In 2011, Small Businesses Will Get More and More Into Cloud Computing

Cloud computing may sound pretty foreign to many people, but it’s certainly been taking off in the last several years. And now many small businesses are looking to get into it as well, hoping to trim costs and stay up and running if disaster strikes.

Cloud computing refers to any service that operates over an Internet connection, allowing immediate access from any computer or mobile device with Web access. Business owners can access software or store information—such as customer contacts, accounting data and presentations—and leave the technical maintenance to the cloud provider.

As of April 2010, only about 7% of small-business owners were using cloud services, but that number is expected to grow to more than 10% by mid-2011, according to a survey by technology-research firm IDC.

Software that is accessed through the cloud is often free or pay-per-use—a more affordable model than paying big, upfront licensing fees. Half of small firms that use cloud services say it has improved their bottom line, according to a survey this fall by Microsoft, which provides cloud services.

So why aren’t more small businesses expected to use cloud services? The answer is that most small businesses don’t want to stray from familiar systems or invest in new ones. There are also risks. Security breaches, for instance, can happen if the cloud provider isn’t reliable.

But provided that one is careful in selected the proper cloud service, there seem to be both monetary benefits (cutting expenses by 10-20%) and accessibility benefits that one just simply can’t get elsewhere.

[Wall Street Journal]

Advertisements

How confident are small businesses about 2011?

As the year comes to end, something that’s on everyone’s mind is how will small businesses do in 2011? Well, when you have a question like this, it’s best to go straight to the source for you answers, and that’s exactly what Small Business Trends did.

Small Business Trends did a survey of over 1,000 small business decision-makers (owners, partners and general managers) and found them to be overwhelmingly positive about both their own companies, and the economy as a whole. You can see the entire results here.

Nearly three-quarters of small businesses (72 percent) say the overall economy will improve (30 percent) or hold steady (42 percent) in 2011. And when it comes to their own companies, 34 percent expect their sales to rise in 2011, while 50 percent expect them to stay the same. Only 16 percent think their sales will decrease.

This confidence is of course most important in regards to job creation. Twenty-five percent of those surveyed plan to hire employees next year, 64 percent say they will maintain their current staff levels and just 11 percent plan to cut jobs.

So while it appears that we’re still a long way away from completely getting the economy back to where it once was, small business owners generally believe the economy is headed in the right direction. Let’s hope small businesses have the chance to capitalize on this enthusiasm in 2011.

[Small Business Trends]

Small Businesses Continue To Become More Optimistic, Is An Economic Recovery Near?

It’s been a rough few years for small businesses, but as we’ve continuously pointed out here on the blog, optimism has been rising amongst small businesses the past few months. The good news is that it is still continuing.

This morning, the National Federation of Independent Business reported that its November index of small-business optimism rose for the fourth consecutive month to its highest level in three years. The optimism index increased to 93.2, the highest since December 2007, from an October reading of 91.7. Seven of the index’s 10 components rose and three declined. The measure averaged 100.7 during the previous expansion. Needless to say, when you think about everything that has happened in the last three years, this is certainly something to celebrate.

The hope is now that small-business owners may pick up the pace of hiring after the jobless rate reached a seven-month high. With more businesses expecting higher sales, the survey also signals an increase in consumer spending, which accounts for 70 percent of the economy.

The gauge of expectations for better business conditions six months from now rose to the highest level since June 2005, jumping 8 points to 16 percent in November, the report showed.

The good news surrounding this increase in optimism is that banks are also taking note and positioning themselves to assist small businesses. Bank of America, the largest U.S. bank by assets, in October said it plans to hire 1,000 employees in the next year to focus on companies with sales of $3 million or less.

Citigroup, which claims 2,500 of the world’s 3,000 largest corporations as clients, is also targeting U.S. companies with less than $20 million of annual sales. The New York-based bank said it plans to hire about 200 employees by the end of 2011 to court them. That would bring the number of small- business bankers to about 500, or one for every two North American branches.

But what exactly does this optimism mean for hiring? Unfortunately nothing too dramatic right now.

The measure of hiring plans over the next three months rose three points to a net 4 percent, according to the NFIB report. Nine percent of businesses said they intend an increase staff, up one percentage point from November. Fewer indicated they plan to cut payrolls, with 12 percent anticipating workforce reductions, down from 13 percent in October.

Even though optimism continues, the biggest problem for small businesses according to the NFIB report is sales. The sales trends are not yet supportive of a widespread recovery in the small business sector even if a bit stronger than October. Weak sales have continued to be businesses’ top problem, with 30 percent of respondents listing it as their main concern. As a result, the high percent of owners who cite weak sales means that, for many owners, investments in new equipment or new workers are not likely to pay back.

So where does all of this leave us? In a state of cautious optimism. There are positive signs, but also a few signs that temper the excitement. At least the positive trends have remained steady. Provided they do, it looks like we’re in the early stages of a solid recovery.

[Wall Street Journal]

Yahoo! Asks Gen Y Entrepreneurs How To Get The Most Out of Social Media For Your Small Business

Yahoo’s! tech section today has a very interesting article today in relationship to small businesses. Scott Gerber, a columnist for Entrepreneur, Inc. and Wall Street Journal, recently asked a panel of successful Gen Y entrepreneurs how small businesses can go about getting the most out of their social media marketing and how they can convert more of their existing social media followers into paying customers. Their answers cover 12 topics, including what kind of engagement you need, why you should seek to foster relationships via social media instead of simply blasting out marketing campaigns and why quality is always better than quantity (which I’m not sure is necessarily true, but that’s for another time).

