Going Mobile is More Important and Affordable than Ever

Creating a Mobile Application for Your Small Business is More important and Affordable than Ever

Some small businesses are still not fully tapping into the greatest marketing opportunity of our time: the Internet. Many businesses now have a website and can interact with potential consumers via desktop, but these businesses are still behind the ball because increasingly, online traffic is being conducted through mobile phones. Small businesses are missing out because they either:

a.) Do not have a mobile optimized website or

b.) Do not have a mobile application.

Last year, Google updated its search algorithm to favor mobile friendly websites for mobile Google searches. To mobile-friendly businesses, this was a good thing, but according to eMarketer, 48 percent of small businesses are not mobile optimized and their search listings on mobile have dropped as a result.

Mobile traffic is on the rise. Back in 2014, comScore reported that smartphones and tablets already accounted for at least 60 percent of all online traffic. While much of this traffic was going to social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram even at that time, an estimated 35 percent of organic website traffic came from mobile devices too. So in 2016, a small business ignoring the rising popularity of mobile would be missing out on a tremendous and growing market.

What’s more, the study concluded that 50 percent of online mobile traffic originated from mobile apps, another trend small business owners should be watching. Still, many small businesses are often afraid of the high price of a developer to build their mobile app Fortunately, there is a much more affordable option out there that many users aren’t aware of: do-it-yourself (DIY) application software or app creators.

More and more businesses are turning to DIY apps because they are cost effective and easy to create. DIY apps are made with drag and drop templates and do not require any specially technical skills to construct. The software can be bought with a monthly subscription that gives business owners access to all of the software’s features.

Comparing some of the top DIY app builders, the average monthly subscription is about $62 ($744 a year), which is much cheaper than the average cost of a custom app. A custom mobile app typically requires hiring a developer who charges somewhere around $100 an hour, for a project that, at a minimum, will likely take 250 hours to complete. That’s $25,000 on the low end.

Small businesses will likely find that a DIY app is a more efficient and cost effective approach than developing a mobile friendly website. DIY apps can do everything that a web app can, including integrate with social media and eCommerce, and send push notifications. A DIY app maker can be used to create more personal interactions with customers by providing loyalty systems and rewards for customers who download the app. DIY apps are a great choice for a business with a small, but loyal client base.

Conclusion: Why You Should Consider Building a Mobile Application

It is important for small businesses to understand the value of the mobile app audience. Most trends suggest that consumers will continue to shift to mobile as their modality for surfing the internet and purchasing goods. To stay competitive, small businesses need to address this growing market and work to put mobile first.

Smartphone Photo via Shutterstock

[“source-smallbiztrends”]

How Amazon, Apple, Ebay, Facebook and Google Will Continue to Disrupt The Business World

tech titansSmall Business Trends: Can you talk a little bit about the Five Titans, and why you selected them?

Lori Schafer: Sure, I’ll say researching and writing about what I refer to as the tech titans – Amazon, Apple, eBay, Facebook and Google – I believe they are literally out to transform every company and many of us in the world. They already have, and they will continue to, have a significant impact on the overall economy.

It’s not to say that there aren’t other large companies, especially in the technology world, but your voice lowers now when you think about the discussions around the likes of IBM, Hewlett Packard, Oracle.  A few years back they were in the news and changing the way people act and think. Not only in business but in their daily lives. Now it is really the five titans that I discussed.

On top of that when you take a look at the amount of their market cap combined, which is around a trillion dollars between the five of them, that really shows the future potential of these companies. You look at their cash positions which is more about what they are able to do today, which is about six times that of the top five retailers.

But the point is that they not only have that kind of future, but current ability to continue to innovate because they have that much cash on hand.

Small Business Trends: Why do you think that these companies have had such a disrupted effect on the economy?

Lori Schafer: I think that’s because of the combination of mobile and social media in the last five years.

I remember many times in retail hearing ‘is mobile really going to happen, is it really going to be any change?’ People laughed at it because of so many false starts, but part of the challenge was that the mobile phone, prior to Apple inventing and revolutionizing the smart phone, just wasn’t that friendly.

Then social media has completely changed the way people communicate with one another on the Internet. I would have to give a lot of credit to both Apple for revolutionizing mobile and to Facebook for revolutionizing the face of social media.

Small Business Trends: When did you see Amazon getting beyond the retail space and being viewed as one of the technology titans?

Lori Schafer: I had an analytics company in retail that we ended up selling to SAS, and Amazon approached us and wanted to buy our solution.

I think from day one, they were relentless on customer satisfaction. But the other thing was relentlessness on analytics. I mean from the very get go they were putting recommendations together when other companies didn’t even know whether or not they ought to have a website.

Small Business Trends: Can we look at the five titans, because they are starting to get into each other’s sweet spot? Let’s talk about it from a mobile prospective.

Lori Schafer: I guess it depends on how you look at mobile. Do you mean mobile in the sense of advertising or do you mean mobile in the sense of hardware?

I look at Apple or Google in the sense of an operating system. Do you look at mobile in the sense of ability to sell? Because when I look at mobile it is a big word.

Small Business Trends: When I think of the desktop, and going to do a search or going to buy something, people go right to Amazon. Do they have that effect on the mobile device?

Lori Schafer: I don’t have the statistics on this one so let me say that up front. I will say for me they do. Because I have the Amazon app on my mobile phone and I do have statistics on the fact that more people search for products on Amazon than they do on Google. That is where a lot of the advertising dollars are.  I just wanted to point that fact out because that is very eye opening.

