We might remember 2012 as the beginning of a golden decade – the era that small business value creation became easier and more abundant in driving Global GDP. There has been no better time to own, start and run a small business than right now. Particularly online businesses. The economics of the internet has profoundly closed the resources gap between the haves and have nots. With cheaper and more accessible technology combining with an emerging global middle-class of several billions (e.g. China, India, Indonesia, Brazil) – it should be unsurprising that small businesses will play a more active and vocal role in the global business policy agenda in the decade ahead.
A major problem facing big business is that they cannot continue to rely on what once made them great. For over 200+ years post the Industrial Revolution, the feverish success of big business can largely be attributed to having access to strategic resources that small business did not – including enormous marketing budgets, expensive staff training, large-scale IT systems, global networks, leading search engines and sophisticated financial forecasts. Strategy and operations were driven by achieving economics of scale and scope across their large fixed cost base. Pride was taken in having the best and brightest people exclusively working for them on in-house projects.
But what happens in 2012 when most strategic resources of big business are made available to everyone else?
Over the next decade, small businesses have the potential to become value creators and visionaries through their superior organisational and network design. Small businesses are no longer constrained by investments in large and clunky technology, people and physical resources. Small businesses are best positioned to benefit from the global trend towards more agile, affordable and modular products and services. Small businesses now have access to millions of free or inexpensive technology toolkits of services, systems and skills which had until recently been the exclusive domain of big corporates (see example below). Everything from CRM systems, web analytics to website design is downright simple and easy. They configure modular teams around value networks to achieve global scale quickly and inexpensively. Many costs that were once fixed have now become variable costs which greatly favours the organisational design of small business (e.g. cloud computing, outsourcing projects). Small businesses do not need to waste resources on bureaucracy and process-obsession – instead focusing on listening and adapting to customer needs. Crowdsourcing also allows small business to tap into innovate juices of the world’s best minds. Best of all, small businesses can build their strategy and network structures from the ground-up to take into account the rapidly changing social and technological landscape.
To practically illustrate how the cards have been stacked in favour of small business, I’ve listed below 33 examples of services and softwares available to everyone to start, manage and support their small business. Most are free or inexpensive (under $200 per year) for basic versions. Almost all were once-upon-a-time resources that only big business could derive strategic benefit.
Tools for starting a Company
1. “Coming Soon” landing page (LaunchRock, KickOffLabs)
2. Website templates (ThemeForest)
3. Prototyping, mockups and wireframes (Gomockingbird, Balsamiq, FlairBuilder, jMockups)
4. Website A/B testing (Optimizely, VisualWebSiteOptimizer, 37 Signals)
5. Website usability testing and heatmaps (Usertesting, Userfy, Clicktale, Clickheat)
6. Test website/browser (SauceLabs, Testling, 99Tests, Browserstack)
7. Start a Blog (Tumblr, Posterous, WordPress)
8. Design a company logo (99designs, Designcrowd)
9. Prepare a pitch deck (Slideshare)
10. Prepare a financial model and budget forecast plan (Vumero)
11. Prepare an infographic of your industry (Visual.ly)
Tools for managing a Company
12. Project manage, planning and collaborate (Trello, Google Docs, Wunderkit, Basecamp)
13. Heavy duty file sharing and backups (Dropbox, Box.net)
14. Time Tracking (Focusboosterapp, Toggl)
15. Video conferencing (Sype, Join.me, GoToMeeting, Google+ hangouts, FreeConference)
16. SEO monitoring (BlueGlass, Tynt, SEOmoz SEO)
17. Customer referral programs (Referral Candy, CureBit, ShopLogic, Spinnakr)
18. Online store (Shopify, EStoreApp, Volusion)
19. Online billing and collections platforms (Aria, HealPay, Chargify)
20. Subscription management (Zuora, Spreedly, Cloudware City, Recurly)
21. Fraud management (Vindicia)
22. Mobile Testing and building (Twilio, MobiReady, GoMez, Rigor)
23. Social collaboration network (Yammer)
Tools for supporting a Company
24. Surveys and online forms (Survey Monkey, Wufoo)
25. Customer service (Assistly, Zendesk, GetSatisfaction, Geckoboard)
26. Phone calls and phone performance (Twillio, RingRevenue, GrassHopper)
27. Email delivery (Mailchimp, Campaign Monitor, Sendgrid)
28. Expense billing and receipts tracking (Expensify)
29. Accounting (Quickbooks Online, Xero, Sassu)
30. Note taking (Evernote)
31. Copy writing (ProofReadingPal, Copyblogger)
32. Cloud and virtual phone systems (Grasshopper, Ringio, RingCentral)
33. Analytics (Get Clicky, Mixpanel, Visual Website Optimizer, Google Analytics
The advantages of small business will be profound and far-reaching in the decade ahead. Small businesses will need to continue to commit to outstanding strategic planning and bullet-proof execution roadmap as key success differentiators. Building strong networks, deep relationships, channels to market and brand have always been the cornerstones of sustainable competitive advantage – I don’t think these will as easily given away by big business?