Tag Archives: Market Trends

Marketing Sales Automation Tech Stack

The Best Marketing and Sales Automation Tech Stack for B2B Businesses

Just about every company in America would publicly emphasize that they’re committed to revenue growth (this is more important than ever now). Yet simultaneously its common to try to cut corners and get cheap when it comes time to invest in tried and true resources that help them realize that goal. Further, these resources will easily pay for themselves and more by leading to significant ROI both monetarily and via efficiencies.

In 2019 I can’t believe companies still need to be convinced that they need things like CRM programs and marketing automation but here we are.

And let’s get one thing out of the way before going any further. No, having a free HubSpot account doesn’t count as investing in a CRM program. It may be slightly better than a Google Spreadsheet (yes some solely use that as their “CRM”) but it’s still a lame attempt at best (that’s not to knock them, they have a fine platform if you’re willing to pay the fees to upgrade it).

Fortunately, there is an upside whether you have a CRM and marketing automation system or not. Regardless if you have none, a poor/dysfunctional one, or even one that’s working decently well, now is a great time to make it even better. Take the time, make the investment, and ensure it’s a priority to get dialed in and implemented now to lead to massive dividends later.

Anything worth doing is worth doing right, so I’ve put together a list of the best tech stack in the game to work synergistically and seamlessly whether you’re a solo entrepreneur or a $100 million company with hundreds of employees.

To set the ground rules this piece is predominantly focused on marketing and sales automation. There are plenty of additional angles to take to assist with ERP, HR/recruiting, etc. (if there’s interest I’ll gladly do a follow up post). Also, there are a variety of effective approaches and platforms to pull this off so in some cases I’ll include secondary and tertiary options. If your favorite tool is omitted it doesn’t mean I’m not a fan, just trying to make this easier in a world with a vast amount of options to avoid analysis paralysis. I’m not going to let that be your excuse not to take action and execute.

Ok here we go.

Communication

This is obvious, but your base starts with communication, so email, mobile device, etc. Personally, my preference is overwhelmingly an Outlook and iOS base. However, Gmail/Google Suite or Android are just fine. I use both Outlook/Gmail and both accounts are connected/integrated with my CRM. If you’re working in teams, adding Slack to the mix is worthwhile as well. Price: $5-$10 per user per month.

CRM

This is really the major component that ties everything together and is the key to making everything else in your business work. If you’ve read anything I’ve written about CRM’s you know my #1 preference right now is Zoho One. It does so freaking much for your company for the price that it’s absurd. Their tagline is: “The Operating System for Your Business” and it’s 100% true. There are literally 40 applications that go along with it that could easily eliminate much of what you’re using right now. But if you love your other platforms and want to keep them it also integrates with them all.

A few steps allows you to sync and keep track of all your communication with clients and prospects, ensure you follow up with leads who fill out contact forms or simply visit your website (yes it includes a heat map and website analytics) and so much more. I also use it for project management.

Almost on equal footing (albeit it comes with a much higher price tag) is Salesforce, followed by HubSpot. These are both great platforms, they just cost a whole lot more to license and don’t come with the extra bells and whistles that Zoho One does. Price: $30-$40 per user per month.

Social Media

This section will be brief, your company has got to have at least the following accounts: LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. If you want to add others to the mix more power to you, but this is the base. I use Zoho to manage, automate, and track my posting (which is included) but you could easily use Hootsuite too. Price: Free (Zoho) – $30 per user per month for Hootsuite.

Email Marketing

Another quick section: you need to be incorporating email campaigns into your marketing activities. Email isn’t dead, that’s a lie (neither is direct mail, but that’s for another time). This is one where you could get away with Zoho to manage it, yet I stubbornly have stuck with MailChimp. I love the platform, the company, and what it stands for and have remained loyal. You can start with a free account for under 2,000 contacts, I have more in my list, so I pay a monthly fee (the fee staggers based on your amount of contacts). Constant Contact is a fine option too. Both integrate with Zoho. Price: Free (Zoho) – $30 per month and up for MailChimp.

Contract/Proposal Management

If your company is like mine, you crank out a lot of proposals and contracts on a regular basis. While we customize each one there is still plenty of overlap and recurring content that we leverage often. Standardizing as much as possible with templates creates a HUGE advantage. It allows us to crank out much more in less time. Business is a numbers game, i.e. more activity leads to more volume, which leads to more sales and revenue. So being able to get more proposals and contracts out in a timelier fashion is going to make a tangible impact on your business alone. For this I use/recommend IntellyDoc. Adding this to your tech stack is going to make a major impact on your business. Price: Free (Freemium Model) – $150+ per month depending on your company’s situation.

