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Small Business Trends to Address When Planning in 2024


Small business trends to address when planning in 2024. A man and a humanoid Robot have a discussion in a business setting.

It's 2024 and the world is coming at you faster than you could imagine.


As of this morning, an AI driven humanoid robot (named Figure-01) has learned to make coffee and self correct mistakes by watching humans do it... While this is just a short video demonstration at the moment with no extensive proof as such, it highlights a key point - 18 months ago, who even thought AI was even a thing we'd be talking about in daily life, let alone a thing we could all use on a mobile, or put in a robot?!


It's pretty safe to say that there will be some new factors to take into account when planning this year - here are a few on my radar.


My List of Small Business Trends to be aware of in 2024:


Cost of Living and Stagnation Sentiments

Cost of living is the buzzword and has been for some time. Pretty much since it overtook Covid. And there are some huge similarities I see in these public sentiments - the major one being 'wait and see' as a small business trend in 2024.



cost of living infographic with lots of priced items leading to a shipping basket


With lots of talk of interest rates staying high until the end of 2024, I would expect a lot of people to behave conservatively and sit on the fence until the trend changes. In this 'wait and see' phase, they're also looking to stockpile cash and acting out of scarcity.


This means perception of value is more critical than ever. If you don't provide essential value to a customer, you stand the chance of being seen as a 'goodtimes' expense and cut or reduced.


Lots of people I talk to are looking to tighten belts and trim expenses where possible, take longer payment terms and reduce inventory to strengthen their cashflow and profits.


Lots of businesses are discounting in response to this. I don't think this is the answer.


As I said before, service and products that customers deem essential are more valuable than ever in these times. If you're spending on less things, you're more likely to double down and connect deeper with the things you are spending on.


In times like these, customers will be forming deep connections and looking to trusted partners and advisors. They will forge long lasting relationships if treated well in times of uncertainty and turmoil.


This is a huge opportunity. Work out what your customers truly value by understanding their world and you will thrive.


Note for context: I live and work in Brunswick, a suburb of Melbourne, and work with about 50% local businesses and 50% businesses from outside Melbourne. This might not be the public sentiment where you're reading this. Whether you live here or there, I encourage you to go and check it out for yourself!


Harnessing Artificial Intelligence for Strategic Advantage




Fractal graphs and charts inside of a 3d box
I'm definitely getting AI to interpret the meaning of this chart for me

AI in Enhancing Operational Efficiency and Customer Service

Jumping right into the buzz topic on everyone's lips - AI.

AI is more than just a trend, and it's here to stay.


Putting aside the "AI will steal all of our jobs" angle, here's how I personally think about it being useful - giving everyone quicker access to more information, in a more organised way, and helping to make a first draft of anything.


Currently, as everyday small business users we have access to cheap 'personal assistant' level AI.

You're probably not going to replace employees completely with it, you're probably not going to create your own custom learning models and you're probably not going to try and replace yourself with it.


So how do we make it useful?


Two simple ways to use AI in Small Business:

  1. Reduce busy work in existing workflows

  2. Access and organise knowledge for team members and customers


Reduce busy work

Current generation AI is great at creating framework and generic content, and for summarising and organising information - so use it for that. Use it for first-drafting everything. Use it to run a spare set of intelligent eyes over anything.


When creating, get a good framework and then edit for the final outcome. Add your own finishing touches, and then for bonus points, give it feedback that this is how you want the finished product to look so that it can learn from you.


Encourage your team to do the same and reduce the time to perform day-to-day functions of the job.


Find parts of jobs that you and your team perform that don't need depth and personalisation and let AI do the heavy lifting so that you can use your human hours on more worthwhile task


Access and organise information for team and customers

AI can read documents and respond a hell of a lot faster than you can, so use your AI personal assistant to do just that. Whether it's as simple as summarising key points of a document or advanced as overlaying a chatbot interface to your existing knowledge base, you'll get huge benefit from using AI in this space.


Many knowledge storing platforms already contain these features, they just need to be turned on.


And on the customer side of things, ease of access to information is such a great partner-building strategy. Save personal touch for the parts of your business that really need it, and you'll quickly notice the increase in value you can provide to your customer.



AI as a sounding board

My personal favourite use of AI though is this - use it as an intellectual sparring partner.


Do you need it to be a marketing expert? Perhaps a straight talking business partner? Tell it, and it will play the role.


Have a conversation with it and talk to it like you would a person. Heck, you can even talk into the mobile app and hear responses like you would in a phone call.


Ask it to spot flaws in your logic or to identify blindspots in what you're considering. The possibilities here are endless.


Note: While it will have flaws in logic and hallucinations at times, I find that it's less than most anyone you'd speak to day to day. The upside of this technique far outweighs these potential drawbacks - you've got to give it a try.



The Human Touch: Fostering Deeper Customer Connections


A man looking intently at the person he is speaking to

The Role of Human Empathy in a Technology-Driven World

We've talked about how much technology drives advancement and how more customer contact than ever will be with or augmented by technology.


Empathy and understanding then, are more important than ever.


Every minute you save in utilising AI, I would encourage you to INVEST in human relationship development. Whether it's with your team or your customers, find ways to connect, understand their world and provide value. You can never go wrong with that method.


As an example, technology may allow you to automate 90% of your customer interactions - imagine then the surprise and delight you could stoke by handwriting a personalised thank you letter to a client?