When I look at Amazon, they are ultimately out to make money. They are not making money on the hardware at all, and they are not even breaking even from what I understand on the hardware. Their whole idea is to just make it convenient to shop Amazon because you just press one button and you are in Amazon.

My own opinion is, for what they are trying to be – they are already there.

Small Business Trends: Out of the five titans, would you say that when it comes to mobile commerce, is Amazon in a better position than eBay or Apple?

Lori Schafer: Ebay is pretty darn good at mobile commerce. Apple doesn’t have the percentage of SKU’S Amazon has. I think it is much easier to shop Amazon than it is Apple. Apple has a great app, they have a fantastic ability to  buy online, pickup in the store 12 minutes later, all of that. Those things are great, don’t get me wrong. But I think that Amazon is miles ahead.

Ebay is big in the marketplace game – as is Google now. And eBay has really picked up stride in the last 18 months. Their application on a mobile device is very good – second to none in the sense that their mobile revenue is higher than anybody’s. And there’s the idea of PayPal, which makes it even higher.

In summary, more people know about Amazon. I would have to put Amazon ahead of eBay, simply around customer accounts.

Small Business Trends: Let’s talk a little bit about social commerce. Maybe Amazon vs. Facebook or Google? Where do they stack?

Lori Schafer: In the broader sense of the word, where there is chatting with friends and sharing and so forth, Amazon is right up there. Because the one thing Amazon did was introduce transparency to the whole retail game.

Retailers were never transparent. You know the whole ratings and reviews. Amazon was first to do that and that was unheard of. Most retailers panicked, because especially in a social context, ratings and reviews is social media.

Companies like FAB do all of their sales by putting them on Facebook as the deal of the day. Facebook drove 25% of all of FAB’s holiday sales and that was about two years ago. I didn’t get the latest statistic, but from that standpoint, Facebook does very well.

Google is trying to tie everything to your search rankings, which makes everybody want to go onto Google Plus. I would have to put Amazon and Facebook as the two leaders.

Small Business Trends: Do you see any of the other titans playing in so many different industries and potentially dominating them, like Amazon?

Lori Schafer: I do see, in terms of the quantity in industries, Google. Advertising obviously, mobile in so many ways; operating systems, mobile advertising, mobile phones; they have invented GEO location from that standpoint. They are now in the marketplaces for shopping, certainly in digital media with the whole living room effect, and the idea of Goggle TV and Goggle Fiber, they are trying to displace cable companies and phone companies. They are ripe for disruption and Goggle is going head on, as is Apple.

But I think Google is making more of a statement and trying to displace those companies.

Small Business Trends: Do you see any of the titans being able to take on the other titans that are already dominating and winning?

Lori Schafer: Yes. Clearly Facebook is taking on Google in advertising in a big way, and Google has to be on its toes all of sudden because social advertising is becoming very big. Also Facebook, with its capability, is able to pinpoint down to individuals and micro advertising well beyond what Google currently is able to do. So when I look at that example, and Facebook and Google that depend on advertising dollars for revenue, all of a sudden Google has competition there.

I would say that Google is giving Apple a run for its money. There are certainly more Android phones out there, and Google does not make any money on those, they give Androids away. Apple obviously makes a ton of money on hardware, but Google has quality on the phones. I think Apple has to stay as innovative as they have been or they risk losing market share.

I think eBay is trying to position themselves as friends to the other retail owners and helping other retails to compete and stay longer. They are investing heavily in technology to allow retailers to become more competitive with Amazon.

I think this whole idea of the mobile wall, everybody is thinking Google Wallet. You know, some of the others, obviously eBay, are just creaming everybody. They need to have more deals going on now with PayPal. And PayPal has thousands of retail outlets in the US at the point-of-sale checkout. Home Depot is the first of a lot and of many others that will roll it out.

You think about Apple as being a mobile pay wall. But iTunes has 400 million plus customers. And all of the retailers and banks and institutions that have a business to consumer presence in brick and mortar, are realizing they have to go to a mobile point of sell because:

  • Big checkout counters are costly and expensive.
  • It is very impersonal.
  • They have to have their sales associates more educated to assist the consumers who are on their mobile devices looking up things.

I think that in every case there the answer is yes, among those five.

I really don’t see anybody else I am aware of today that could take them on. At least for the foreseeable future. I joke about it, but I think it is true. If somebody will take them on, it is going to be a group of kids in a Silicon Valley garage or something. It is not going to be one of the companies out there that we know today.

[“source-smallbiztrends”]

Why Does Your Business Need a Mobile App?

Thanks to today’s technology, the entire world is easily accessible. Not just that — it’s right at our fingertips. It empowers us, it unites us, and it informs us.

It’s why so many businesses work tirelessly to establish an online presence through the use of digital marketing (often with the standard websites, blogs, and social media outlets).

But there’s something else more and more businesses are starting to use: mobile apps.

Fifteen years ago, the idea of potential and current customers interacting with a business through a few taps and clicks on a cell phone’s screen would have been considered outrageous. Today, in a world where people are glued to their mobile devices, it’s not such a bad idea. In fact, it could be that final factor that pushes an individual to choose your business over the guys across the street.

Here’s why you should definitely consider designing a mobile app for your business.

You’ll Be There for Your Customers Whenever They Need You

We spend a lot of time near computers, whether we’re in the office or relaxing at home. But what do we turn to when we want to stay connected, but can’t take the computer with us? Mobile technology, of course! It’s the easiest way to stay online, no matter where we go. Now imagine that your customers could get in touch with your business — or utilize its services — while on the go. How convenient is that? In addition, customer service is just a tap away, day or night.