Payment Processing

Not that your company is closing all this new business you’ve got to collect, right? I have an account set up with PayPal, Square, Stripe, Venmo, Zelle, Coinbase, and Gold Money to collect fees from clients. I recommend having them all nothing else in your business matters if you don’t collect the fees you charge. They all connect to your bank, which should connect to your bookkeeping platform, which then connects back to the CRM to tie in deal flow tracking and to assist with financial forecasting, etc. Price: Free aside from a percentage per transaction.

Bookkeeping

QuickBooks gets all the love, but I’ve been using Wave and it’s really great too (you’re probably sick of hearing this by now but Zoho has an application that comes with your Zoho One account too). QB integrates with Zoho, Wave doesn’t which is a minor annoyance, but I created a work flow to work around that.

Other recommendations:

Scheduling: Acuity is awesome to assist with scheduling meetings, demos, calls, etc. by allowing folks to see open times on your calendar and book appointments. They have a freemium model.

Ecommerce: Shopify.

Mobile Insights from Deloitte

A Deloitte perspective entitled Failure to Launch outlines the steps to follow to build mobile applications which employees will want to use. This insight shows the importance of mobile technology in today’s world as well as the attention of consumers and business partners as they shift to the screens of mobile devices. An aspect of mobile applications which is also vital but does not always receive as much attention is the importance of developing applications for internal use.

 

The focus of this Deloitte writeup is to outline some steps to follow to improve the effectiveness and use of enterprise mobile apps for employees use. With many different applications and projects to juggle daily it is becoming harder for companies to unveil and implement internal tools for employees. The key to successfully unveiling an application internally should mirror an external product release and be strategically aligned with the mission of growth for your organization. These steps should serve as a guide to review not only new app development but also a benchmark for all internal processes and the perfect opportunity to take the time to invest time and resources into improving those processes. Internal processes are not the most exciting aspect of running a successful project but are critical to the success of specific projects and the sustained success of an organization.

 

The system below should be a guideline and not a hard set of rules to stick to. Leaders and decisions makers within an organization should take the time to fully analyze multiple data points and conduct informational interviews with members of their teams to collect the relevant facts and information from their industry and company. This wide amount of information will allow the greatest amount of data available to make a well thought out decision while also bringing together stakeholders through the entire process from idea generation to implementation.

 

Seven steps are laid out to build and successfully launch enterprise mobile apps:

  1. Strategy and Value: Have a clear goal behind what you are undergoing which can easily be conveyed and understood to those who are hearing about your idea for the first time.
  2. User input: Gather information beginning with idea generation and continuing through implementation from a broad range of potential end users.
  3. App Development: During the development process have steps in place to provide feedback and convey this to your team.
  4. Distribution: Announce the launch of the app and make it known to all parties who may be interested in finding more about the specific app launch and your company in general.
  5. User Support: After the release keep contact with your team and continue to gather feedback from them. When issues arise provide a way for them to easily find the answers to questions and develop a culture where workers interact and shape the future of products in a proactive environment.
  6. Supporting organization: Reinforce the practices in your organization though best practices and foster a tech and mobile friendly company culture.
  7. Continuous Optimization: Never stop gathering feedback and look to stay ahead of the game to be an industry leader with a robust internal team.

 

These strategies were formulated for enterprise mobile apps but the tips should be used to foster change in creating a workplace culture where design, creativity, and innovation propel your company and projects forward as an industry leader.

 

Source

“7 steps to building mobile apps employees will really use.” Deloitte. https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/technology/articles/deloitte-digital-mobile-enterprise.html.

Managing Stakeholders in the Technological Age

Over the past week Microsoft has been in the headlines after a group of employees sent a letter to company leaders protesting a contract with the US Army. This story has received major media attention from Wired to NPR who are taking an interest in this case and how a tricky relationship exists between technology companies and the government.

 

The contract in questions was awarded in November 2018 and represents the first time Microsoft products, in this case HoloLens headsets, would be used in actual combat operations. This worried Microsoft employees who did not want the products they work on to be used in combat operations and is another statement of concern voiced by technology workers in the US against contracts with the US government.

