Ask an Expert: Big trends in small business

As is becoming a New Year's tradition, for the first two weeks of this year, I will forgo answering your questions and instead offer my annual Top 10 Trends in Small Business.

A few things to note up front:

• This is not a predictions column but a trends column. Predictions are inherently speculative, trends are not. New trends are forces that are already occurring, but which may be flying a bit under your radar.

• Some of these trends can help your business, others are simply good to know, and yet others may just be interesting. Sit back and enjoy.

No. 10: Your PC is going virtual. Is your business? The wireless/online/virtual revolution is coming to your PC, and I am not just talking about mobility, that's old news.

What I am talking about here is that computer hardware and software as we know it is changing before our very eyes. Broadband Internet connections are not only becoming ubiquitous but faster, resulting in the transference of software and content from your hard drive to the Internet. Whether it is Microsoft's Office Live or Google's online applications, the Internet is now the groovy place for cool apps to hangout.

This also means that 2008 will see the growth of such useful gadgets as wireless dashboard printers, online data backups, and increased collaboration services.

And about blogging — are you taking advantage of this incredibly powerful and inexpensive way to both grow your business and connect with your customers? I thought blogging was a fad, the CB radio of our time, but I was wrong. So I give up, admit defeat, and am launching my own blog next week —Business as Unusual.

The final piece of this online puzzle is that, as YouTube continues to conquer the world, streaming video is becoming de rigueur for any site worth its salt.

No. 9: The year of marketing creatively:As Advertising Age points out, 2008 is going to be a year where there will be a lot of competition for eyeballs. Between the presidential election, continued high gas prices, a slowing economy, and tight credit, "consumers will continue to pull in the reins as disposable income tightens dramatically."

As a result, the flip side of the coin is that there will be plenty of room for creative marketing, especially by leveraging the sorts of e-tools mentioned above. Hitting potential customers with unique offers, in unusual places, "using unconventional methods," is the sort of thing that can bust the box.

No. 8: Entrepreneurs of the world unite: The trend mentioned last year — small being the new big — continues to accelerate as microbusinesses transform the planet. Whether it is Muhammad Yunus and his Grameen Bank winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his groundbreaking Microloan bank, or offering loans, grants, and small business know-how to the developing world, micro businesses are radically changing the world.

Throughout history people have devised various systems to try and help the poor, whether it be a religion, charity or communism. But it turns out that the greatest thing ever invented to help someone out of poverty is .. their own small business. The capitalist revolution in China has pulled hundreds of millions of people out of poverty in a generation; the single greatest anti-poverty program ever.

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