Staying relevant is essential in today’s ever-evolving world of commerce. While the new year brings with it plenty of uncertainty about what the future holds, change is certainly on the horizon in 2017. If you own a small business and haven’t begun to consider the issues that may impact your company, now is the time. To help you develop a priority list, here are five trends that will be driving change in companies across the country.

1 – Embracing Generation Y

With its oldest members now in their early 30s, Generation Y (also called Millennials) is taking over more of the job force in 2017. Many large businesses are starting to embrace this generation and reinvent the way they manage their workplaces, a trend that will impact small businesses as well.

According to a report published by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, Millennials (those born between 1982 and 1999) demand comprehensive leadership and opportunities for growth in every position they fill. Transparency, collaboration, and a seamless work-life balance are vital to their success.

Millennials look for ways to do their jobs better and drive innovation. They are early tech adopters who focus on improving productivity through workflow optimization and project management platforms and collaborating via online meeting and web conferencing services. They care considerably about the social responsibility exhibited by their employers and actively seek workplaces and coworkers with shared ethics and ideals.

These characteristics, along with an entrepreneurial spirit that makes them hungry to achieve results, present opportunities for small business owners. Millennials often gravitate towards small companies that offer meaningful careers. Small businesses are more likely to provide the flexible hours and work-from-anywhere mobility that Millennials seek.

2 – Hiring Freelance or Virtual Employees

The growing demand for workplace flexibility and increased mobility by workers of all ages is fueling the trend towards hiring freelancers or shifting to a virtual employee model.

The Staples Advantage Workplace Index reports that today nearly a quarter of surveyed office workers freelance at least part-time, and nearly half of those who do say they would consider leaving their primary job to freelance full-time if it meant achieving better work-life balance. Nearly 40 percent of employees acknowledge that workplace flexibility increases workplace happiness.

As a result, addressing work-life balance issues and the growing freelance pool of talent continue to be top of mind for employers. Expanding your remote workforce can benefit your small business in a number of ways, including:

  • Saving Money: Increasing the number of remote employees can help reduce expenses on things like office space, supplies, and equipment.
  • Expanding Your Pool of Applicants: Not having to focus on a particular location allows you to attract the best possible talent from all over the world, not just in your area.
  • Increasing Productivity: Virtual employees and freelancers are often more productive than those who work in an office setting. By removing time drains such as commuting and daily office distractions, people are more focused and dedicated to getting their work done.
  • Improving Retention: When you give employees the flexibility to balance their personal and professional lives, they feel appreciated and empowered by the trust the company has in them. This freedom creates a sense of loyalty that may result in less turnover.

As more employees opt to work outside the physical office, employers also will need to upgrade their technology to ensure that they are providing workers with the tools they need to be productive.

3 – Growth in E-commerce

Retail spending is on the rise in the U.S., and as technology expands, e-commerce trends are expected to accelerate at a rapid pace in 2017.

Small businesses, which now have multiple ways to access their audiences online, are driving increased demand for tech tools that will make it even easier for them to create online storefronts. Options already include Magento, Shopify, and budget-friendly 3dcart. Vend, a leading point of sale system, generates a cloud-based mobile optimized online store in a matter of minutes.

Simply offering a perk for shopping at your online store can help generate increased sales. Shipping fees are a driving factor in shoppers’ online decision-making process, and recent studies have shown that 58 percent of consumers are willing to add items to their virtual shopping carts to meet free-shipping quotas.

Mobile commerce, or m-commerce, is quickly becoming the e-commerce trend to watch. Many consumers can now make secure purchases using their smartphones, so mobile devices are becoming the most used platform for researching information on goods and services. According to a report conducted by Forrester, mobile payments in the U.S. alone will generate $142 billion by 2019.

4 – Transitioning to EMV Payments

The question of whether to swipe your credit card or insert the chip will be asked far less in 2017. EMV, or “Europay, MasterCard, and Visa” chip payments, are now the global standard for credit card and debit card payments.

Chip card security trumps the magnetic stripe because chip cards create a single-use, unique transaction code that makes it impossible to transfer copied card data onto a new card. This is virtually guaranteed to safeguard small businesses and their customers against fraud.

As of October 2015, merchants in the U.S. are liable for any fraudulent transactions processed without EMV-enabled terminals. If your business still accepts face-to-face transactions without EMV, you are losing credibility among your customers and facing some serious financial risk. Switching to EMV payments will eliminate card-present card fraud caused by lost, stolen, or counterfeit cards.

5 – Switching to Cloud-Based Solutions

Cloud-based solutions provided to users on demand through the Internet are becoming standard across businesses of all shapes and sizes. Small business owners who utilize these solutions can experience significant benefits, including:

  • Increased Security and Reliability: No more worrying about losing saved files when a computer crashes. Cloud-based solutions allow you to save files and important information in the cloud, preventing data loss from broken or stolen hardware.
  • Anytime, Anywhere Access: For businesses with a remote workforce or those that offer flexible working environments, cloud-based solutions allow employees to easily access data and information whenever and wherever needed.
  • Improved Collaboration: Teams can share and collaborate on files with each other and with clients. As a result, companies can communicate more efficiently and effectively and take full advantage of technologies like video conferencing to save time and money.

At Summit Financial Resources, we’re here to help you navigate these and the countless other changes coming your way. By providing the working capital financing you need, we’ll help you achieve your business goals for 2017 and beyond.

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Summit Financial Resources specializes in working capital financing for small to medium-sized businesses that need increased cash flow. We provide working capital financing through invoice factoring, asset-based lending, inventory lending, and equipment financing.