 

The Wired article included an excerpt of a statement Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella gave standing by the contract and highlighted the importance he sees in continuing to work with the government and military.

 

“Monday, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella rebuffed the plea. “We made a principled decision that we’re not going to withhold technology from institutions that we have elected in democracies to protect the freedoms we enjoy,” Nadella told CNN Business at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.”

 

As companies look to provide more advanced technological offerings workers increasingly find themselves working on projects where they do not know how the end user will utilize the product and in some cases who the end user is. Workers walk a fine line here and as companies provide more advanced technology to public and private sector clients an upfront policy on how to address who their clients are and be transparent about how relevant stakeholders might react to different projects.

 

Companies cannot sit idle but must be proactive and work with all stakeholders to ensure everyone is on the same page and have a channel of dealing with complaints internally before too much disruption occurs. As technology solutions become more advanced and integrated into all aspects of life difficult questions of who has access to technology and when technology goes too far will become increasingly more prevalent. As issues arise dialogue is needed from all parties to workout what steps are needed moving forward and when to move away from a project. An additional factor complicating issues surrounding technology is that as new forms of technology become available and trends change the norms of technology shift very fast.

 

To succeed, an organization must take the time to set aside a block of time and address where technology can fit in with their organization and under what circumstances do technology and privacy go too far. A strong organization will be able to move through this time but if transparent conversations are not had by leaders from across the organization internal conflict possess the threat of making disagreements public and damaging the reputation and name of an organization. As with any advancement both progress and new challenges will arise causing leaders to make new types of decisions about who can access information, what projects the organization works on, and what types of organizations a specific organization forms strategic alliances and partnerships with.

 

The issues raised by Microsoft employees will not go away neither will the opinions of varying stakeholders who take different stands to improve their own position within organizations. As more stakeholders enter the conversation more ideas are generated but at the same time more safeguards and guidelines are needed to limit internal strife and the possibility that different sides take a hard position which could reduce the efficiency of an organization. This is an era that goes beyond making a right or wrong choice but is centered on making a choice that leaders can stand by and defend while not alienating stakeholders to the point of rebellion. This is bound to play out in additional companies and increasingly be brought up in the legal system.

Resources from the Charlotte Alliance

The Charlotte Alliance

 

The Charlotte Alliance provides information on their website on a range of meaningful sources. This includes Data and Reports, Charlotte Regional facts, talent development, public policy positions, and a schedule of events providing valuable information to those interested in the business climate in the Charlotte region.

 

The website also provides links to recent expansion and investment projects around the Charlotte area. The information on the website shows how the Charlotte Alliance is a resource for the community which takes the time and effort to create a better Charlotte bringing the regions leaders together. This advocacy and collaboration is shown across a range of industries including some targeted industries which are important to the identity of the Charlotte business community.

 

Some highlighted industries include healthcare, information technology, and financial services. Through the advocacy and work of the Alliance the Charlotte region is displayed as a place of economic collaboration and innovation on the national and international stage with a diverse and knowledgeable workforce.

 

Target Industries

 

The Charlotte Alliance has a team that is dedicated to highlighting the unique business community in Charlotte placing a spotlight on some specific target industries. This information paints the picture of a region with a talented and diverse workforce that is ready to drive growth into the future. These industries include Financial Services/Fintech, Advanced Manufacturing, Healthcare, Information Technology, and Logistics benefit from a well-trained workforce and the presence of area universities and college who have relationships with major area employers.

 

By focusing on these industries which are expected to be of high growth and demand as the economy changes over the coming decades the Alliance has placed the Charlotte region in a good position to grow and gain momentum. These industries will attract interest and investment in the highlighted industries along with adjacent and support companies.

 

Financial Services/Fintech

 

The first image of Charlotte for many people is of the towers of Uptown and a city full of bankers who moved to the area from the Northeast and Midwest. Many of the largest employers in Charlotte are rooted in the financial services industry. Charlotte is seeing new players in the growing Fintech sector grow and invest in the area including AvidXchange and Lending Tree. These new companies along with the established banking community including Bank of America and Wells Fargo mean that some of the top financial services talent in the world reside in and around Charlotte.