Your Business Looks Better Than the Competition

If  your business has a mobile app and the competition doesn’t, you’re going to get noticed for it. If potential customers are trying to decide between your business and Joe’s down the street, you can bet they’re going to look at all factors. The convenience of a mobile app could very well help them make that final decision. Too bad Joe’s didn’t think of it first (but you can bet they’ll get there).

Your Customers Really Want You To Have One

Believe it or not, they do. Your customers are in love with their phones, and they’re already used to using apps for almost everything. They have apps for listening to music, watching videos, messaging friends who live in other countries, and even buying coffee. Chris Rowe, CEO of digital marketing firm JetDM asks, “Shouldn’t they have your app, too? Digital marketing for the win.”

It’s a Great Way to Promote Your Organization

Think of a mobile app as a mini advertising billboard. It’s cute, colorful, and creative. It’s also simple, easy to understand, and straight to the point. Of course, it’s a little fancier than that. It should function like your website, highlighting your products and services so your customers know exactly what they’re looking for. You’re basically saying, “Hey! Look at everything we allow you to do with one tap of your thumb! Look how easy it is to find what we have to offer!” Sound a little proud? You’re allowed to be. A good mobile app gives you some bragging rights.

You’ll Gradually Increase Customer Loyalty

In the business world, customer loyalty is huge. In fact, it’s everything. If your customers decide they want to look elsewhere for the kind of business you’re offering, you’re done for. But satisfying their needs by offering fast and reliable support (which your mobile app can help you do) will keep them coming back to you again and again. Make sure you earn it — use your mobile app to offer special discounts and coupons as a small way of thanking your customers for their continued loyalty.

It Helps You Reach a Larger Audience

Some people prefer their computers. Others hate remaining stationary. They’re always on the go. Some of them won’t ever hear about your business because they just don’t have the time or the patience to browse. In this way, mobile apps appeal to people in ways a traditional computer simply can’t. That’s the beauty. You can develop a persona for your business that will appeal to a larger number of people. The younger generation, for instance, may see a billboard about a business and think nothing of it. If they run across a trendy and functional mobile app for the same business, however, they’ll start to remember you.

Mobile user Photo via Shutterstock

[“source-smallbiztrends”]

Matt Stringer of Men’s Wearhouse: Mobile Wallet Tech Will Change Customer Engagement

Mobile Wallet TechSmall Business Trends: Give us a little of your background.

Matt: I came in 16 years ago and went from being one of three people in the marketing department – with a channel strategy almost exclusively TV. Now we’re a team that includes an in house creative team, a CRM team, a database marketing team, a brand planning team, a production team, an on site photo studio, as well as an in-house media buying team.

Small Business Trends: Why was it important for MW to adopt a mobile wallet strategy so early on?

Matt: Apple Pay and some of the new wallet functionalities are just in the infancy of adoption. But we feel like in the case of mobile wallet we are happy to get out and be an early adopter. Apple Passbook (now called Apple Wallet) came out in late 2012, and we started using it in early 2013 so that was fairly early on the adoption curve. And we subsequently used Google Wallet. And it was a way for us to integrate coupons into both of those platforms, and really tie it to our Perfect Fit app as a way to increase our top of mind visibility with our customers. We think as consumer adoption continues to grow with mobile wallet, it’s a space that eventually all retailers are going to have to be in.

Small Business Trends: Can you talk a little bit about the results you see with this mobile wallet strategy?

Matt: What we do see specifically is when a customer saves a coupon down from email into their Apple Passbook or Google Wallet, it’s driving a 10X increase from that coupon compared to what the customer is doing if they are just keeping it within that email and redeeming it from the email.

We are really excited because we think mobile wallet does a couple of things. It gives us a new CTA (call to action), something specific the customers can react to. They now have a redeemable branded content that’s saved on their phone which as we all know is something everyone has on them pretty much at all points and all times of the day. We now have better metrics and data to be able to engage around redemption in terms of understanding what are they doing besides just maybe printing or using that coupon code online.

We know there’s that conscious consideration where they are taking the content, pulling it out of the channel, in this case email, and saving it from a passive email to a very active mobile wallet perspective. Then it lets us, by adding that simple save to wallet function, close the loop on driving that customer to a transaction and persistently engage them knowing that now they’ve got that coupon in their wallet.

They can now save it down to their Perfect Fit app. They can push their Perfect Fit app loyalty card into mobile wallet as well. We’ve run these programs for a better part of 2014, so that 10X increase isn’t just one campaign, this is looking at results over a period of time, which is a unique perspective. That 10X increase based on the save to wallet function is a sizable incremental lift that we’re really thrilled with.

Small Business Trends: How does all this work together; the content luring them into the store, and what happens once they get into the store?

Matt: The beauty of having the save-to-wallet function is you’ve got the strength of what our brand has been built on: highly engaged, motivated, well trained, friendly, knowledgeable sales staff, with an active customer who’s been driven in to the store with intent. They’ve got a coupon saved down to their mobile wallet with the intent to use. It then creates a dynamic where you’ve got an engaged customer with an engaged sales staff, and it’s helped us to, in part drive that increase in redemption because there’s intent there obviously, with the save to wallet functionality.

And when they walk into one of our stores, assuming they’re walking into our store to redeem versus going online, you’ve got an engaged sales staff that now is able to reap the benefits of an engaged customer and it’s really a perfect win-win in terms of the customer experiences. And our ability to work with that customer to maximize revenue and redemptions on those coupons via the save to wallet functionality, I think is amplified as well.

