Small business in 2014 – the experts predict the big trends

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With 2014 starting with a more buoyant economic outlook and greater business confidence, there is a lot to look forward to in the SME realm.

In 2013, uncertainty around the federal election put many businesses in a holding pattern, but the good news is it proved a time for consolidation and planning.

So what goals will SMEs kick and which areas will they invest their energies into this year?

SmartCompany has spoken to the experts to get their predictions in terms of management, technology, human resources, finances and marketing, to see how they think small business will unfold this year.

Here is what they see in the crystal ball:

1. Management

Australian Institute of Management chief executive Tony Gleeson thinks 2014 will be a turnaround year for small business owners and managers, as the global economy finds some relief, particularly in the US and UK.

This could culminate in managers fighting to keep and attract good staff, after years of hiring freezes and retrenchments.

“Before the global financial crisis, there was a war on talent,” he says. “It will come back into play.”

Leaders will also be looking at taking customer relationships to the next level, finding ways to help their clients innovate and to take advantage of a better economy.

With the Abbott government staging a war on red tape and thousands of pieces of legislation set for the chopping block, Gleeson is predicting business owners will be more vigilant than ever about keeping up with policy changes.

“They will ask, how do you lobby the government to help drive their agenda?” he says.

Before the GFC, corporate social responsibility was a growing priority for business owners and consumers. He says it dropped off, but this year it should come back, with consumers using it as a differentiating factor when making purchasing decisions.

With many of the large corporations fighting to keep a foothold in Australia, Gleeson thinks smaller business owners will be thinking about how they can build continuing relevance. He thinks planning for innovation, retaining the right people, and cementing a solid brand reputation will be key to this.

Gleeson expects leaders will more actively embrace flexible working environments, and will increasingly act as a front for their organisations, talking about its culture and services.

2. Technology

Fronde chief technology officer James Valentine predicts 2014 will see a continuation of businesses adopting cloud technology – but he thinks there is still a long way to go.

“We’re still educating the market on the features and benefits of cloud computing, but we’ve certainly turned a corner,” he says. “The year ahead will see the majority of customers mandating ‘cloud first’ in their platform selection criteria.”

He predicts as businesses move to the cloud, they will get a better grip on the idea ofdata sovereignty, privacy and security. Valentine says the concerns people had about the cloud for these reasons are “starting to evaporate”, as “customers are understanding that cloud platforms offer privacy and security”.

Businesses are also likely to say goodbye to desktop PCs as mobile devices become the primary focus.

“2014 will be the year that “mobile first” becomes the norm, wherein concepts like responsive web design (where web content dynamically adapts to screen resolution) become a non-negotiable requirement for new applications,” he says.

“This in turn is tied to the notion of ‘100% web’ – and the increasing irrelevance of operating systems and desktop management to IT organisations.”

He says devices such as Google Chromebook will start to gain ground, due to the low cost.

“Customers are now demanding ‘anytime, anywhere, any device’ as a key purchasing decision combined with true utility-based pricing. This new reality is starting to hit home against those peddling ‘false clouds’, private clouds and legacy infrastructure-locked licensing models.”

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