I’ve been building businesses on the Internet since 2004. Before that I worked in technology through the first Internet bubble. I’ve raised venture capital, worked in Fortune 500 companies, been a freelancer, and bootstrapped to multiple millions in revenue.
Over the years and through many roles in many different kinds of businesses I’ve seen lots of things change, while plenty of other things stay the same.
Now, as we move into a new year, one filled with plenty of uncertainty and fear for many, I want to reflect on some trends I see happening for small online businesses in 2017 and beyond.
What follows are 10 trends we see today on the Fizzle team. Half are developing trends, the other half are “more of the same.” I’d love to hear what you would add to this list in the comments below.
Three years ago, podcasting was all the rage among small businesses. It felt like a land rush as everyone scrambled to launch new podcasts. Talks of iTunes algorithms were all the rage, and checking podcast rankings became a daily obsession.
We had seen this all happen before. Podcasting was the land rush of 2013-14, social media was the hot thing in 2010, and blogging was it in 2008.
I’m so happy we launched The Fizzle Show in 2013. It has become the consistently largest source of new customers for Fizzle over the past few years, and one of the most important things we’ve launched.
Even though podcasting has lost some of it’s luster since peak buzz occurred, we still regularly recommend starting a podcast to new businesses as a fantastic way to reach an audience, just as we still recommend social media and blogging.
Just because these platforms are no longer the hot new thing doesn’t mean they’re any less useful. In fact, as others lose interest it might make it easier to make a splash. Podcasting is now one more tool in the box, and one of the best tools in that box.
Independent entrepreneurs without software development experience are getting much more comfortable with the idea of building software.
Building software is a daunting task for people without a software engineering background. Entrepreneurs in this camp have usually relied on services and information products as sources of revenue instead of software.
But now, inspired by some big software successes from former info-products entrepreneurs (including Clay Collings with Lead Pages, Nathan Barry with ConvertKit, Laura Roeder with Edgar and Brian Clark with Rainmaker), I’m seeing more and more entrepreneurs trying their hand at building apps.
These new software ventures won’t all succeed. The risks (and costs) of building software still make it much less of a sure thing than building an online course or offering services can be. But some of them will succeed, and this will inspire even more attempts.
For a long time, there have been two distinct worlds of online-focused entrepreneurs: startups and lifestyle businesses.
In the startup world, the focus has been on building software, raising venture capital, and growing as fast as possible, while sacrificing your personal life. In the lifestyle business world, the focus has been on bootstrapping and growing sustainably, while enriching your personal life.
Now, these lines are being seen as more artificial. Some startup founders have been burned by venture capital. Others have realized that building a lifestyle focused business is a faster way to achieve what they wanted in the first place. Lifestyle businesses have also been legitimized by countless blogs, podcasts and books produced by successful bootstrappers recounting their stories.
As venture capital tightens up further over the next year, we’ll likely see this trend continue further.
It wasn’t long ago that there was just one or two good choices for any important app category you might need to run your business. Accounting? Quickbooks. Email? MailChimp. Team Communication? Skype.
Now, nearly every category has multiple great choices. Need a task/project management tool? How about Trello, or Asana, or Basecamp? Need customer support? How about Help Scout, or Intercom, or Groove, or Freshdesk or ZenDesk? Email marketing? How about MailChimp, or Drip, or ConvertKit, or Constant Contact or Emma? There are a half dozen other great choices in any of these categories.
This is a blessing and a curse. On one hand, you really can’t go wrong with any of these platforms. They’re all very competitive on features, and pricing. On the other hand, as entrepreneurs, we want to make sure we’re using the best platforms, to give our businesses the best shot at succeeding. This can lead to analysis paralysis and spending precious time evaluating software, time that could be much better used elsewhere.
Because many of these software categories represent huge markets with hundreds of millions or billions of dollars in potential revenue, this trend will likely continue. This means you’ll have even more great platforms to choose from over the coming years, even in categories that are still dominated by just one or two decent players (*ahem*, podcast hosting and analytics).
There’s a new category of entrepreneur, made possible by the Internet. This kind of business builder isn’t aiming to build a huge company or even earn great wealth. Instead, they’re just consistently earning a living, doing so with all the freedom and autonomy that working for yourself affords, without the hassles of growing big.
These people don’t rely on a single product. Things change. Competition and customer preferences sometimes necessitate moving swiftly from product to product. Multiple revenue streams provide continuity.
This trend is really about a new category of career. Before, you were an employee, a freelancer or an Entrepreneur (big “E”). Now you can be an entrepreneur (small “e”). Some small “e” entrepreneurs will make the transition to big “E,” but that’s not the typical path, nor is it even the intention for most.
A business succeeds when it identifies a group of people with a problem or desire, and then builds a solution they’re willing to pay for.
Those are the key elements: customers, need/desire, solution (product). That hasn’t changed since humans began.
Technologies and marketing channels and mental frameworks for building businesses change frequently, but the basic roadmap stays the same.
(Pssst: inside Fizzle, we offer a complete 9-stage roadmap for building a small business, from idea to poppin’ bottles of Cristal. Check it out.)
The biggest mistake most entrepreneurs make is not talking to enough potential customers.
The customer still holds most of the answers. This is why the Customer Conversations course in Fizzle has become one of our most effective and most popular courses.
Content marketing remains one of (if not the) most effective channel for reaching an audience of potential customers.
But, today’s content can seem formulaic. Expert round up posts, “now” pages, listicles, how-to posts, podcast interviews, beginner’s guides, advanced guides, essential guides, email newsletters, tweet storms, snapchat/instagram “stories.” Whatever you read or create has been done before.
That’s OK. Formulas exist because they frequently work. Content is so easily reverse engineered that you’re unlikely to invent something entirely new. And if you do invent a new framework for content, if it’s good it will be copied quickly.
This has been the case for as long as I’ve been a blogger. 7 years ago things were just as formulaic. We still had list posts, but we also had weird things like blog carnivals, “ask the readers” posts and guest posts. Even though blogging was newer, we still quickly fell into familiar patterns.
Your job as a content maker isn’t to constantly live at the bleeding edge of new frameworks, nobody can do that. Instead, you need to develop a unique voice, understand your audience better than anybody, innovate within existing patterns, and create new things when the opportunity presents itself.
Technology gets easier to use every year. Because of that pattern, there are always predictions that one day, amateurs will be able to build new software and apps from scratch. Point, click, and poof! New application.
We’re not quite there yet.
Tools like WordPress and Squarespace make it easy to build websites without coding. But completely new apps? Webflow and other tools are promising, but at the end of the day you’re going to need to write some code.
That means you’ll either need to learn to code (which takes months to scratch the surface and years to get good at), or you need to hire a team. It is easier overall to build software these days, because of rapidly evolving tools and frameworks, but it’s still not point and click. Maybe one day.
This is the bottom line. No matter the trends, it’s still just as hard to do the real work of building a business. No tool or idea or service can make you show up every day. They can’t make you think, be unique, or decide for you which important problems to solve.
You have to do that hard work. You have to show up every day. You have to find your group of people, understand their problems and needs, and solve them in a way you can get paid for.
Trends will come and go. Understanding them can help you get a leg up. Riding a trend can make your business more successful than it would have been. But no matter the trend, you still have to do the hard work.
What trends would you add to this list? Please share in the comments below!
We recorded an episode of our popular business podcast about this! Please be our guest and enjoy:
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