Here’s one example, which is the response Gerber got in regards to fostering real relationships on social media over just straight marketing.

“First, you may want to rethink how you are viewing social media. If you’re looking for an immediate pop in revenue, you’re likely to give up quickly on social media and completely miss the larger opportunity it provides. Of course the broader goal of all marketing is to generate sales; however, if you show up on Facebook and Twitter simply to promote your product or service it is likely you’ll be ignored. Social media is about genuine interaction and building relationships. By fostering relationships, social media becomes an incredibly powerful tool. Provide interesting content that will generate buzz, provide helpful hints and unique discounts that are only available on Facebook or Twitter. Customers will appreciate the ability to participate in a dialogue directly with your brand and these interactions will show up on customers’ news feeds. The resulting brand exposure and word-of-mouth will ultimately pay dividends in the form of new customers.”

Anderson Schoenrock, co-founder of ScanDigital

I think the article is well worth your time, even though you’re not likely to agree with all of it. Not to mention that once you get done with the article, it will seem like you’ll have to spend all your company’s time on social media. But that’s not case. These are good lessons to learn and useful advice.

I’ll soon offer my own thoughts on this article in full, but for the time being, have a read.

A small business barometer for the times: Astoria, Queens

The New York Times has a very interesting article focused on Astoria, Queens in New York, and the small businesses that make up the neighborhood. It’s a compelling read because this current recession has wound up ending businesses in Astoria – like a fish market – that managed to survive the Great Depression and the 1970s fiscal crisis.

While that may sound incredibly gloomy, there’s also plenty of hope. An eyeglasses shop opened in a spot where rolls of carpets where once stacked. Three doors from the fish market, a Louisiana-style restaurant is planning to open soon, while across the street, a shuttered lounge has resurfaced as a Latin restaurant.

The eight blocks of 30th Avenue in Astoria act as a microcosm of how small businesses are faring as the economy tries to rebound. And the conclusion is that while things are not great, there are still many people out there with an entrepreneurial spirit and reminders that the economy isn’t completely defeated.

New York City’s small businesses, places with 100 workers or less, are the city’s backbone, accounting for 98 percent of its roughly 233,000 companies, according to the state’s Department of Labor.

Even at the height of the recession in 2008, small businesses provided nearly half of all private-sector jobs available in the city, more than they did in 1990, a study to be released by the Center for an Urban Future, a research institute, found.

“Small businesses are the only ones that have been taking chances,” said Jonathan Bowles, the center’s director.

Things, of course, are still difficult. In Astoria, about 30 mom-and-pop stores along 30th Avenue have gone out of business in the past two years. But there’s reason to believe small businesses and the economy are on the recovery. People – even in Astoria – are still taking chances and doing what they can to keep their businesses going.

Small Businesses Seem To Be Pleased By The Recent Election Results

With the recent election cycle completed, it’s time to take a look at how small businesses feel about the political landscape.

For the past several months, it has appeared that small businesses were beginning to become more and more optimistic about the economy. There were multiple studies suggesting this to be the case, but one had to wonder if the election would change that outlook.

Apparently it hasn’t. While it’s still very early, and no one knows what exactly Congress will do, according to a survey by Manta, the Web’s largest free source of information on small businesses, small businesses are now even more optimistic.

62% of those surveyed believe the new Republican controlled House will have a favorable impact on small businesses overall. 58% believe their own businesses will improve because of the election results.

In the company’s most recent “Pulse of Small Business” user survey conducted Wednesday of 1,189 small business owners and employees (the majority of them owners), 69% said the Obama Administration has hurt small business. Moreover, 58% of the respondents said they are more confident now that they will be able to grow their business than they were two years ago when the Democrats and President Barack Obama triumphed in the elections.

Admittedly this optimism seems a bit strange. To anyone who’s familiar with politics, we’re now in a situation where Congress will be ground to a halt, since neither Democrats or Republicans seem to want to move an inch. Partly for ideological reasons and partly just to make the other guys look bad heading into the 2012 election cycle.

I’ll be honest, I don’t think this is a particularly good scenario, and I don’t understand the optimism. But we’ll see how things progress in the coming year.

Small Business owners are getting more optimistic about the economy

I wouldn’t exactly say this is a cause to celebrate, but any increased optimism in this economy is good. And that’s precisely what small businesses are experiencing right now.

Small-business owners showed more confidence in the economy this month as a Discover Financial Service survey posted its biggest one-month gain since April.

The four-year-old monthly index rose to 84.2 in October, up 10.4 points from September. In August, it fell to 73, the lowest point in 1 1/2 years.

In the latest poll, 28% of small-business owners surveyed said they expect economic conditions for their businesses to improve in the next six months, up from 20% last month. That figure reached 30% earlier this year before sliding. The portion who said conditions will worsen was 43% this month, down from 55% in August and September.

This month, 31% of respondents said the overall economy is getting better, up from 26% in September and the highest level since May. The portion who said the economy is getting worse, 48%, was the smallest reading since February.

Of those surveyed, 9% said they are hiring, up from 6% in the past two months and the highest percentage since June. About 15% said they are laying off workers, up from 12% last month but down from 20% in August.

Regarding plans to spend on business development, 22% plan to increase spending, up from 16% last month, while 46% plan to decrease spending, down from 57% in September.

Discover’s survey polled 750 owners of businesses employing fewer than five people.

So what does this all mean? That things are moving slowly, but they seem to be headed in the right direction.

[Wall Street Journal]

%d bloggers like this: