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Wouldn’t it be great to have a crystal ball to predict the 2016 outlook for entrepreneurs and small business owners? Of course, none of us really knows what lies ahead in the coming year—but to give you the next best thing to that crystal ball, I asked several small business experts and thought leaders to share their insights with you.

First, my prediction: Small business owners must be proactive and embrace new technologies, ideas and business models. Entrepreneurs who are innovative, bold and gutsy will win the day. After all, as General George Patton once said, “Opportunities do not come to those who wait. They are captured by those who attack.”

Innovation

Jack Bienko, Director for Entrepreneurship Education, Small Business Administration  (SBA)

Entrepreneurs continue to lead us toward a “smaller world” where innovation is directly related to client benefits and societal gains. This continues to inspire me as we address serious issues and seek to leverage solutions from all sectors.

Marketing

Gini Dietrich, CEO of Arment Dietrich and Author of Spin Sucks

It’s no surprise that everyone is inundated with content and exhausted with the options…most of them not good. Because of that, I predict 2016 will be the year the content marketing cream rises to the top and the weak will disappear. Small businesses will have to get more creative in their content—more video, more visuals, more behind-the-scenes access. Content is not something you do just because everyone else is doing it, but because it is driving sales for you. You will figure out who the influencers are in your industry…and build relationships with them to help you build an external ambassador program. And you’ll work hard to track content against real results, or you’ll just stop doing it.

Brad Jefferson, CEO and Founder, Animoto

  • Video will become essential for every content marketer. In 2016, marketers will need to add video marketing to their skill set in order to be competitive to future employees and clients. SMBs will follow big brands and begin video content marketing.
  • By the end of 2016, Facebook will have 20 billion video views a day. With the increased proliferation of video on Facebook, in 2016 it will become even more important for businesses to incorporate it into their marketing strategies.

Mobile

David Smith, Vice President of Worldwide SMB, Microsoft 

Mobile capabilities will become more powerful than ever and new apps, including Skype for Business, OneNote and Continuum, which turns your phone into a big-screen projector and a big-time productivity tool, will allow SMBs to run an increasing amount of their business processes on a single mobile device.

Jack Bienko, Director for Entrepreneurship Education, Small Business Administration  (SBA)

“Mobile everything” continues to grow—mobile device usage and related tools, mobile labor force to recruit and access new talent, mobile services that reach customers with specialized services, mobile marketing to presents immediate localized deals, mobile education that presents engaging content to a huge market of lifelong learners—did I mention “mobile” yet?

Money

Jared Hecht, CEO and Cofounder, Fundera

2016 is going to be all about small business lending transforming into a buyer's market. With so many online lenders out there, and more information than ever, small business owners will have more power to shop for better rates and have a real understanding of what's available to them.

Eyal Shinar, CEO, Fundbox

2016 will be the year where big banks and fintech startups start creating partnerships and offer more solutions to SMBs. We will see the two working with each other rather than against each other.

Cindy Yang, Small Business Expert, NerdWallet

Entrepreneurs will go online more for small business loans. Online loans account for 2 percent of all small business loans today. That number is expected to rise to 16 percent by 2020.

Retail and ecommerce

Mike Kwatinetz, Founding General Partner, Azure Capital

Today’s ecommerce company is more about curation—being a source for items the shopper has not [yet decided to buy] and curating products so the target demographic is delighted when shopping. The degree [to which a company] is able to personalize the shopping experience impacts how well the customer is delighted with what they are offered.

Security

Dragos Gavrilut, Team Leader Antimalware Labs, Bitdefender  

Businesses and government institutions will still face advanced attacks throughout 2016. Attackers will be in and out of an organization in days, maybe even hours. The business environment will see an increase of targeted attacks and strongly obfuscated bots, with a short lifespan and frequent updates. Most of these attacks will specialize in information theft.

Klaus-Michael Vogelberg, Group Chief Technology Officer, Sage

It's not just huge enterprises that are targets [of cybercrime]—any online business is a potential victim. But small businesses often lack the resources to defend themselves against attack. It could destroy their reputation and cripple them financially.