What we’re hoping to do from a mobile perspective is put the customer at the center of the experience. And I think mobile wallet is a great way to do that because it puts them in control and lets them leverage the strength of our organization and get a more unique and relevant customer experience because we know they are coming in with the intent to purchase and we can then build the consumer experience around what they want to buy from us, and expedite some of that sales process, and then compliment that purchase with add-ons and help build out their closet. And hopefully in turn increase their loyalty, which is the ultimate objective.

Small Business Trends: Is it becoming more or less of a challenge to find the right mix of content to attract new customers, but also focus on converting new opportunities with current customers?

Matt: There’s obviously a focus in keeping that existing customer happy and focusing on how you create the best experience for them, while putting them at the center of the journey.

At the same time, you’re constantly trying to look for ways to create new content and ways to reach that new customer. I think the challenge, as a marketer, is the proliferation of content; the proliferation of channels. You have to make decisions relative to where your emphasis is. Where your emphasis is relative to your objectives and your budget and what your strategy is in terms of ultimately what your brand idea is. You can’t create content without knowing who you are and what you want to be and how you want to go to market, and it has to start there before you decide anything else in terms of while channels, how much you want to spend.

We don’t ever expect to be done optimizing our marketing mix or our content strategy, it’s going to be something that’s always going to have to be fluid and ever evolving. And that for me is what I think is really exciting, and keeps this job really fresh.

Small Business Trends: What are the one or two challenges you see that still lie ahead of you using all this great data and great technology to stay connected with the customers that are constantly evolving? Here today, gone later today?

Matt: You can have all the right data and know who your customer is, and if you don’t translate that into either action from a marketing strategy or media strategy or creative strategy, then all the world’s data isn’t going to help you reach your customer and create the relevance, and ultimately loyalty, if you haven’t translated that.

There is that gap between insight and action in terms of how do you translate that into a creative strategy, or a brand strategy, or a media strategy. But having the right instincts in terms of interpreting that data through reaction and strategy is a challenge. As brands evolve that’s the biggest paradigm challenge that most marketers face; the company and the brand customers know and love has to evolve.

Small Business Trends: A year from now, what’s the thing that’s going to be prevalent that we are not really focused on today?

Matt: Apple Wallet and Google Wallet are going to change the dynamic in terms of how customers engage with brands and how marketing feeds into those. I think mobile payments, what PayPal is doing, what Apple is doing in terms of the way consumers transact with brands in store or online, from a digital perspective, is really going to be the marriage between the physical and the digital. I think you see brands that are traditional brick and mortar brands that are looking to catch up on the digital and interestingly enough, you see these pure play digital brands that are looking to create a brick and mortar presence.

I think the brands that are going to be really successful a year from now are going to figure out a nice marriage between the two in terms of how digital works with brick and mortar, and vice versa. And I think that’s again back to the idea that it’s the era of the customer and putting the customer at the center of the journey.

Marketers are going to have to react and whether that’s how they use their phone or wearable technology, I think that’ll shape the transactional landscape and how we push marketing through those various new devices.

[“source-smallbiztrends”]

The Exciting Field of EduTech: Rife With Innovation

For years, I have patiently waited for innovation in educational technologies, otherwise known as edu tech. For a variety of reasons, the field simply didn’t take off in the last two decades.

But this decade, I think, it is showing signs of a real, exciting, renaissance. Whether it is in the massively open online courses like Khan Academy and MIT’s OCW or edX, or various tablet and smartphone applications that are enriching the field, we’re seeing serious, high velocity action.

Today I would like to introduce you to three startups that have started showing good traction.

Avaz

edu techIn 2008, Ajit Narayanan, based in Chennai, India, was approached by Vidya Sagar, an Indian NGO focusing on children with special needs, and asked to design an assistive technology device that would address the marked absence of tools for children with the inability to speak (non-verbal children). In 2009, the Avaz tablet was born.

Riding the wave of more successful tablet releases, Ajit transitioned Avaz to the mobile app format, releasing an Android-compatible version in 2010 and an iPad app in 2012. The app helps non-verbal children – in particular those with autism – to communicate by reworking information and language into easier-to-understand pictures. Following the child’s evaluation with a therapist, Avaz is recommended for purchase and introduced through therapy sessions until it is fully integrated into the child’s life.

While several apps on the market target communication development, Avaz is unique in its focus on autism. Avaz takes a holistic view of language and is easy to customize, making it extremely effective in combination with existing therapies.

In addition to his keen foresight that tablets themselves would become an integral part of life, Ajit sought to improve previous iterations of assistive technology apps by focusing on aesthetics, and not just on features. It paid off, earning Avaz the rank of #1 speech assistive device/app in India, and it is quickly becoming a favorite of speech therapists in the U.S., Australia and Europe. Avaz received the National Award for Empowerment of People with Disabilities from the President of India in 2010, and also placed Ajit on MIT’s TR35 list of transformative young inventors.

eHighlighter

edu techNo stranger to entrepreneurship, Parker Holcomb numbers Research Habits Digital, a startup focusing on optimizing the discovery, research and collaboration process in academia through mobile app creation, as his third venture to date. Its flagship product, eHighlighter, launched August of this year, and brings the searchable and annotative benefits of ebooks to hard copy notes.

Parker’s first company, All College Storage, began in 2007 during his freshman year at Amherst College. Providing summer storage and shipping, business has now expanded to include 14 colleges and boarding schools spanning the East Coast of the U.S. Parker has since opened an extension branch operating under similar principles, All College Laundry, and operates both under the parent company All College, Inc.

