Top 5 Small Business Trends for 2016

Small Business TrendsWith New Year’s behind us, the usual retrospectives about the year that’s passed and predictions about the year to come are popping up all over. From the top news stories in 2015 to the top tech innovations coming in 2016, at this time of year, it’s always interesting to take a look back—and toward the future.

In business, this annual tradition comes with an added bonus of lessons and takeaways that can propel you into the future as a leader in your field, if you act on them now. To that end, I’ve put together this list of the top five small business trends for 2016.

1. A Focus on the Customer Journey as a Whole
For years, marketing tended to be fragmented, with different campaigns for different mediums. There might have been one strategy for TV ads, another for social media marketing, yet another for the website, and a completely different one for print ads. Each had their own approach, and their own metrics for success.

But now, more and more, businesses are beginning to realize that this fragmented approach is not as effective as an integrated marketing strategy, in which every aspect of the customer journey from start to finish is coordinated and harmonious, each step building on the next. In 2016, smart businesses will reorganize their marketing activities to reflect this new understanding, and work to create key points of interaction with prospective customers across mediums at significant moments in their journeys. It’s not about a certain marketing medium or a specific campaign anymore—it’s about a customer’s unified brand experience, and how that translates into sales.

2. The Rise of Manufacturing as a Service
We’ve all heard about 3D printing, but if I were to ask you where to go to get something 3D printed or even what kinds of things you might want 3D printed, you might not have an easy answer to hand.
In 2016, I think we’ll see some key players beginning to offer manufacturing as a service, so that if you want something replicated, or you want to create your own custom iPhone case, for example, you’ll know exactly which company to use to have that done for you. Whether your business jumps on this trend as a manufacturing service provider, or as a user of these more affordable services, 3D printing is poised to revolutionize the way we produce things in this country.

3. Influencer Marketing
How do you currently reach your target audience? With social media marketing relying more and more heavily on paid ads, and a glut of marketing content online, it can be hard to get your voice heard without going way over your marketing budget. Consumers, too, are becoming less trusting of content produced by companies, and are looking to friends and trusted advisors for reliable information on products and services.

That’s why 2016 will be the year of influencer marketing. Savvy businesses will begin to cultivate relationships with bloggers and social media influencers who have established themselves as experts in certain fields, and have loyal followings. When those influencers agree to review your products or services on their site, allow you to contribute a guest blog post, or hold a contest on their social media accounts giving away one of your products or services, your brand may be seen by huge numbers of your target audience and elevated in the eyes of that community to a position of trust. The ROI of influencer marketing can be astronomic.

4. Wearable Technology
Wearable technology has been around for a few years now, but it hasn’t yet hit massive infiltration, and is just not something you see many people wearing. Apple’s iWatch has gained some traction, but we haven’t seen wearable technology take off the way we thought we would.

I think 2016 is going to be a turning point. Look for more mainstream companies such as Target to start carrying wearable technology, whether it’s a shirt that measures your heart rate, or jewelry that keeps you safe with GPS locators. Now is the time for small businesses to start offering wearable tech and related products and services, whether apps and software or cases and accessories.

5. Crowdsourcing Content
As content has become more and more important over the last few years, businesses have struggled to keep up with the demand for more and higher-quality content. From blog posts to PR pieces to emails to social media, strategic content is always needed, but sometimes difficult to create in the quantity and quality necessary for real success.

In 2016, companies will have to begin looking at sustainable ways of creating a steady stream of all kinds of engaging, effective content without destroying their marketing budgets. The easiest, most cost-effective way to do this is to crowdsource content from their audiences, whether in the form of customer testimonials, videos, photos, or other content. Not only is this form of content free, it is also inherently engaging, since contributors are motivated to share their creations with their friends.

Luckily for small businesses working within the constraints of a budget, the business trends for 2016 focus mainly on affordable, effective strategies and services that might even be easier to implement than your current ones. So make your resolutions now—and here’s to your success in 2016!

Follow Shama Hyder on Twitter @Shama.

Ajeet Khurana
Ajeet Khurana
Ajeet Khurana wears many hats: author, angel investor, mentor, TEDx speaker, steering committee of the NASSCOM Start-Up Warehouse, Director of Founder Institute, Venture Partner with the seed initiative of a top Venture Capital firm, and former CEO of IIT Bombay’s business incubator, among others. Before all this, he was entrepreneurial twice in the field of education and web publishing. As a lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin, he taught e-commerce back in 1993, when the term "e-commerce" had not yet been coined. An undergrad in computer engineering from the University of Mumbai, and an MBA from the University of Texas, Ajeet is presently an active name in the startup ecosystem. From starting two ventures as a solopreneur, to helping a large number of startups with their go-to-market, he has never shied from getting his hands dirty. At the same time he has helped dozens of startups raise investment. He truly believes that small business owners are driving change in the world, and need to be facilitated as much as possible. Innumerable small businesses have gained from his attitude, vast professional networks, financial acumen and digital mindset.

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