Around this time of year it’s customary to look forwards into 2015 and try to see how the landscape might change. But rather than looking at the leading edge of digital innovation we’ve taken a more practical and small business-focussed look at what 2015 could mean for smaller firms with tighter budgets.

Devices

You might have noticed that you and people around you now have many devices to communicate. The rise of mobiles, tablets, mini-tablets, phablets and a whole plethora of other devices means that, according to OpenSignal, there are now nearly 19,000 different devices currently using Android alone as an operating system.

Clearly the ways by which a customer might want to contact you have grown massively. This is both opportunity and issue. For customers to be able to contact you at any time via any device, suiting their lifestyle, can only help your business.

However, to make this journey as seamless as possible in a world where customers move from device to device, and have shortening attentions spans and tolerance for poor experiences, is tough. Looking at market trends for device usage and your own data is the best place to start. Also helpful is Google’s advice which comes with a handy website checker.

Content

One of the bigger trends in recent years online has been the idea of “brands as publishers” – essentially how vital content is for engaging with new and existing customers.

It’s reached a point where few doubt the value of a well-formed content strategy but, on a practical level, with a business to run this might seem like something only much larger companies can afford to do.

But creating or even curating content need not be a massive chore or diverting. Utilise your passion and personality to stand out from the crowd and get together with customers, partners, suppliers etc. to share the workload.

If you’re just starting out then this eConsultancy article gives a good overview of the various element at play with content marketing.

Social proof

The Reputation Institute recently found that only 15% of people trusted what companies’ communicated in their advertising. If that’s your chosen method of acquiring new business, it’s a pretty scary stat.

It’s been driven by consumers being both more critical and more connected – trusting the online opinions of strangers over companies. Allowing consumers to review and comment on your product or service, and then using this feedback, is essential in gaining trust and driving advocacy, especially in social media.

This might sound difficult but this doesn’t need to be like Expedia or Trip Advisor. There are lots of services out there that can do this simply and cost effectively. One is Google’s My Business service which also helps with you visibility in its search engines, maps and other products.

Pictures > Text

With the rise of YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest and the like, society is being driven towards visual rather than textual content. Using imagery, be it a simple picture or maybe a more complicated infographic, gets greater engagement from an audience and so a better response.

Creating video is now fairly simple and need not be expensive. Consumers are very forgiving on video quality if the content is relevant. Ensure you share and promote this content across any channel, and maybe look for paid means to increase its reach.

Equally important here is to ensure you title, tag and annotate this type of content properly with appropriate keywords to aid people finding it naturally via search engines.

Online paid media

Word of mouth and personal recommendations, as mentioned above, can be hugely effective. However, while you are working towards generating a buzz, you might need to increase awareness of your business, ensure you are considered, and drive sales in the short term.

This is where paid media can come into play. Google, Bing, Facebook. YouTube, LinkedIn and Twitter all have a raft of self-service options which you can tap into quickly and simply. They have great targeting options, so you reach only the right people, you can cap spending to fit your budget and best of all track responses and so performance of your advertising.

Why not try a small test to see how it works for your business. We have created a series of guides for these media that you might find helpful.

Data

It seems as if every action we take digitally now is tracked in some way. This has led to a tremendous amount of data which we are only at the very beginning of being able to decipher and turn into action.

There is a temptation, initially at least, to measure and analyse everything you can but a better place to start is with whatever is the biggest issue for your business. This need not be expensive or complicated as there is a great deal of value in Google Analytics and other free tools.

If there’s one key tip, it’s to concentrate your efforts on the data points around the issues and deal with them one at a time, rather than trying to solve everything at once.

So, six areas there that small businesses should find important in 2015. They may not involve the latest technology or involve eye-catching apps (and eye-watering budgets), but these are solid, practical areas you should be looking at if you’re not already.

Of course, this list isn’t exhaustive, so if you can think of any others, have some questions on this piece or want to build on some of the points above, then please use the comments below.