It was a lifelong passion for technology, and a belief in the ubiquitous application of mobile technology in the classroom, that inspired Research Habits Digital and eHighlighter. After surveying his fellow students to discover an overwhelming majority of them still preferred studying from paper – it was less distracting, easier to read and highlight – and in fact only derived benefit from the ability to search and annotate on computers, Parker decided to combine the two. With the motto “eBooks benefits. Paper sources,” eHighlighter uses iPhone cameras to manage citations, create searchable annotations, and transcribes highlights.

Research Habits Digital is currently a bootstrapped company with a single developer. eHighlighter is now in what Parker refers to as “Public Beta,” with 10,000 users and a free download with unlimited use available on the iTunes App Store. A future release will include crowdsourced popular features and some UI refinements. An Android version of the product is in the works as well.

MyChoicePad

edu techZoe Peden launched MyChoicePad in 2009 as an iPad app that assists adults and children with learning or communicative disabilities in language development and communication skills.

As Senior Manager at The Makaton Charity, a leading UK learning and communication disability charity organization, Zoe had the resources at her disposal to assist in development of a language program that combines symbols and sign language to build communication skills. With permission from Makaton, Zoe worked independently with speech and language therapists and teachers to further develop the app and run trials for 12 months prior to its release.

In addition to providing affordable access to communication assistance, MyChoicePad has built a training franchise around the UK allowing access to the educational system at both a local and national level.

At the time of market entry, MyChoicePad was faced with only one competitive app, Proloquo2Go, in the field, and even this was targeted at a higher language ability level. Eschewing other competition in the form of expensive medical devices, Zoe has the enterprise bootstrapped until July of 2013; and with 1600 paying downloads MyChoicePad is currently post revenue and is breaking even. The app is consistently among the Top 10 grossing in the educational category within the UK.

Zoe hopes to raise a seed funding round in January of this coming year, and says that she is building out her sales and marketing team in the coming months as they move further into B2B solutions for the learning disability, assisted living and early learning markets.

Clearly, these are examples of serious products addressing serious problems, and both Avaz ($99) and MyChoicePad (£74.99) are relatively expensive products, especially relative to the 99 cents games that proliferate the app stores.

I like that. Capitalism is founded on the principle of entrepreneurs solving real problems, delivering value to customers, and getting paid for it. The edutech entrepreneurs I have introduced you to understand that.  They ARE delivering value.

I hope, they get adequately rewarded for it.

EduTech Photo via Shutterstock

[“source-smallbiztrends”]

Nearly Half of Small Businesses Expected to Adopt Mobile Apps by 2017 (Infographic)

Just a couple of years ago, it was impractical for most small businesses to create a mobile app. Most didn’t see any real value in it.

A lot has changed since then.

Thanks to app development software tools, many businesses are building apps. And the trend is expected to continue.

According to data collected by Biznessapps, a mobile platform for small businesses, nearly half of small businesses are expected to adopt a mobile app by 2017 or later.

Small Business Apps to Grow in Future

So, what has prompted this sudden interest in building apps? The data suggests small businesses are building apps to increase sales (55 percent), improve customer experience (50 percent) and to become competitors in a specific market (50 percent).

Sales is, of course, a top priority for small businesses. And as revealed by a Gartner study, more than 268 billion downloads are estimated to generate $77 billion worth of revenue in 2017. That gives a very strong motive for small businesses to adopt mobile apps.

Key Mobile App Trends for 2017

With the mobile app landscape looking favorable, these are some of the trends expected to dominate in 2017.

According to Biznessapps, location-based services will continue to rise. Their growth can be attributed to the availability and ease of use of GPS on mobile devices. Data suggests location-based services will evolve further and give users real-time information or deals based on their whereabouts.

For small businesses, this could provide an opportunity to target more local users with promotional offers.

Another trend that’s expected to gain momentum in 2017 is the integration of augmented reality into utility apps.

Apps that use augmented reality are perceived as gimmicky for promotional purposes. But over time, a number of apps have started using augmented reality for more commercial purposes.

If done the right way, augmented reality can make small businesses more innovative and help engage customers.

A mobile app strategy can help businesses move in the right direction.

The latest mobile app trends for 2017 shows that the amount of small businesses with mobile apps is expected to increase this year.

[“source-smallbiztrends”]

Top Franchise Trends for 2013

2013 could turn out to be a terrific year to enter the world of franchise business ownership.  If you’re thinking about exploring the idea of being your own boss, three things are in your favor if you decide to move forward.

1: Commercial Space Availability

A lot of businesses have had to close their doors during the last couple of years, so there’s an abundance of decent space available in most areas of the country. With a franchisors help, you should be able to find a great location to set up shop.

2: They’re Dealing

Franchise company executives have had to get rather creative to entice would-be franchise owners to sign on as franchisees. Most of the time, this “creativity” comes in the form of a franchise fee discount.

But, here’s the thing: a discounted franchisee fee should by no means be the reason for buying a particular franchise. But, if you’re seriously interested in a particular franchise and it just so happens to be one that’s offering a “deal,” you could come out a winner. Just make sure that you’ve done great research.

3: Interest Rates

Small business loan rates (as of this writing) are generally in the 3-5% range. The caveat: with approved credit. That means that you have to qualify, which may not be so easy. (See below) But, if you do qualify, that’s really cheap money for a franchise business startup, and interest rates will eventually go back up.  Check out SBA.gov for up to date small business loan information.

franchise

With those three things in mind, let’s take a look at the top franchise trends for 2013:

Financing

I was really hoping that things would be better by now for would-be franchise business owners. And, as much as I hate repeating the same things over and over again, when it comes to the state of small business start-up lending, this is one drum that I must continue beating.  Now, one would think that with small business loans backed by the Small Business Administration reaching record levels ($30.5 billion – 61,689) it would be easier for potential franchise owners to borrow money.