 

Healthcare

 

The Charlotte region is increasingly being recognized regionally, nationally, and internationally as a healthcare center with access to some of the nation’s best talent and facilities. The healthcare industry in the Charlotte region is diverse and includes hospitals, research, and biotech manufacturing. With many schools offering degrees related to the healthcare industry the region boosts a strong talent pool to fill healthcare positions at companies including Novant Health and Atrium Health which are two of the region’s largest employers.

 

Information Technology

 

The technology sector is an increasingly important aspect of the Charlotte region combining the talent of transplants to the region, recent college graduates, and seasoned tech professionals. As companies increasingly seek out ways to incorporate better data into their decision-making processes tech companies are seeing some of the biggest growth among any industry. In Charlotte, the presence of some of the largest financial and healthcare companies means companies can use the innovation of established companies to work on projects. These companies are able to access the dynamic talent pool and provide innovative specialized technological services. Top area employers in the sector include consulting firms like Accenture and Deloitte and financial services companies including AvidXchange and Lending Tree.

 

Concluding Thoughts

The tourism campaign for the city of Charlotte is Charlotte’s Got A Lot which could also serve as the slogan for the economic development in this area. Charlotte and surrounding counties have a highly skilled talent pool with knowledge in a vast range of industries including financial services, healthcare, and technology/analytics. The Charlotte Regional Business Alliance works to foster and develop the relationships between company leaders, public officials, and companies interested in relocating to Charlotte to foster collaboration and showcase the vibrant and diverse economic activity across the region.

 

Accounting Industry Trends

 

The accounting industry is being disrupted by a range of technologies including machine learning, Artificial Intelligence, and the blockchain. The sources below highlight trends across marketing, human resources, and cybersecurity with implications across the accounting and financial services industry.

Major changes are coming to the workplace as technological disruptions alter where work is done, the speed of workflow, and the role of the employee within the mission of the firm. These new trends are shaping the core principles of work across all industries including how workplace meetings are run, how financial transactions are handled, and change the necessary skills sets a competitive workforce has. From webinars to speakers at industry conferences blockchain technology is a disruptive technology which continually is discussed.

The chart below, from Robert Half, highlights survey results from over 2,000 financial leaders on blockchain technology and how it will shape the financial services industry.

The results from this survey show how finance leaders have a range of thoughts on how cryptocurrencies and the blockchain will affect the overall industry. Only 13% of those surveyed believe that cryptocurrencies will not be common while 50% believed that cryptocurrencies will either be Somewhat Common or Very Common. Since most of these finance leaders believe that cryptocurrencies will have some impact on their business they are planning for a future where cryptocurrencies shape strategic decisions across the firm. Some ways that companies are addressing the growth of cryptocurrencies include training staff on cryptocurrencies, increase investment in specialized accounting including forensics accounting, and increased cross-departmental collaborations. These changes can be met through focusing on internal growth and development while also seeking outside partners to increase marketing, business development, and employees training.

The accounting industry is at an exciting place. The last decade has seen some of the most drastic changes improving the efficiency of the industry. Some technological advances include the growth of blockchain technology and machine learning. Industry leaders are making investments in training their workforce, increasing their marketing presence through digital campaigns and brand journalism. Through partnering with marketing firms and investing internally on training and retaining top talent, accounting firms can position their brand favorably in the industry while growing their service offerings.

Building Personal Growth and Development

The New Year is well underway and here in Charlotte the past week actually feels like winter. The warm Spring-like weather that started the year is a fleeting memory. The beginning of the year is a good time to think warm thoughts of a beach somewhere or the fact that spring is coming. It is also a good time to think about some goals and steps to make 2019 a more productive year.

I am sure many of you have seen your fair share of articles on life hacks and ways to increase productivity to make 2019 the best year of your life on social media, another blog, or an online publication. I think the best way to move through these articles is to focus on some smaller changes that can be made to improve your outlook on life, productivity, and health. I might suggest you check out “Your Future Self”, Fast Company’s series on improvements that can be made, some simple and others more time intensive to improve your life.

These articles are worth exploring since they include topics that are relevant to growth across professional and personal skills. For the entrepreneurial spirit, might I suggest reading “Your 12-month guide to building your side hustle this year” by Lindsay Tigar. Tigar uses this article to highlight some specific monthly calls to action over the next 12 months from building your side hustle. For example, January begins the year long journey with a period of Self-Assessment. The beginning of the year should serve as a time to outline and consider what exactly having a side hustle means for you and how it will affect your loved ones, taxes, and full-time job. Having a side hustle is hard work but by following some self-evaluation during the first three months of the year this will help build the foundation for a new side hustle or improve your existing strategy before heading into April and Q2 with an improved idea and the right attitude to succeed.

