What’s going to change in 2017? Take a look at some of the top developments in small business trends expected for 2017.

Automation

Robots are already a common sight in the auto industry. Heavy, bulky mechanical arms lifting tons of metal, but they’re coming in smaller sizes too, and better prepared with cameras, sonars, and other technologies to work collaboratively with people. Sounds too SCI-FI? Robots may not be “fixing” your breakfast any day soon, but think about Roombas, smart locks, and hybrid devices such as Google Home or Alexa. The most immediate change, though, will come from cloud-based computing. Thanks to the affordances of the Internet, collaborative work in real time and across large (or short) geographical distances is no longer a privilege of big companies with lots of cash and resources. Think about it: How long have you been using Skype, WhatsApp, Google Docs, and DropBox? They’re not that old, yet doesn’t it feel as if those apps have been around forever? From your everyday customer that wants to get instant automated data entry from an innovative artificial intelligence tool to your marketing guy that just needs that new chatbot to go live, we take automation for granted and for something that separates a high-quality product from a not-that-good one. Many cloud-based platforms are now available for cheap and can be accessed from anywhere, as long as you have an Internet connection.

Yes, automation also involves “eliminating payroll redundancies,” and that means layoffs, but also that you and your existing employees can do more, faster, and with less effort. And who is more grateful and productive than an employee taken away from repetitive, mundane tasks, and allowed to focus on creative projects? Let the machines do the boring stuff. And think of how much you’ll save on rent, office supplies, utilities, and equipment by allowing your employees to work from home. I guess pants too will become a thing of the past pretty soon.

Content Marketing

That old, unrealistic assumption from your microeconomics course, that consumers have a perfect knowledge of the market, is becoming true. People are using their smartphones and laptops to research, compare prices, and make smarter purchase decisions. Unless “the Google” can find you, you probably don’t even exist. Who would have said back in 1984, that being chased by crawling spider-bots would be a good thing? So start creating content and making yourself more visible. Write blog posts. Tweet. Share photographs. What about? Anything about your business that will engage your audience. As long as it relates to what you do and can help your audience create a connection with your brand, anything is game, even the office’s parrot. Isn’t he on the payroll too? Unless your audience gets something out of interacting with your posts, they won’t, and you never know where a “Like” will lead you. Engagement multiplies exposure. When Jignesh comments on how ugly your parrot is, his friends get to see that, and you just need the right click. Just as important: make sure that your content translates to mobile. If it cannot be read while on the bus, it won’t be read. That simple.

Mobile Interaction

That thing in your hands that you mostly use to stalk your ex on social media and watch cat videos? That’s your portal to the world. Never have so many had so much access to as much information as now. Never have so many produced so much content and spread it with such ease with so many. Yes, half of it is dumb videos of teenagers on YouTube, but the other half is not. We are now living in a digital omnichannel age where people are using their smartphones as an extension of their brains to store, access, and produce information from wherever they are. Want a share of the pie? Invest in responsive web design, mobile apps, and mobile selling. It’s cheaper than you think and could never be as expensive as losing a client.

Consumer Attention

Grab yourself: The conversation interface in social media will only grow. Consumers now prefer to interact with brands in a lightweight fashion and through an app such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, or Twitter, rather than sitting on hold placing a phone call or emailing a support desk. Why? On the one hand, because it’s easier. Then, because they know you cannot afford not to pay attention, especially when thousands of followers may see your response. Artificial intelligence and bots will accelerate this trend, so you better stay ahead of the curve by learning some social media skills and integrating chat-based customer service. Also, take a deep breath before you respond to that Internet troll. Your reputation depends on how well you manage and online crisis.

The Millennial Surge

Oh, Millennials. How we love to complain about them. But now they are entering the workforce and becoming an important consumer demographic that businesses will have to cater to. They are digital natives, so they embrace new technology faster and more eagerly than previous generations; they spend a greater amount of time on social media, and are more socially conscious buyers. Better make sure your marketing strategy considers them.

Make sure your employees know your product inside out 

Have you ever asked a simple question to a sales clerk, as in do you guys carry this in blue, and instead of getting a simple response you got sent to the company’s website? How did that make you feel? Of course, your website must have that information, but your staff should have the answers ready as well or at least the means to obtain them fast and easily, especially when the people coming to buy already did some research on their phones. You can only close a deal while you have a customer’s attention, and when they start asking specific questions, they’re all ears. So keep your staff educated, be ready to predict questions, and get plugged in the latest content.

Growth Under Political Uncertainty

If you’ve been following the International news, you know that Washington is a circus. In Europe, the UK is divorcing the EU, the Russians are still in Ukraine, and the French are flirting with right-wing populism. Supporters of free trade and open borders are on tenterhooks. Chinese consumer spending and overall spending in emerging and developing economies is predicted to slow down a bit compared to 2016 but still grow by more than twice that of developed markets. According to the UN, the Indian economy is projected to grow by 7.7 percent this year, remaining the fastest growing large developing economy. So, keep an eye overseas, but don’t forget to say hello to your closer neighbors.