making the news for banning remote work, more and more companies are doing the exact opposite, with some big names going 100% distributed and centering their whole company's culture around the freedom and flexibility allowed by a remote lifestyle.
3. Streamlined Online Collaboration
Speaking of remote work, perhaps one of the most glaring drawbacks to its rise (until now) was its limitation when it came to team collaboration. Think about it: who, even ten years ago, would have imagined that someone could run an entire school without having a campus or classrooms? Nowadays, of course, online classrooms are commonplace and becoming more and more popular. The same trend applies to your growing business. Whether you operate remotely or not, you can now streamline huge chunks of your business thanks to the proliferation of some great online collaboration tools.
Some of the great money-saving tools are simple, such as replacing phones with Skype, whose voice and video offerings are largely cheap and whose main platform comes with a great chat and messaging function, allowing you to easily reach out to anyone on your team without paying useless phone bills or getting bogged down in confusing email chains. Beyond that, you can really organize your business's structure from the top down with great team-management platforms such as Basecamp and Slack. You can even stop paying for extra server and storage space by investing in such free services as Google Drive, whose cloud-based storage platform is second-to-none, allowing for cheap storage and exchange of information within your team.
4. Emphasis on Web Analytics
At this point, it's no secret that the internet is a pretty important place for the success of your business. It's safe to say that almost every potential customer's first impression of your company comes online, and with daily internet traffic surging to the information equivalent of 168 million DVDs, you better believe that the best chance you have of someone happening upon your business will be online. What's more, people's attention spans on the internet are growing shorter and shorter, with some statistics reporting that nearly half of all internet users will leave a page if it doesn't load properly in under three seconds.
What all this means is, in 2016, your business can't afford to ignore the importance of your online presence, and this extends beyond just social media. With Google pretty much running how users interact with the online world, it's crucial to take very seriously the search results position of your site, hence the recent rise of SEO and SEM. To make sure you're leaving no stone unturned when it comes to optimizing your company's online impact, invest in a web analytics platform so you can see what is and what isn't working for your website's internet presence. Google's Webmaster Tools and Analytics services are a great starting point and a must-have in 2016, as SEO and SEM become even more important.
5. Focus on Customer Retention
With 2015 being a year of serious disruption across many industries and marketplaces, it makes sense that so many businesses focused on maximizing the acquisition of new customers and new business. This is all well and good, and certainly still will be valid in 2016 for businesses in growth mode, but be sure to look out for an increasing emphasis on existing customer retention over new customer acquisition in the year ahead.
Reports from Forbes show that customer retention is the proven quickest way to maximize profit growth for your business, and it's also often cheaper to do than the costs of marketing for new customer acquisition. Therefore, make your new year's resolution a promise to your customers, one to keep making your product better and your services stronger and more dynamic than ever. It will help your company out in the long run.