The final article, “How to redesign your days to give you back a few extra hours every week” by Elizabeth Grace Saunders outlines what steps to take to get more out of your time during 2019. While this sounds like a lofty concept, the steps to follow are quite simple. Saunders breaks down how to gain time into these categories quitting something, limiting something, pausing something, delegating something, adding something. I have chosen to limit my time on social media while filling that time with the addition of re-reading some of my favorite books to get a new perspective on them. I urge you to take a step back and see if there is an aspect of your life where you could add, delegate, limit, or pause tasks to make your overall week more rewarding and fulfilling.

As 2019 is already two weeks old which is hard to believe. In this New Year, taking a few minutes each day to focus on personal or professional development can reap many benefits. Instead of trying to stick to rigid resolutions see if making a few small changes will help improve your mindfulness and productivity going forward.

Reading List:

Tigar, Lindsay, “Your 12-month guide to building your side hustle this year” Fast Company. Retrieved 14 January 2019 from https://www.fastcompany.com/90279105/your-12-month-guide-to-building-your-side-hustle-this-year.  

Sounders, Elizabeth Grace, “How to redesign your days to give you back a few extra hours every week” Fast Company. Retrieved 14 January 2019 fromhttps://www.fastcompany.com/90280742/how-to-redesign-your-days-to-give-you-back-a-few-extra-hours-every-week.

“Your Future Self” Fast Company. Retrieved 14 January 2019 from https://www.fastcompany.com/section/your-future-self.

-Craig Oliver

WIMS, Inc.

The Power of Blockchain



I want to take some time and walk you through an interesting interactive project about Blockchain from the Reuters Graphics department with sponsorship from Barclays. This post is from June 2018 and I came across it while scrolling through a 2018 Reuters Graphics Best of List. This article shows where the news industry is heading, merging visual interactive content, with narratives to tell a story. The blockchain follows a story where information is shared on a shared ledger.

This article shows how to easily understand what the blockchain is and how the technology can be harnessed through words and infographics. The piece begins by discussing how the blockchain, at its core, is a database where no one entity holds ownership of the information, be it a banking record or information on the tracking of a tomato through a supply chain. This decentralizing of record keeping is the core of what the blockchain is. Since the information on the blockchain is held on a network that is shared changes are noticeable and it is difficult, not impossible, to distort the information.

For most of history information was controlled and distributed by organizations who could sway decisions and make a good sum of money through being the only forces involved in selling and distributing goods or services. When information is placed on the blockchain, the system is constantly scanned for any changes making sure that all copies of members on the blockchain have the same accurate information. This means as the scale of the blockchain network increases the necessity of scanning and accurately identifying the information across the system also grows and becomes more complex. While much of the media hype surrounding blockchain surrounds bitcoins and the changes in bitcoin prices other useful applications of blockchain range of monitoring food supply to helping make the energy grid smarter.

Now that the foundations of blockchain technology has been outlined the Reuters article walks through a scenario where blockchain can be used to track a transaction. The core of the blockchain, as alluded to earlier, is the database with information on it. This is implemented by having records added one after another to the chain.

Here is a case study where the blockchain would be used across a supply chain. In this example a restaurant owner makes a deal for a restaurant company to purchase tomatoes from a large farm. The structure can be summed up as the record holds the information on the transaction.

If a restaurant wanted to track the location and quality of food through its supply chain the record would be the deals made with suppliers while the block is the collection of records involved and the chain is the link of the blocks. If a restaurant in North Carolina wanted to purchase an order of tomatoes, the order would be placed on the record showing that an exchange was initiated. This is followed by having the system go ahead and scan to ensure the record is authentic. This is followed by having accepted records added to a block which contains a unique hash as well as the prior hash in the system in a specific order.

With all this protection the tomatoes in the salad are ensured to be of high quality as they move along the system. The hash codes along the blockchain serve as an encryption where the information is not control by any one individual and a key is needed to access the information of the transaction. With possible uses from healthcare record keeping to tracking that diamonds are mined without blood diamond warlords and move through a supply chain without forced labor. The blockchain is much more than a cryptocurrency fad and should be something on your radar during 2019.

