We recently spoke to Anita Campbell, CEO of the award-winning Small Business Trends portal. Since 2003, Campbell's site has been a "go to" resource for breaking news and advice for small business owners.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned since starting Small Business Trends?
Don’t get distracted. Operating a business requires daily attention and focus. If you take your eye off the ball, say by focusing on a long-term project while neglecting near-term sales, you could end up in a cash crunch. Owners must balance priorities, not only for themselves but for their teams. Teams can drift. You need to make sure the most important priorities get addressed.
Is today's business climate better or worse than it was five years ago?
In one sense it is better because the economy overall seems to be doing well. However, business environments change all the time. And industry segments vary. That’s why it’s so important to keep track of trends in your industry and on your competition
What is one of the biggest trends you are seeing today?
It’s a great time for innovation. Low cost tools are within reach. Businesses can automate more than ever allowing them to lower labor and other costs. Recent technologies enable businesses to be more sophisticated in providing solutions to customers.
What are the concerns you hear most often from small business owners?
They are the same concerns as always. Making payroll. Hiring great staff. Treating employees right while staying within budget. Getting more customers on a limited marketing budget. How to afford technology that will improve the business. Not dropping the ball. These are pretty much the eternal challenges I hear about most often.
What is the worst advice small business owner receive most often?
Some of the worst advice is shallow, rehashed advice. For instance, it is all well and good to give small businesses five tips on selling that includes hiring good salespeople, set your pricing correctly, and so on. It’s not that the advice is wrong. The problem with such advice is that everybody knows it. It’s obvious. After all, do you think the business owner wants to hire bad salespeople? Or set pricing incorrectly? Of course not. The owner is not learning anything new that he or she can use in the business. Instead, how about offering a webinar or in-depth eBook with advanced tips for pricing such as how to actually set pricing? Or how to set up a sales compensation plan? Go beyond the obvious.
What has changed for small businesses in the last five years?
Tons of things have changed. A big trend we are seeing right now is the use of machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) in products that are now within reach of small business budgets. The online advertising space has changed, with most ad dollars being centered on two goliaths, Google and Facebook. Another trend has been the rise of influencer marketing and content marketing, and sadly, the misuse and abuse of such marketing forms.
What business trend has legs but which small businesses are ignoring?
The customer relationship management (CRM) trend. CRM has been growing as a product. However, adoption by small businesses is still low. I think CRMs need to be easier to implement, and more education needs to be done to help small businesses understand use cases. In other words, aside from getting all my contacts into a CRM, what the heck do I do with it next? That is what the owner wants to know. A lot of the terminology used by vendors is very marketing specific. Things like conversions, lead scoring, etc. But how many owners are marketers by profession? Not that many. CRM vendors are often talking over the heads of most small business people.
Overall, would you say that small businesses are optimistic about the future?
I believe most entrepreneurial types who start and own small businesses are by nature optimistic. You must be to run a business. That said, their attitudes are also reinforced or modified by the bigger economy around them and whether customers are easy or tight with their money. And right now, things are positive in a lot of industries and regions.
Do you think the tax reform bill should change how businesses do their tax planning?
Yes. There are some significant business tax reductions, especially the 20% reduction in taxable business income for sole proprietors and LLCs Most small businesses fall into one of these two camps. The resulting tax savings can be used for a lot of things. And some might also want to consider becoming C corporations to take advantage of lower corporate tax rates. But perhaps the biggest impact will be the changes affecting their personal finances. They may want to sit down with their tax planners sooner rather than later.
If you had one piece of tax planning advice to offer, what would it be?
Keep your books up to date! Too many small business owners let the bookkeeping go and then it’s a mad scramble in March and April to try to get all their revenue and expenses entered into their accounting system. Well, sheesh! How do you plan for the coming year if you are using your accounting records simply to get last year’s tax return done? You can’t. But it’s tough when every dollar and every hour counts to find time to keep your numbers up to date. When I first started out, the annual scramble was my modus operandi. As long as I had money in my bank account, I figured I was OK. One of the best things I ever did was get a part-time bookkeeper. That allowed me to plan.
What’s the best small business decision you ever made?
Some of our hires have been great moves. Some of the proprietary technology we’ve developed for internal use has been excellent. Decisions like those enabled us to do more and gain “breathers” so we could plan – and I could take vacations.