Good small-business owners keep an eye on the future, which means they already need to be thinking about what will be big in 2019.
The new year is shaping up to be transformative for the way we do business, thanks to rapidly improving voice-recognition technology, social media platforms pushing to become integral to marketing and e-commerce efforts, increasing competition for top talent, and a slew of new apps on the horizon.
1. Optimizing your content for voice search.
For years, small businesses have engaged in search-engine-optimization tactics to help their websites or blogs rank higher in Google's search results. And for years, we've been interacting with A.I. assistants like Siri and Alexa to help us learn, shop, and communicate.
Now those two worlds are colliding: Voice search is changing the way users find and Google surfaces content--and it's opening up unique opportunities for small, local businesses to boost their visibility. We've seen many of our small-business customers jump on the voice-search bandwagon.
Here are a few reasons why optimizing for voice search is different, and so important: People are increasingly using their mobile devices and smart speakers to voice search, and when they do, their queries are more conversational and longer than typical typed searches.
2. Using Facebook Messenger as a marketing tool.
Lots of businesses already have their Facebook Business page and have explored Facebook Messenger as a marketing and communications tool, but expect 2019 to be the year this trend explodes.
For all its scandals, Facebook has 1.3 billion monthly users, and that makes it an incredibly large pool from which to draw new customers. You can also use Messenger to facilitate shopping, drive awareness of your brand, and show customers you care: Messenger helps resolve customer issues in less than a minute on average, helping build brand trust among customers.
That last part is especially helpful, and Facebook's work to automate and streamline the customer service experience plays a major role.
3. Selling your products through social media.
The question for small businesses isn't going to be if they'll put their products on social media platforms like Snapchat or Instagram, but which platform they'll focus on.
Shopping on social media is more popular across the board, but Snapchat and IG in particular are vying for brands to start selling their wares directly on their platforms--Snapchat through their Shoppable Snap Ads, Instagram through their Stories.
4. Helping employees pay off their student loans.
It's always a challenge to attract and retain top talent, and that's gotten only more difficult in a fierce job market with low unemployment. How can small and midsize businesses compete? They can offer a benefit that means perhaps the most to young people today: student loan assistance.
Expect businesses in 2019 and beyond to explore teaming up with a repayment provider like Goodly to reduce the overhead costs of helping employees pay off their loans. This could have benefits beyond recruiting, including increased engagement and retention rates at these companies, especially in a competitive job market.
5. Offering customers financing for small-business purchases.
Square came to prominence by helping small-business owners take customer credit cards instead of missing out a sale. Now, with its new Installments service, Square is tackling this issue from the other side: It'll offer consumers forms of short-term lending to help pay for their purchases.
Customers of merchants that use Square will be able to buy products that cost between $250 and $10,000 and pay Square back in fixed monthly payments over a period of 3, 6, or 12 months with an APR ranging from 0 to 24 percent. As of this writing, the system is available in 22 states.
Monthly installments and financing for customers have long been the domain of big businesses. According to Square's own research, 68 percent of consumers said they'd be more likely to consider a small or local business if it offered them financing.
If you own a small or midsize business, jumping on some of these trends now may help you stay ahead of the curve as we progress into 2019. If you do that, you're much more likely to be around to take advantage of the trends in 2020 as well.