At the start of a new year, as a business owner I find that it is not only important to take stock of all we have been able to accomplish in the past year, but also to plan for the important evolutions the next one is bound to bring. So what's on the horizon for 2014? Here's what my crystal ball is telling me.

Increased regulation. Whether you are part of the toy sector, the pharmaceutical world, the universe of food production and packaging, or the apparel and accessories industry, like me, get ready for the proliferation of new regulatory guidelines.

The coming year will see the creation of stricter standards for health and safety, the harmonization of existing statutes at the federal and state levels, and tighter controls and penalties to make sure the new rules are taken seriously. These are all steps in the right direction to combat years of anything-goes-type behavior by corporations concerned only with increasing the bottom line.

As business owners, we need to get involved in regulatory dialogues within our respective industries to make sure those who are setting guidelines are given the most accurate information on what will truly increase consumer safety and the best practices to achieve that goal in ways that are feasible.

We also need to be involved in the regulation process to make sure that the language of the directives is clear and leads the way to a level and unambiguous playing field.

Most importantly, as small-business owners, we should strive to be early implementers of changing guidelines. Being fast and first will help us to hold and even take new market share from larger competitors who are less nimble or slow adopters.

Heightened consumer awareness. As both a catalyst for and the result of the above regulatory changes, I believe consumers will and should be more demanding of information concerning the products they use. Companies that make it easy for consumers to understand how their products are made, what materials are used in making them, and how to take care of them will be consumer’s first choice when making a purchasing decision.

In addition, businesses that make safety and product knowledge a priority, rather than an afterthought, are those that will see the largest increases in sales.

Consumers will use their dollars to express their trust and confidence in companies that align themselves with transparency rather than transgression. Why? Consumers have a wealth information now available through the internet. And younger generations are much more conscious than previous ones of the impact their spending decisions can have on the world around them.

Market dominance of quality over quantity. The slow exit from the recent economic crisis coupled with consumers taking a more active role in their understanding of the pros and cons of a given product will lead to an even stronger predominance of quality over quantity in the marketplace in 2014. Gone are the days when people blindly acquire just to have. Instead, a new moral code is emerging that at last returns consumer focus to the idea that the lowest price is not always the best value.

Buyers will be looking to spend, but to spend more wisely. They will frequent those brands that deliver a quality product for a fair price consistently, followed by brands deemed top in terms of standard setting, even if they are more expensive. In last place will be those companies whose products cost less, but at the end of the day, provide a shortened lifespan or a reduced set of competitive characteristics.

Unlike the years preceding the economic downturn, when the rule of thumb was pared-down content to meet target pricing, pricing will now be determined by content. In other words, a product with better content will have no problem finding a buyer willing to pay for that content, even if the price is higher. Small-business owners will be able to use these new buying criteria to their advantage both in terms of re-positioning existing quality products and bringing new, even more innovative products to market if they emphasize the true value of their products in clear and concise communications.

In short, 2014 will be a year in which knowledge is king. Consumers will wield it as both a shield and a badge of courage, and business owners must invest in acquiring and disseminating it more than ever before.