Sources

Arnold, Andrew, “How Blockchain Can Help Increase The Security Of Smart Grids” Forbes. Retrieved 4 January 2019 from https://www.forbes.com/sites/andrewarnold/2018/04/16/how-blockchain-can-help-increase-the-security-of-smart-grids/#2ffea9a4b489

Murphy, Maryanne, “A Reuters Visual Guide: Blockchain Explained.” Reuters. Retrieved 3 January 2019 fromhttps://graphics.reuters.com/TECHNOLOGY-BLOCKCHAIN/010070MF1E7/index.html

Institute of Food Technologist (IFT), “The Potential of Blockchain Technology Application in the Food System.” Retrieved 4 January 2019 from http://www.ift.org/Knowledge-Center/Learn-About-Food-Science/Food-Facts/The-Potential-of-Blockchain-Technology-Application.aspx

2019 Perspectives

I might be a little late to the game, but I want to start off and wish everyone a Happy New Year! By now most of you will be back to work after what I am sure was some much-needed time with family and friends. Instead of the typical Resolutions or Trends for 2019 I want to share something different with you. A look at some perspectives of what will happen over the next 12-months with a focus on events ranging from local developments with an impact on the Charlotte area to national factors.

Instead of making predictions I want to outline a few important issues which I think will generate news throughout the year and define the year for countless households. These topics are by no means definitive and I think it will be interesting for me to look back at the end of the year to see how this post holds up after a year. Some of these includes events that will create economic impact in Charlotte including the hosting of the NBA All-Star Game. Financial topics are sure to be discussed often and I see student loans as a topic which will continue to impact the purchasing power and economic decisions of millions of Americans.

This is first year that I can remember when I will not be in a traditional classroom. After years of having classes through the winter months and spring I am now entrenched in the working world where January begins an exciting new year. In this aspect it is like how September begins a new and exciting chapter for students and teacher alike. My friends from college have graduated and are either continuing their education and working in research labs or beginning their careers. Not everyone has successfully found a career that uses their degrees and college skills.

The news shares many stories of how as the economy has grown many have been forced to work multiple part time jobs to make ends meet. A great deal of time, discussions, and stress is placed on how to payoff student loans among friends. Education is well worth the investment, but I do see some people left behind suffering from the student loans burden and stuck in situations where they face an uphill battle. I will leave the issue of student loans with the following question: Will this be the year when students loans take more of the headlines like the housing bubble did in 2008?

I want to continue with some trends that I think will be greatly talked about from the media to boardroom from a national perspective. One trend which I have increasingly seen is that people are taking a break from social media to start the year off with a different perspective and away from the clutter and mess of social media. I myself have decided to use social media less this year and allocate some of the time I would spend online away from screens and instead read. This brings up privacy and data security, issues which are increasingly important as 2018 progressed and I can only imagine will stay important into 2019. I will be interested in seeing how tech companies’ stocks will perform into 2019 and what this will mean for the stock market. No market predictions on my end but I imagine investors are in store for another roller coaster ride of a wild year. Some other terms that I think will continue to be in the lexicon include sports betting, increasing marketing for Generation Z, and digital detoxes.

I want to highlight a few local topics from the Charlotte area. Basketball is big in North Carolina and the NBA All-Star game is coming next month with expectations of economic impact that could cross $100 Million. While North Carolina lost out on Amazon to suburbs of Washington, D.C. and New York other important economic news made headlines to end 2018 including IBM’s purchase of Raleigh based Red Hat. November also saw news in Charlotte when Honeywell announced moving its world headquarters from New Jersey to Charlotte which will eventually create 750 jobs. Charlotte is a great city to build and grow a company landing on Inc’s 50 Best Places to Start a Company at 22 with an emphasis on fintech growth.

I believe that companies will continue to invest in the Charlotte area as building projects through Uptown Charlotte and across the region continue to show the robust economy from new building to the continued need to build affordable housing for all the new employees moving into the area. Charlotte has a chance to show its new design to the world during the All-Star game and this year will see continued development and investment centered in Uptown Charlotte. Like across the country growth is focusing on major metro areas with access to universities and transportation which I believe will shape future investment in 2019 and beyond.