But, it’s not.

To combat the continued lack of significant lending to franchises, a few franchisors have decided to take matters in their own hands. It sure beats waiting for the major banks to loosen their underwriting requirements up. Forbes.com offers some great examples of franchisors getting into the finance game.

For 2013, look for more franchisors to start aggressively looking outside of the more traditional lending sources for small business loan capital.

Frozen Treats

We love our ice cream. And unless you’ve been avoiding retail plazas for the past couple of years, we obviously like our frozen yogurt, too. But why?

For one, yogurt is considered to be a healthy dessert. Well, kind of. Read what The Food Network thinks.  Secondly, there are around 25 different franchisors currently offering frozen yogurt franchises. That fact alone has made some of us in the franchise industry wonder how long the frozen yogurt craze is going to last.  Restaurant industry analysts are wondering the same thing.

On the other hand, I’d be willing to wager that the franchise development teams at Menchie’s, Red Mango, Yogurtini, and Yogen Fruz aren’t thinking about a slowdown in frozen yogurt franchising at all. As a matter of fact, they’re probably working extra hours just to keep up with all the inquiries they’ve been getting from prospective franchise owners.

I expect interest in becoming the owner of a frozen yogurt franchise to remain strong. At the same time, there won’t be too many new frozen yogurt franchise concepts entering this increasingly crowded market.

Disaster Cleanup

One of the biggest news events in 2012 was Superstorm Sandy, and the historic impact it had on cities and towns in the Northeast.  Cleanup efforts will go on for months in areas hit hardest by this huge storm.  And, some scientists are predicting that powerful storms like Sandy will become more commonplace in the months and years to come.

This could be a great time to get into the disaster cleanup and restoration business.

And, please don’t suggest that I’m encouraging you to go into business to take advantage of the pain and misery that’s experienced by others when large-scale disasters happen.  Here’s an old sales axiom that may help you understand where I’m coming from:

“Fish where the fish are.”

In other words, if you’re going to invest your hard-earned money in a franchise business, any type of business for that matter, look to the ones that provide products and services that are actually needed.  Here’s a partial list of franchises that focus on cleanup and restoration:

  • Paul Davis Restoration
  • Restoration 1
  • Rainbow International
  • 1-800-Water Damage
  • ServPro
  • Puroclean

Franchises in this segment are starting to get noticed more, and if we continue to get episodes of extreme weather in the next year, they’ll really be on the radar screens of franchise buyers.

Education

When the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act was signed into law in 2001, tutoring franchise operators quickly filled out the necessary state paperwork required to be approved as vendors.  That’s because part of the NCLB act included government funds for after school tutoring from approved vendors.  And having money coming in from the government was a pretty nice alternative to the original tutoring model which required, (and still does) payment from parents for the services.

Currently, though, there’s an ongoing debate about NCLB, and the funding that it receives. It could end up that funding for after-school tutoring programs will decrease. If that happens, the tutoring industry could take a pretty big hit.

Except that I actually don’t think that the tutoring industry, especially the franchise segment of tutoring, will be impacted all that much if a lot of the government funding disappears.

Here’s why:  A lot of kids struggle with the science and math of today. Whether or not government funding is available doesn’t change the absolute need for tutoring services to exist. One has nothing to do with the other. That’s why tutoring franchises like Tutor Doctor continue to grow rapidly.  Some of the other tutoring franchises include:

  • Huntington Learning Centers
  • Kumon
  • Mathnasium
  • Eye Level
  • ClubZ

For 2013, more tutoring franchises will start taking advantage of readily available online learning technology. Franchisees will start offering their customers online tutoring as an option, and at a lower price point than traditional face-to-face tutoring.

Technology Services

Today’s small business owners are embracing technology-and its power, like never before. They know that it’s almost impossible to remain competitive these days without it.  But, busy business owners don’t always know what the best tools are for their individual needs. And, they can’t keep up with every new and improved technology that comes down the pike.

That’s where franchise businesses like Teamlogic IT and CMIT Solutions come into play. Franchisees have the opportunity to offer some of the latest products and services that are designed to help businesses run more efficiently-and safely.  But, businesses can’t run at capacity unless their technology is working. Sometimes, things break.

Computer Troubleshooters is just one of several franchises that provides repair services for computers and other types of technology located at work-or at home. Others include:

  • Geeks on Call
  • Fast-teks

Franchises in this sector will add numerous mobile technology products and services for their franchisees to offer their customers in 2013. That’s because today’s small business owners need to reach and sell to their clients and customers where they are these days – on their smartphones and tablets.

Thousands of different franchise opportunities are available today, with new concepts rolling out all the time. The trick is to choose one that makes sense for you…which allows you to utilize your best skills.

Once you’ve done that, make sure that you have several conversations with current and former franchisees of the concept you’re looking into as part of your due diligence. Then, run the numbers, but don’t forget to include what I call, “set aside money.” You’ll need to have enough money set aside to take care of your living expenses for several months, while your new business gets up and running.

Finally, continue to do what you’re doing right now – getting educated about franchise industry trends and learning how to go about purchasing a franchise.

Who knows? Maybe 2013 will be the year that you take control of your career, and become an owner.

