Notwithstanding recent global pandemic, the 2021 outlook for small businesses is very promising. The small business space is changing at an increasingly accelerated rate. Competition, automation, workplace culture and technological advances are just a few of the factors that are molding the future for small business. Small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs need to be in-the-know about the latest market trends in order to achieve sustainable growth and profitability.
Below we’ll explore the emerging trends every small business owner should know for 2020 in order to remain relevant and profitable.
1. Working Remotely is the New Norm
In March 2020, due to forced quarantine, small businesses adapted to their employees working from home. However, even pre-COVID 2020 many small businesses were already migrating toward a remote workplace model. Now an increased number of businesses will likely embrace remote work from home long term.
Working remotely isn’t just a new or passing trend, it’s the wave of the future. A recent survey of business executives and managers attending the Global Leadership Summit in London found that over 34% of participants reported that by 2020 over half of their company’s full-time workforce will be working remotely. Twenty five percent of survey participants indicated that a full 75% of their workforce will be working in a non-traditional office by 2020.
Yet many corporations still consider working from home for a day or two each week a perk – not a norm. This is due to the belief that if employees aren’t working from a centralized office location, they aren’t being productive. A Stanford study (https://ideas.ted.com/why-working-from-home-should-be-standard-practice/) shows that contrary to popular belief, employees that work remotely not only put in a full day’s work but often are more productive than their office-based counterparts. Working remotely often reduces workplace related distractions and saves on commuting time.
Businesses that embrace a remote workforce culture can generate cost savings in time, productivity, infrastructure and office space. Real estate is expensive. It’s a big expense for a small business. Businesses that embrace and effectively manage a remote workforce culture will experience cost savings and gain a competitive advantage in their space.
It’s not uncommon for remote workers to take an afternoon off during the workweek and then get caught over the weekend at their home office. Employee apps and a variety of new communication technologies, including Google Hangout, Zoom and Webex make it easy for workers to video conference, send team messages, email, fill out forms, and project manage remotely. One of the main criteria prospective employees are seeking in an employer is the ability to work remotely. Small businesses that adopt a remote workforce culture will attract a whole new generation of skilled labor.
In order to stay competitive, you may consider adopting a remote workforce culture that enables your employees to work part of each week from their home office.
2. Big data for small businesses
It takes sophisticated systems and considerable computing power to mine and analyze data and then extract something useful out of it. Consequently, big data has traditionally been the domain of big business – but no longer. In 2020, small businesses will start to harness the power of big data at an increasing rate to improve the way they do business. Easy to use analytics applications and software are on the rise, making data mining, analysis and contextualization much easier and more affordable.
It is important that every business that wants to remain relevant and competitive develop a big data strategy. But bigger, in and of itself, isn’t necessarily better. Data that is just big, provides no competitive advantage. The data collected, and the analysis of the data, must offer clear actionable insights in order to be effective.
So where does a small business begin?
“Big data” is a broad term that covers a lot of ground. Big data is collected from every action that’s performed on an Internet-connected network. This includes online shopping, credit card transactions, email communications, Facebook or a blog posts, mobile communications, submitting a review, updating a profile or sending a tweet. Each of these actions generates a digital footprint that is stored in the ether for later retrieval and analysis.
For small businesses who want to start leveraging big data, there are a number of avenues to explore. One of the best places to start is social media networks. Various tools, including Twilert, Social Mention, and Kurrently, enable small businesses to set up notifications and alerts whenever a topic is mentioned online, which may include the business name, products, services offered, or any other relevant keyword. Tracking these mentions, allows a small business to tailor responses and conversations to generate demand, create buzz. engage customers, and improve customer satisfaction.
Small businesses can implement a big data strategy through the use of a robust CRM. Several CRM systems, including Insightly, Zolo, and Nimble offer full featured platforms for tracking interactions with prospects and customers. These programs not only provide access to big data, but also come with tools for analyzing data and identifying the most relevant customer information.
Whether you’re working with just a few traditional phone lines, a VoIP system, or a third-party call center, customer service calls are a vital and accessible source of data for small businesses. If you’re not already collecting your call logs and analyzing the information, begin today. Call data can help a small business discover customer demographics, analyze calling trends, improve customer service, and identify problems that result in customer calls. Several web-based VoIP systems now include automated call logs and analytics at very reasonable prices.
There is a growing number of restrictions that are being imposed by regulators on how and what type of data can be collected by businesses. When implementing a big data strategy, be careful to follow federal and local laws and regulations.