Growth and volatility are not often said in the same sentence but those are two words which I think are two words which will shape the next 12-months. Issues that have been under the surface for years will continue to impact the purchasing power of Americans including student loans and greater need for affordable housing. At the same time growth at companies and investment in education will continue across Charlotte and the nation. As privacy concerns continue Americans will decide to take control of their data which is one of the most marketable and valuable pieces of information they hold. The place social media has in our culture will likely be shaped by how it is used throughout the year.

Market Contraction

The Coming Market Contraction & What it Means for Your Business

After a nearly decade long recovery period, it’s starting to look and feel like the time for an economic contraction is on the horizon. It likely won’t come for another year or so yet (if we’re lucky), but based on the history of our country, it’s certainly inevitable at some point.

A lot of the experts, economists, and pundits are starting to sound the alarm already. Things like the student loan debt crisis, 2018 interest rate hikes, the collapse of retail, and the toxic political climate, are all going to come to a head and likely trigger it. Forbes, Inc. Magazine, CNBC, Bloomberg, Seeking Alpha, and Newsmax are just a sampling of publications that have had a relatively recent article about it.

Now I’m very much an optimist, so I don’t want you to interpret my prediction of a market downturn as me being pessimistic. On the contrary, I think recessions can be an incredible opportunity for those who are prepared for them. Historically, a lot of fortunes were made in the years during and shortly after economic recessions. Not to mention, regardless of whether the stock market goes up or down, someone is always making a lot of money.

While I’m no economist, I am fortunate to be able to work with a lot of people with brilliant business minds and insight into the mysterious world of macro market forces. My suggestion (if you made it this far I’m guessing you care enough to read it) is to keep an open mind to start being proactive before it’s too late. I know a lot of you might be a bit too young to really remember 2008, but if you think back to past recessions they always seem to abruptly appear to come out of nowhere and catch people off guard. One day everyone is riding high with exuberance and the next day the bottom falls out. Clearly, it’s possible and likely that it happens this way again.

I’m not saying to run around being worried or dwelling on this. I’m simply recommending that you start tightening your belt a bit now while you can. Rein in those spending habits that may have gotten a little out of control lately. Perhaps consider cashing out on a few things while values are high and take some chips off the table. Otherwise, you could end up falling into the preventable trap of being forced to sell assets at the bottom.

Simultaneously you should also be going all-in on growing your business too. I know that may sound contradictory but investing in revenue/income generating activities is and always will be a wise move. A lot of people will be out of the game when the day comes and being able to perform a land grab because your business is dialed in can be a life changing opportunity.

Start thinking strategically about the next 1-3 years and what they could mean for you and your business. Instead of hiring several full-time employees consider leveraging a consulting firm so you have more flexibility. Make the commitment to increase your emphasis on sales and marketing even more. It’s tax season right now, so it’s a great time to really look at your numbers and analyze your financial data to identify weak spots or areas for improvement.

Hey, perhaps myself and others will end up being wrong about the timing of it. Maybe the next recession doesn’t come for another 3 to 5 years instead. Either way, would your business not be better off be taking those steps sooner rather than later?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject! If you agree with me I’d be interested to hear what steps you’re currently taking. And if you think I’m crazy, I’d still like to hear why you think we have nothing but blue skies ahead.

The Industries of the PRESENT

How many times have you seen articles about the industries of the future recently? Probably more than you can remember. This is especially true if you’re a futurist nerd like myself that loves researching trends, innovative ideas, and thinking of all the potential practical applications these ideas/realities are going to have on our day-to-day lives.

Therefore, I’d like to take a slightly different approach to this one. These industries aren’t abstract concepts that are in the distant future any longer. These things are going to disrupt, improve, and turn our lives upside down within the next few years. These aren’t industries to just keep an eye on, they’re industries that I highly recommend hustling and scratching and clawing your way into immediately, before another gold mine passes you by.

If I have to listen to another person say, “If I only invested in Amazon/Google/Apple back in the day…” I’m going to lose it. Here’s your last call. Take action, or regret it later.

 

CRM – Big Data / Data Analytics – Marketing Automation

This one is a much more mature market than the other but still extremely early in the cycle of what it’s going to evolve into. I know many of you despise Salesforce.com/Microsoft Dynamics/Insert other CRM program here from a user perspective. Well I suggest getting over it, take the time to learn how to use them effectively and embrace this technology as CRM, Big Data/Data Analytics/Marketing Automation are going to continue to get more deeply involved in your day to day operations if you want to survive and thrive as a company whether you like it or not.

