GUEST BLOG: This is the year of the small business

If you only read the papers or watched TV you would think the end is nigh, with unemployment at a 17-year high in the UK, over one million young people out of work and no expected economic growth. On the larger business scale, this could be seen as doom and gloom. However, 2012 is bound to be the year of the SME - flexibility is going to be the key advantage for smaller businesses and it will be a powerful weapon for generating profit and increasing margins.

We are becoming a nation of entrepreneurs as interest in entrepreneurship is at an all-time high, and barriers to entry at an all-time low. The recession has opened up a real peer-to-peer economy with small businesses supporting each other through sharing, swapping or selling services. TaskRabbit in the US, KickStarter and the Business & IP Centre's Skills Swap board are examples of this, putting people in touch with trusted reliable people to fulfil small tasks or to allow businesses or individuals to offer services or money to support creative projects. Opportunities like this also exist offline; you can now hire 'cheap and cheerful' offices for start-ups such as The Ugli Campus, which aim to help businesses collaborate and grow.

Digital demands

The digital word is going to continue to develop at an incredible speed and you need to know how to employ these changes.

Social media is starting to massively affect search engine optimisation (SEO) while tools like Google are highlighting more human related website contents. A recent study showed that 65% of adult internet users now use a social networking site of some kind - you need to adapt your business and think about ways to use social media as a vehicle to drive it into the search engine spotlight.

At the same time mobile web browsing is a hugely popular way to access the internet. There are more than two billion mobile internet users worldwide and it has been predicted that soon, the mobile phone will have more CPU power than the average computer. My tip to entrepreneurs is to make their website mobile friendly and create a high performance mobile site to keep your business up-to-date. If you are unsure about new developments Optimizely is a great resource to test your progress and changes.

Mobile internet has also created a huge demand for location marking. Potential customers are using their mobiles to find out the nearest outlets and services and you need to let them know you are there. A great way to start is to mark your business location on Google Places and you will see an instant boost in traffic to your website.

Make it human

Think beyond using the internet for just marketing and PR - add customer support roles and make your brand more approachable online. Why wait for the internet to approach you? People now have the tools to share, rate and review and some research suggests that customers trust brands that are being talked about - even having a bad review is better than no review. Individually led forums provide you with the chance to show brand authenticity, be genuine and communicate.

Do not be scared

Most importantly you should not be scared of the challenging economic climate or the way the digital world is developing.

The recession has created a wave of organisations designed to support small businesses. Do not live by the myth that entrepreneurs do everything by themselves. You need to seek as much help and advice as possible.

This is the time for small businesses to shine. Larger companies are going to struggle to adapt to the external environments, giving you the opportunity to win over much deserved market share. Go!

Click here for more information on Insider Trends.

Check out the British Library Business & IP Centre for advice and support for start-ups and small businesses.

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