What are some of the key trends affecting small businesses?\u00a0 And more importantly, what do these trends mean and what kind of opportunities will they lead to for your business? These are the questions we answered in a recent webinar I hosted for the Intuit Community. I was joined by a special guest:\u00a0 Ivana Taylor.\u00a0 We discussed 10 trends affecting large groups of small businesses. Here's a summary of the 10 trends we covered in the\u00a0 webinar: 1.\u00a0 "It's the Software, Stupid" -- The word "stupid" is not a word I typically use. But I couldn't resist the play on words to emphasize a point.\u00a0 In this context it describes the accelerating growth of cloud computing, and the de-emphasis on hardware locally in small businesses.\u00a0 Now this does NOT mean we small businesses are going to go out and get rid of all of our servers this year.\u00a0 But it does mean we're getting closer to the point where one day all we may need to run our businesses is to equip each employee with a computer, browser and Internet connection. The rest of our computing will be handled "in the cloud." Implications: Software as service applications grow; online backup grows.\u00a0 The skills you and your team will need in the future are the ability to choose SaaS applications and other cloud computing options, including apps that integrate with one another.\u00a0 There will be less emphasis on hardware skills in-house. And since online apps are how many of us receive services, if you provide services to small businesses, look at "productizing" your services with at least a Web front end.\u00a0 If you currently provide hardware services for small businesses such as installing and maintaining servers, look at rounding out your offerings with more "soft" services for small businesses, so that those offerings grow even as demand for hardware services declines. 2.\u00a0 DIY Marketing Grows -- Small businesses are becoming a group of do-it-yourself marketers.\u00a0 In one sense this isn't new. Small businesses have always handled some part of their marketing in-house.\u00a0 What's different now is the stunning array of marketing tools available -- and the fact that there's hardly any kind of marketing you can't do on your own, with assistance from some online tool.\u00a0 And the tools just keep coming. Implications: Decide what makes sense to do internally, and what to farm out.\u00a0 When hiring, look for people who are skilled at mastering these new marketing tools, and importantly, know how to search for them and test which ones to use.\u00a0 And if you are a marketing agency, look at packaging up your expertise into online apps, to scale your marketing services and serve the growing do-it-yourself market. 3. "Green" is the Color of Business -- Not everyone is committed to a sustainable environment with the same intensity.\u00a0 But -- for a strong minority of people, "green" is a key issue and one of the deciding factors when making purchase decisions. It remains to be seen how long this trend lasts, but it appears solid for the next 3 to 5 years. Implications: Show your commitment through development of green products -- and point out the green benefits to differentiate your business. If you can't remake your product, take small steps like switching to recycled/recyclable packaging.\u00a0 But don't "greenwash" (i.e.,\u00a0 attempt a green connection that's not meaningful or sincere) -- it will backfire. 4. Everyone can be a Celebrity -- The phrase "personal brand" is popular these days.\u00a0 It's not just for actors.\u00a0 Think Richard Branson using his personality to promote Virgin Airlines. Personal brand of\u00a0 executives is becoming a key component of how savvy small businesses are promoting their businesses.\u00a0 Example: Guy Kawasaki using his high profile to promote Alltop.com. Implications: Don't just put your company on Twitter.\u00a0 Rather, give a human face to your company presence by having your company execs and managers establish their own voice online.\u00a0 And if you are a single-person small business, instead of trying to look like a nameless faceless big business, revel in your personal approach.\u00a0 Become known as an expert in your field, to grow your business through your personal brand. 5. The "Carry Your Computer" Trend -- Look around and it becomes apparent that mobile devices (phones, etc.) are looking more like computers, and computers are looking more like mobile devices you slip into a pocket or bag. That means that increasingly your customers will be interacting with you via mobile devices or very small computers (netbooks, sub-netbooks and tablets). Implications: Get your business prepared for mobile customers. (1) Set up a mobile template for your website at an "M Dot" subdomain.\u00a0 Also make sure your website is viewable in smaller netbook screens (note: what's "above the fold"\u00a0 looks radically different on a netbook screen because it is shorter).\u00a0 (2) Make email marketing messages mobile friendly. (3) Start building an opt-in mobile text messaging list. (4) Make sure your business can be found easily via mobile search.