Personally tailored solutions that address core needs of the individual leave lasting impressions. Embrace technology, streamline workflows and you might just have enough time to deliver lasting, personalized impressions without needing to ever spend more time or wages.



Building a Culture that Champions Long-Term Customer Relationships Through Personalized Interactions

While we're on the topic, meaningful and personalized interactions based on understanding and empathy lead to stronger, deeper, longer lasting relationships.


As a business owner, you should strive to create a relationship-centric culture. One where every team member understands the value of building relationships and is empowered and expected to act that way in all interactions, internal and external.



Customer Experience: Enhancing Every Touchpoint


Collage of different customer service images

Integrating Technology and Personalization for Superior Customer Experience

Let's call out the Elephant in the Room - Great customer service is no longer a Unique Service Proposition.


Just like the way that a cafe with bad coffee won't survive in Brunswick, your business will not survive without 'great' customer service. Great customer service is a given these days, not a surprising benefit. It's the cost of entry.


Information and comparative pricing is readily available, so if you're not serving your market well, they won't be your market for long.


Integrating technology with a personal touch can create a superior customer experience. Tools like CRM systems can help track customer preferences and history, enabling your business to personalize their interactions.


Again though, technology is only an enabler of personalization, not a replacement for human interaction. The goal should be to use technology to enhance the customer experience at every touchpoint, making it more efficient, personalized, and enjoyable.



Continuous Improvement Based on Customer Feedback

In a world where markets change quicker than ever, actively seeking and incorporating customer feedback into product and service development is essential.


This feedback should be used not only to address specific issues but also to inform broader business strategies. Regularly updating products, services, and customer interaction methods based on customer feedback can lead to continual improvement and adaptation to changing customer needs.


Hot tip here, don't be generic when asking for feedback - while a customer wide survey that aggregates responses can be handy, nothing can compare to individual customer stories. Understand their narrative personally and how your interactions moved them and you'll be leagues ahead of the market.



Embedding Sustainability in Business Strategy


An office place of the future built with sustainability in mind
Well this looks nice apart from the lack of walls

Making Sustainability a Core Business Value

Alright, cards on the table - I live and work in Brunswick, Melbourne, Victoria - it's a progressive bubble compared to the rest of Australia.


That said, sustainability and corporate social responsibility are here to stay, and here's why: If there is no planet, there is no business AND Everyone can access the information now, not just the chosen few.


Transparency is on the rise and the way you behave as a human running a business is more visible and important than ever.


Sustainability should be more than a business practice; it should be a core business value. This involves integrating sustainable practices into every aspect of the business, from sourcing materials to waste management. It also means considering the environmental impact of every decision and looking for ways to reduce that impact.


Even if you don't agree with this ethos personally, it just makes business sense. The market has been trending this way for years and only strengthening.


Sustainability as a Driver of Innovation and Business Opportunities

It's not just all 'save the turtles' though - Sustainability can drive innovation and open new business opportunities. The process of redesigning your offering to meet sustainability standards can lead to discovery of new, more optimal processes.


Adopting sustainable practices can lead to cost savings, improved efficiency, and a stronger brand image, all of which can contribute to business growth.



Strengthening Cybersecurity as a Business Imperative


Lock with circuitry flowing into and out of it

Developing a Culture of Cybersecurity Awareness

I've had my personal details 'leaked' 3 or 4 times now in the last few years (that I know about). Each time it has felt like a deep betrayal of my trust. It put me on edge for weeks looking for identity theft attempts and fraud. I've spent countless hours cleaning up the messes they've made by leaking my data.


It's not just big corporations either that have to worry about this - Without naming them, the leaks have been from a national telecomms company, a national health insurer and most recently a local real estate agency. It's the local real estate agency that worries me the most, because they don't have the national profile (and public-eye 'shamability') and the resources to make me confident about their response to this event.


Additionally, it's much easier to personalise the image of the local small business owner who leaked my data. I can't put a face to the national telecomms provider email, but I know the name and face of the person who sent me the notification email from that agency. I don't blame that person more personally than the big corporates, I'm just saying, it's nearly impossible to not personalize that experience.


Further to the customer damage, could you afford to be locked out of your system entirely and held to ransom for any extended period of time? In an already tight market, this could be a crippling blow.


Backups, 2-factor authentication and recovery methods are crucial. Don't take it from me though, talk to an expert who lives in this world and do the work to be protected.


Organisationally, it must be a conversation had regularly. Developing a culture of cybersecurity awareness within the organization must be part of implementing any technological solutions. Regular training sessions, simulations, and awareness campaigns can help create a vigilant workforce capable of identifying and responding to potential cyber threats.


Staying Ahead of Cybersecurity Trends

Note: It's not a one and done. More cyber means the need for more cybersecurity. Schedule discussions and discovery about this quarterly at a minimum.


You need to stay across new technology - Did you know you can convincingly clone a voice with a few minutes of audio in about 10 minutes with a free account from Eleven Labs these days?


In fact, here's a 5 minute sample of me reading the intro text. It doesn't handle my Australian accent well yet, but it's not far off. This took me 10 minutes and $1USD to make. I think that's pretty interesting




Conclusion

It's 2024 and the future is here. Tech is capable of replacing so much busy work, so you need to make it work for you and thrive.


Human connection is here to stay, and more valuable, because you've got more time than ever due to advances in technology.


Take the time to share a cuppa with your clients or business neighbours, you never know what it'll lead to.


P.S. I run planning workshops quarterly, drop me a line jake@upperlimit.club if you'd like to learn more


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