More in: 2013 Trends

[“source-smallbiztrends”]

How Snapchat’s New Acquisition Vurb Transforms Business Search

How Snapchat’s Potential New Acquisition Vurb Changes Business Search

Snapchat is paying $110 million, with 75 percent in stock and 25 percent cash to acquire mobile contextual search engine Vurb. The deal also includes a $75 million retention bonus to keep Vurb founder and CEO Bobby Lo.

Vurb touts itself as tool for helping consumers decide what to do and who they want to do it with. So obviously, if you operate a small business that might be a local destination, learning more about this new tool can be key to your marketing efforts.

But how does Vurb work and how can the results users find really impact small businesses?

How Vurb Works

Well, those who download the app can create decks or collections of places they want to go and things they want to do and can share these decks with their friends from a list of contacts on other social media sites, such as Facebook. So you can imagine how valuable it could be to have your business mentioned by potential customers and their friends here.

Vurb - Nearby Places Tab

Vurb is a game changer, because it overcomes the limitations of traditional search engines by making mobile decision-making a collaborative effort. It also brings together the most relevant information consumers are looking for when they are most interested in taking action — when they are looking for something to do with friends.

When you take into consideration the amount of time people spend on their mobile devices, it will really make you appreciate the marketing potential this tool represents. According to an infographic by Cloudinary, planning an average night out may involve using up to 9 apps, 22 app switches, 77 swipes, 13 minutes on the phone and 10 texts. These are tasks Vurb can eliminate or dramatically reduce, while at the same time bringing customers and their friends together in the collaborative process.

See the screen below:

Vurb - Things to Do Tab

Vurb has tremendous potential applications in the Snapchat ecosystem. With Vurb and Snapchat, users can now share their favorite finds, make plans, buy tickets, get a ride, stream movies, listen to music, make reservations and more. This will of course translate to longer times on Snapchat, giving brands large and small a chance to be part of the conversation users are having.

For small businesses, the coming together of Vurb and Snapchat represents a great opportunity to engage with users and make their businesses part of the conversation. Whether it is a restaurant, movie theater or a retail stores, this will provide these businesses a great marketing platform to increase digital presence.

Vurb is the seventh company Snapchat has acquired in the last two years. Other acquisitions include Obvious Engineering, Bitstrips, Looksery, Scan, Vergence Labs, and AddLive. While individually they may not have caught anyone’s attention, together and with Snapchat’s assets they are coming together to make the social media platform even stronger as it moves forward to better monetize the service it provides.

More On Vurb

Vurb was founded by Lo in 2011, and when it came out of stealth in 2014, TechCrunch called it a legitimate challenger to Google search. The company then won the grand prize in the TechCrunch Disrupt NY Startup Battlefield 2014, which helped raise an additional $8 million adding to the $2 million it had already secured in a previous round of funding.

What the investors saw in Vurb was the way in which it makes mobile search focus on browsing instead of countless result pages on Google. Essentially, it brings together the different apps in the ecosystem, such as Fandango, Foursquare, Google Maps, Yelp, Uber and others to help customers find directions, eateries, movie theaters, places of interest, trending videos, reviews, a ride and more all within the app. That means not having to jump in and out of different apps to find what you and your friends want to do.

If you want to try Vurb, it is currently available in the App Store, Google Play and the Amazon App Store.

Image: Vurb

[“source-smallbiztrends”]

6 Things Customers Want from Retail Stores and How You Can Deliver

Thanks to eCommerce, mCommerce, big data and more, the world of retail is changing—perhaps faster than at any time in history.

How can a small retailer keep up?

Start by digesting Retail Rebooted, a new report on retail trends from JWT:



True, the report focuses on larger retail chains and while many of the things they’re doing aren’t (or aren’t yet) practical or affordable for small retailers, there is still a lot to learn. You’ll want to pore over the massive report yourself, but here are some of the key takeaways.

The primary trend affecting small companies is “Retail as the Third Space.” While this has been underway for a while, it’s really taking hold now. As eCommerce and mCommerce become more prevalent, JWT says, brick-and-mortar retail will increasingly serve as a “third space” that’s only partly about transactions. It’s just as much (if not more) about the customer experience, customer service and a unique, engaging environment.

What Retail Store Customers Want

1. Personalized Customer Service

Customers want in-person service they can’t get online. This is crucial to differentiating your store from the one-dimensional online shopping experience.

What to do: Make sure your salespeople are well trained in customer service and empowered to make the customer experience outstanding. Hire for personality. You can teach someone to work a cash register, but you can’t teach “people skills.”

2. A Sensory Experience

Retail locations that are visually attractive and appealing are a big draw. Sensory experiences can take opposite forms. If your target market is kids or teens, you might want sensory overload with lots of excitement. If it’s moms, you might want a restful, relaxing escape from the stress of daily life.

What to do: Look at your store with a critical eye to how it looks, sounds, even smells. Something as simple as playing the right music or adding comfortable chairs where customers’ friends can relax while they shop can make a huge difference in how much time customers spend with you.

3. Fun and Entertainment

Customers no longer have to go to stores to buy, so you have to work harder. It’s always been the case that retail is competing for discretionary dollars, but today it’s even clearer that your store is competing with other leisure activities like going to a park, museum or sporting event.

What to do: Hold events that make your store a fun, exciting gathering place. A cosmetics boutique could hold makeover sessions; a children’s bookstore can host readings; a gourmet food shop can have regular tastings.

4. A Curated Experience

Buying online is convenient, but can also lead to overload, as anyone who’s ever shopped for shoes on Zappos.com can attest. “Consumers often feel overwhelmed by the abundance [of choices] offered online and want retailers to curate,” the report states.