\u00a0 If you are looking for revenue opportunities, consider these:\u00a0 if you are a\u00a0 Web design firm, add a "mobile package" to your design offerings (i.e., create mobile templates and mobile apps). Marketers, get good at advising your clients on mobile marketing options, including mobile analytics. 6.\u00a0 Location Based Presence\u00a0 -- The Web used to do a better job connecting buyers and sellers across the country than it did those across town.\u00a0 But the ability to connect the online and the offline world when it comes to location has gotten much more sophisticated.\u00a0 It's becoming easier for customers and prospects to find and interact with vendors and providers locally, using the Web.\u00a0 Location-based applications, local listings, local search -- have gotten "smarter" and made big strides in the past year. Implications: To make the most of these dramatic improvements, claim/update all your local listings in search engines such as Google and Bing. Use a service like GetListed.org to help.\u00a0 Optimize your website for local traffic.\u00a0 Offer discounts and coupons to local customers via Yelp, Merchant Circle and Twitter.\u00a0 Develop community online to enhance offline loyalty, at Facebook and other places.\u00a0 And get to know how your customers may be using FourSquare.com. 7.\u00a0 Government Contracting Grows -- In the past there's been more lip service paid to government contracting than reality.\u00a0 But in the current political environment, there's a lot of government spending.\u00a0 And whether you agree with the growth of government contracting or not, the fact is, someone has to get those contacts.\u00a0 Better that it be small businesses. Implications: If you aren't currently involved in government contracting, one of the better ways to break in is through subcontracting with a larger company.\u00a0 Due to specific set-aside programs, you may have an edge if you are a Veteran-, Woman- or Minority-owned business. Dawn Rivers Baker of the Microenterprise Journal suggests registering in the Federal Contractor Database and visiting the SBA's Contracting Education Center. Also contact a local PTAC counseling center. 8.\u00a0 Harder to Get Found Online -- Today there are far more websites online than there were 3 years ago -- and with it so easy to make content and post it online and compete for top spots in the search engines ... well, it is getting harder to be found.\u00a0 Three years from now there will be even more competition for online eyeballs. Implications: Don't delay -- develop internal expertise in online marketing and online technologies for marketing.\u00a0 Shift more of your marketing spend online.\u00a0 Get outside SEO / SEM help, too -- don't make the mistake of thinking SEO is easy.\u00a0 It's not voodoo, but it is a specific skill.\u00a0 For revenue opportunities, recognize that there are an endless range of\u00a0 marketing apps yet to be built to help other small businesses compete online.\u00a0 Analytics and analytic consultants will be needed. 9. Crowdsourcing Customers -- This trend is about your customers giving input to help you develop new products and services.\u00a0 To some degree small businesses have always used this option, whether the old-fashioned suggestion box or in recent years, focus groups and phone surveys. But the options for gaining input from customers quickly and dirt cheap have exploded with social media and the Internet. Implications: Create a "space" on your website or blog where customers can give feedback. Try out one of the customer suggestion/idea applications like UserVoice.com, Ideascale.com or GetSatisfaction.\u00a0 Create a presence on Twitter or Facebook as another outlet for customers.\u00a0 Don't just push information out on social media. Listen -- really listen!\u00a0 It can lead you to new products or better ways to deliver services. 10.\u00a0 More Sole Proprietorships -- One thing that we know is that during and in the aftermath of recessions, more\u00a0 people who are out of work will turn to starting their own businesses.\u00a0 Whether these people are still business owners in 3 or 5 years remains to be seen. But at least in the near term, interest in starting businesses is high and so is the desire for products and services to set up and get going in business. Implications: Those providing products and services to startup businesses, should see increased demand. Price your products to enable startups to get through the early years when money is tight -- perhaps building recurring revenue that can grow as their startups grow.\u00a0 If you are looking for businesses to start, these typically require little startup capital and may not require highly-specialized training or degrees:\u00a0 pet businesses;\u00a0 kids products;\u00a0 Web businesses; consulting for your former employer or industry; virtual assistants; apps development; home based franchises. For all the insights, please listen to the archived Intuit webinar. How do you suggest capitalizing on these trends?\u00a0 Share your ideas below.