Nowadays it’s crucial to be able to turn vast amounts of data into insights and competitive advantages, while simultaneously improving customer service. CRM systems can increase sales by improving lead generation activities, help you design better products and services, and reduce supply chain costs. It will improve your decision-making by identifying new markets opportunities, and by improving your business processes and communication throughout your company.

You’ve had your head stuck under the sand long enough now, it’s not going away so get on board. (*Yes, my company provides these services and is partially why I started here, the other reason is that this has been around for a decade already).

 

Augmented Reality – Virtual Reality – Artificial Intelligence / Machine Learning – Internet of Things

Notice how I listed AR first? Don’t get me wrong I do think there is a huge place in the market for VR and 360 videos, etc. That place is just dwarfed by the market impact that AR is going to have however. Again, industries are CURRENTLY being disrupted, and consumer/professional products and services are on the brink of mass adoption. I also lumped these together as they’re all related in a variety of ways and will supplement each other going forward.

Industries such as health care, real estate, education, military, public service, entertainment are about to be severely disrupted. Keep thinking these are all just entertainment gimmicks/Pokémon games if you must, but you’re going to wake up in a brave new world wondering what happened before you know it.

I am personally and professionally deep in this industry. I am a partner/co-founder of a company called Eolian which is a software/content development firm and systems integrator. We specialize in Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), and Artificial Intelligence (AI). We’re currently focused on helping government and large enterprise organizations utilize these technologies for critical applications. We are also launching a product called ARRE (Augmented Reality Real Estate) this week which will blow people’s minds.

To say we’re growing like crazy would be an understatement. This industry is the next wave of computing. Think personal computers, mobile phones, and tablets, now this could, and will, easily trump them all.

 

Block Chain – Crypto Currency – Bitcoin – Ethereum – “Smart Contracts”

Many of you likely don’t really understand what these things are. I’ll give you a brief definition of each. Blockchain is a complete record of every smart contract transaction executed, all of which are stored in a public ledger (the Blockchain) created by collaborating online computers. Bitcoin is a digital currency that was the first algorithm to utilize blockchain technology and encryption techniques to generate units of currency and verify the transfer of funds, independent of any central bank. Ethereum is a public blockchain platform that powers smart contracts via apps created by developers around the globe.

Essentially these technologies will allow for cross border commerce, enable complete transparency and trust between parties in a transaction, as well as prevent currency manipulation. They aren’t just ways to buy illegal contraband via “The Silk Road 2.0” like you’ve probably read about and think is the purpose. It goes much further than that.

This is another industry I’m putting my time and money where my mouth is as I’m a partner and equity holder with a company called GNEISS. Essentially, we act as your ultimate security companion in a free market transaction. You can create, transfer, mint, burn, exchange, tax, or pay dividends to any crypto-asset or smart contract on our decentralized blockchain-powered trading platform. And this is just the beginning. Check it out and register to take a look yourself.

 

Others:

Cannabis – Marijuana

I’m sure you’re much more aware of this one as its been getting a ton of mainstream attention these days. It’s another that’s already been growing like gangbusters. I’m not fully “in” the industry just yet but working on it by helping my friends on the team of The Kush Life/Kush House get funding to continue building out their luxury retail space and product line. They’re also developing technology to help others in the space operate more efficiently and transparently. They’re based in Maine and quickly growing a reputation as New England’s leading cannabis authority.

Renewable Energy: I.e. Solar, Water, and Geothermal

While I don’t have a meaningful equity stake in a company in the solar industry (other than owning a rather insignificant couple hundred shares of a public company) I would love to get more involved in this industry from each angle. Yes, I understand the current administration isn’t a huge advocate, but it’s all about the long game.

3D Printing

This is one where I have 0 stake in currently, but will be hunting down a way to get involved in 2017. Not only will the manufacturing and distribution industries be disrupted like crazy, but also retail, and likely countless others.

 

This was a long one, but if you made it this far hopefully you will be grateful you did one day. I’ve been so deep in thought, as well as taking action to get more involved in these industries that I easily could’ve written another 10 pages.

There are plenty other industries that intrigue me as well of course, but what others are YOU excited about and going all in on? Do you disagree with any of my predictions? What steps have you taken and/or are planning to take? Would love to hear your perspective!