New security software for a small business needs to be simple and easy to use—even better if it can make use of crowdsourced analytics to spot suspicious patterns and outbreaks. Small business owners need to be educated in the best ways to use existing technology to combat an ever-increasing threat.

Hunter Hoffmann, Head of U.S.Communications, Hiscox

Check your safety net: Ensure that you are completely insured against any possible threats—22 percent of small business owners cited hacking and cybercrime as a major risk to their business, yet only 7 percent have e-risks insurance.

Technology

Jeff Crouse, Vice President, Pitney Bowes Global SMB Solutions

In 2016, small and medium businesses (SMBs) will face an uphill challenge to manage their shipping and mailing due to higher shipping volumes, rising costs and increasing complexity—ranging from multiple carriers and rate structures, to real-time tracking and new compliance requirements. Simplifying the sending process will become even more critical in 2016 as postal and courier rates rise and more SMBs go global through ecommerce. The good news for SMBs is new technology and cloud-based solutions are becoming available to integrate physical and digital experiences and simplify processes on one platform.

David Smith, Vice President of Worldwide SMB, Microsoft 

Personal assistants will get more personal: As Lili Cheng mentioned in the predictions blog, in 2016 our conversations will increasingly be mediated by conversation assistants who will help us be more productive.

Russ Fujioka, U.S. President at Xero

  • The power of the cloud will be realized. Applications will be designed for the cloud before traditional data centers—and in 2016, companies will use more computing power from the cloud than from their servers. The cloud, which blurs national and state barriers, will open up global opportunities never before available to small businesses and become a baseline for success and productivity.
  • The cost of technology will fall and break down barriers. Previously, businesses had to pay a lot of money for data and analytics. Automation platforms were tools only big enterprises could afford. However, as the cost of tech falls, so too will the barriers for small businesses. They'll be able to use analytics to uncover new insights as well as automation platforms that were once only used in the big business world.

Michael Spadaro, CEO of Profound Cloud and Brother Small Business Advisory Panelist

The evolution of mobile operating systems, hardware performance and wireless connectivity continue to set us up for a time when these devices, which many consider secondary to desktop workstations today, become the primary devices in small business IT.

Helping this transition is the emergence of more cloud-enabled devices. Today, even printers and scanners can seamlessly integrate with cloud services and platforms, making tablets and smartphones increasingly viable replacements for traditional workstations. I expect to see more of these devices coming to market in 2016 to support the growing number of businesses thinking cloud and mobile-first.

Women

Cindy Yang, Small business expert, NerdWallet

Assuming the current growth rate of women-owned businesses continues, more women will become small-business owners—43 percent of small businesses will be owned by women in 2016 and 50 percent by 2020. That’s up from 36 percent in 2012. Growing industries for women entrepreneurs include agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting; accommodation and food services; and manufacturing.

Workforce

Yaniv Masjedi, Vice President Marketing, Nextiva

Small business owners will become even more invested in employee engagement issues in 2016. The job market is very active right now, which means every employer needs to make a case for why top performers should choose to work at his or her business. Effective employee engagement is the key to retention, and I think we will see increased interest in this realm next year. 

David Smith, Vice President Worldwide SMB, Microsoft

With the BYOD phenomenon alive and well, in 2016 the trend of working remotely will further take hold of the younger generation. In fact, Microsoft predicts that 2016 will be the first year that more people’s first jobs will be virtual rather than in a physical space. Additionally, according to new Microsoft-commissioned research, the younger workforce is placing a high value on collaboration tools, such as Office 365, as the majority of respondents said “good team collaboration” was the No. 1 most valuable attribute in their ideal workplace. For SMBs, this underscores the importance of investing in technology tools to enable the new generation of employees to collaborate no matter where they are working.

Russ Fujioka, U.S. President at Xero

The on-demand economy will change our labor force. The rise of the freelancing workforce has been given new life by a plethora of platforms connecting people with work, be it having someone design a logo for you, deliver ice cream, or clean your house. In 2016, technology will streamline the freelancing marketplace, and the on-demand economy will continue to thrive.