3. Social Media Marketing Experts Will Be Key
If you want to succeed as a small business, it’s more important than ever to be actively engaged on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter. While it may not be surprising to hear that the popularity of social media is on the rise, there are other trends that are not so obvious. Moving into 2020, there are four important social media trends you should watch for.
First, social media usage will expand across all demographics. Most significantly, older people will begin using social media platforms that have traditionally been supported by younger users. Facebook, which ten years ago began as a hip site for college kids, is now popular among all age groups. Through 2020, social media platforms will see an increase in users in their 40s, 50s and even 60s.
Second, traditional posts, including articles and blog posts, will be replaced by live video platforms such as Facebook Live and rich media, ephemeral content such as Facebook Stories and Instagram.
Live videos and stories will provide users with an up-close and timely look at your business, products or latest news.
Through 2020, social media audiences will trend towards dynamic, interactive content that pulls them in and allows them to experience the action.
Third, influencer marketing, which came into its own just a few years ago, will continue to expand and evolve. Expect to see the rise of “micro-influencers” in 2020. Micro-influencers will appeal to small to midsize businesses that don’t have the budget to hire influencers with large social media followings.
Finally, the adoption of data mining and analytics will lead to more sophisticated social marketing strategies such as personalization, retargeting and target advertising. Content will increasingly be personalized based on specific user demographics such as age, location, gender and buying habits.
The one constant in social media is change. New algorithms are developed to determine content distribution and once invested in, the social media landscape shifts yet again. Staying on top of social media trends and marketing is a never ending endeavor – but a necessary one. Social media has a big impact on every small business, whether online or brick and mortar. The better you can leverage social media trends, the more effectively you’ll be able to engage with your audience.
In addition to in-house social media marketing efforts, businesses may benefit from hiring a social media influencer or expert marketer in order to generate additional viewership and increase engagement rates. If you’re serious about generating the maximum benefit from social media platforms, hiring an industry influencer with a large following can help.
4. Move over Millennials make room for Generation Z
You may be aware that Millennials now make up a major portion of the consumer and employment markets. But did you know that over the next few years an entirely new generation is set to take over – Generation Z, those born between 1995 and 2010. Gen Z includes nearly 90 million people, and is expected to account for nearly 40 percent of all consumers by 2020. They’ve already contributed over $40 billion to the U.S. economy and this number will only increase.
Gen Z has grown up in a digital world where they’re constantly connected by buzzing smartphones and an ever evolving spectrum of mobile devices and technologies. They are true digital natives. Unlike many of their predecessors, Gen Z consumers and employees are accustomed to a range of stimuli, and many are natural multitaskers. It’s critical that small business owners and entrepreneurs consider Gen Z in the development of their buyer personas and hiring processes.
To take full advantage of this audience, small business owners should develop hiring policies and workplace practices that will attract and retain top Gen Z talent. Whether you plan on hiring just a few employees, or you’re building a national sales team, 2020 is the beginning of the Gen Z takeover, so prepare.
5. Automation Software will Level the Playing Field
Even though automation technology is still in its evolution, small businesses are adopting automation software at an unprecedented rate. Why? Because automation software provides small businesses the ability to behave like large businesses – without the investment in additional workforce. Automation software essentially allows small businesses to replace the strength that comes through employing a large workforce with automated processes.
Recent research by McKinsey Company of 2000 work activities across 800 professions, shows that 45 percent of work related activities could be automated. Where larger corporations allocate resources to hiring, training and managing a large workforce, smaller businesses have the flexibility to replace manual processes with automation.
Whether for compliance, audit, bookkeeping, data entry, accounting, email marketing, customer service or any number critical processes, with automation software, entrepreneurs and small businesses are achieving more with less.
While you may think automated technologies and artificial intelligence (ai) are too “big” an investment for your small business, we recommend you think again. Small businesses must adopt automation software and technologies starting in 2020 in order to stay competitive.
From accounting to human resources to advertising and marketing, automation in business is taking over across the board. To stay in the game small businesses need to assess and adopt those business automation functions that make sense.
6. The Gig Economy
Whether it’s moonlighting as a tech consultant, freelancing as a web designer, running an Amazon store, selling crafts on Etsy, or tutoring students online in the evenings, now more than ever before, working professionals are launching side businesses to supplement their income and create new economic opportunity.
The growing number of professionals that now have a side “gig” in addition to their full time career is often referred to as the “gig economy”, which is now accounts for over $715 billion in annual economic output. The gig economy supports an entire industry of workers and service providers.