What to do: You can’t compete with Zappos or Walmart, so don’t even try. Instead, focus on creating a carefully curated experience offering the best of the best. Use window and store displays to highlight your selections and emphasize your picks (“Staff Favorites” or “Favorite Mother’s Day Gifts”). Your employees must act as curators too, being able to advise customers on their purchases and knowledgeable about your stock.

5. Online/Offline Integration

Customers expect a seamless transition between shopping on your website (if you have an eCommerce site) and shopping at your store. If your business has both an eCommerce and brick-and-mortar component, make sure the experiences are integrated so one is an extension of the other.

What to do: Take an in-depth look at your store and website. Does your brand look and feel the same online and off? Try navigating your website like a customer would, paying attention to ease of browsing and buying. Provide services like allowing customers to order in-store and have products delivered to their homes, or ordering online and picking up in-store, or returning online purchases in-store so they can deal with a live person.

6. Mobile Technology

Big retailers are taking advantage of customers’ reliance on mobile phones to grab tons of data and personalize the sales experience. Lots of this is still beyond a small business’s budget, but it’s important to be aware of.

What to do: Make sure your store has a presence on local search sites like Google and Local.com so mobile shoppers find you when they’re looking for what you sell. Also check into geofencing, which uses mobile GPS technology to send texts to consumers who opt-in to receive messages from you when they’re within a certain radius of your store. If a prospect is at your competitors’ across the street, they could get a text from you announcing a special offer or other reason to head into your store. Pretty cool.

Shopping Photo via Shutterstock

[“source-smallbiztrends”]

The Lesson of The 4G Mobile Revolution? Keep an Eye Out for Change, Disruption and Regulation

The Lesson of The 4G Mobile Revolution? Keep an Eye Out for Change, Disruption, and Regulation

“Do not let your business become the next Nokia mobile phone.”
– – “The 4G Mobile Revolution: Creation, Innovation, and Transformation at EE

Joint ventures are unique, but the joint venture that created EE was special. This venture represented more than just the joining of two businesses looking for more market share. This joint venture would herald the arrival of 4G Internet service in the UK. Thousands of employees and millions of dollars were on the line as EE embarked with a strategy that required near flawless execution.

The rewards were immense, but so was the risk of failure.

What is The 4G Mobile Revolution About?

The 4G Mobile Revolution: Creation, Innovation and Transformation at EE is a story and almost play-by-play look at the merging of the UK’s biggest mobile and telecommunications brands, Orange and T-Mobile. The book details what leadership planned, the actions that were taken, and the results. Along the way, the former CEO and Communications Director who wrote the book, share advice on how to manage disruption that impacts your whole business.

As the book shares, technology has (and will continue to) impact every business on the planet. As a result, businesses can’t be content to leave “tech stuff” to the IT department alone. They need to be ready.Those businesses that are complacent about technology are the ones that will fail.

To give a specific example, the book highlights Nokia. Nokia, a mobile and telecommunications company, was the leader in the early 90s that lost market share to competitors like Apple and Google. The ironic thing is that Nokia was a pioneer in the industry. The company was so far ahead that they didn’t see the iPhone, which completely revolutionized the mobile industry. Nokia still hasn’t recovered its market share.

This focus on technology doesn’t mean that your business should beef up its own technology efforts exclusively and nothing else. Instead, The 4G Mobile Revolution argues that business leaders also need to change how they think about business. Business owners need to rethink how they deal with customers, competitors, regulators and their employees. Business owners should be taking proactive steps toward technology and business, experimenting and innovating while keeping an eye on the future.

As The 4G Mobile Revolution points out, you never know “… which companies are around the corner …”.

Co-authors Olaf Swantee and Stuart Jackson are former executives at EE.

Swantee, originally part of Orange, was CEO from the Orange-T-mobile merger that became EE in 2010. His background includes extensive work experience — for instance work at several tech companies, including Compaq and HP.

Jackson was a former Communications Director, also an employee from Orange, who assisted in the transition to EE. He is the founder of UP Communications and VP of Communications for Nisan Europe.

What Was Best About The 4G Mobile Revolution?

The best part of The 4G Mobile Revolution is the behind-the-scenes perspective. Swantee and Jackson were former employees of EE and draw on that experience to provide a wealth of insight. Their advice goes beyond EE’s particular situation and speaks to the future of almost all industries. All businesses will need to reconsider how they deal with an uncertain future. The book focuses on a single (and powerful) story but comes with insight that apply to any business.

What Could Have Been Done Differently

The 4G Mobile Revolution is a great case study of a company that was able to pull off something that makes business headlines. If you’ve ever read an article about a business merger and wondered what was going on in the CEO’s head, this book will help. That being said, this singular focus on a company in one point of time makes it hard to generalize. More strategies could be explicitly drawn out of the book to provide more guidance to business owners.

Why Read The 4G Mobile Revolution?

The 4G Mobile Revolution provides an insider’s look at the future of business: lots of change, disruption and regulation. The book provides EE’s response to this from the perspectives of a CEO and Communications Director. The book is aimed at C-suite executives, but it offers general advice for any business leader wanting to improve the long-term business prospects in the long term. The book’s focus of capitalizing on an uncertain future rather than cowering before it, is a positive message for business owners to hear. If you ever wonder what goes through a CEO’s mind while planning a joint venture (or are planning something similar, The 4G Mobile Revolution will provide an interesting case study.

[“source-smallbiztrends”]