There are now a plethora of job sites specifically for gigs, such as jobble.com, behance.net, gigster, freelancer.com and Fiverr. If you don’t currently own a small business, or have been throwing around the idea of starting a small business, launching your next venture as a side gig could be the perfect way to get your feet wet and pursue your dream as an entrepreneur. Countless business owners and entrepreneurs started out running a side gig, while still working at a full-time job.
Starting a gig on the side can allow you to get a business going, without losing an important source of income provided by your current job.
7. Technology Driven Customer Service is the Future
Customer service is the one thing that can make or break a small business faster than anything else. In today’s fast-paced age of the internet and digital technology, customers expect to get answers quickly and have their concerns resolved immediately. That’s why it’s important that you make it as easy as possible for your customers to communicate with you.
Fortunately, the internet and digital technologies also make it easier than ever to stay in contact with your customers and keep them happy. According to Nextria, over 50 percent of all customers prefer to request help online over calling a company directly. However, 40 percent of customers still want to speak with a live customer support representative when addressing more sensitive or complicated issues such as billing or technical problems.
Finding the proper balance between technology and traditional voice-based customer support methods is important, but it’s still necessary to explore and implement personalized technology driven customer support strategies over time. As Gen Z and Millenials grow older, customer support demands will continue to shift toward online customer service and technical support systems.
At the end of the day, customer support is all about providing customers with a personalized experience tailored to their unique tastes. How often do you visit a website and see ads, offers or product recommendations that are similar to something you previously purchased? In the same way that product websites adapt their offering to provide prospective customers with personalized buying experience, small business owners should implement technologies and systems to provide a personalized customer support experience.
New smart personalization engines that can recognize and predict customer intent are helping businesses present their customers options that cut through the noise and provide the ideal customer service experience. Implementation of personalization engines that can recognize customer intent will lead to increased profits and a strategic competitive advantage.
8. User Reviews are King
A recent survey conducted by Podium reports that reviews influence over 93% of consumers’ online purchasing decisions, 82% of consumers read reviews before making a purchase online, and 60% look at online reviews at least once a week. The same survey by Podium suggests that over two-thirds of consumers (68%) will pay a 15% premium for the same product when they can see that another individual has bought and tried the product – and they believe they’ll have a positive experience as well. Online reviews have a major impact on consumer purchasing behavior.
More than 90% of consumers will hesitate to complete a purchase if no reviews are provided. Generating and managing online reviews is now an essential element of selling products online. Having just a few 5-star rated reviews makes it much easier for consumers to make a purchasing decision and for online businesses to sell their products. If your small business doesn’t have substantial cash reserves to invest in marketing, generating stellar reviews is one way you can stand out from your competitors. Moving forward, online reviews will be the biggest factor influencing consumer purchasing decisions. Consumers will focus on reviews more than any other element. Individuals will no longer rely exclusively on business sponsored advertising, features, or price. When deciding whether or not to buy a product online, they’ll rely on each other.
Just one positive customer review can drive more sales than other more expensive forms of traditional advertising. One negative review will do just the opposite. When real people endorse your products, your business becomes more trustworthy and your sales increase.
9. Mobile-centric Employee Communication
Currently, millennials make up nearly 50% of the U.S. workforce. By 2025 millennials are projected to represent 75% of the U.S. workforce – with Gen Z right around the corner to take up the slack. If one thing is certain, it’s that future generations of workers will be more tech-savvy and mobile driven than any of their predecessors. Therefore, if you want to keep your team of workers focused, engaged and productive, you must adapt to their mobile-centric mode of communication.
Email, intranet and traditional phone communication are becoming outdated as the preferred method of business communication among employees. To boost employee communication businesses are shifting to communication apps such as Slack, HipChat, Basecamp, Skype and Wrike. Communication apps not only boost communication, they increase employee productivity, generate engagement, and reduce miscommunication.
Mobile-centric employee communication isn’t just a trend – it’s the future.
10. Employee Satisfaction is Becoming More Important
The era when people worked for one company for their entire career, retired after 50 years of service with a pension, and received given a gold watch, is a tale for history books. Today the average worker changes jobs 12 times during his or her career. According to the Bureau of Labor Statics, the median employee tenure is just over 4 years. To succeed as a small business, employee retention is critical. To attract and retain the best talent as a small business, you must provide employees what they value most.
While pay and promotion opportunity certainly play an important role in workforce satisfaction, these days what employees want more than anything is to be happy. They want to be part of a culture of high morale; feel that their work is appreciated; and see that their efforts contribute to the bottom line success of the company. When employees are happy, workforce satisfaction increases and productivity goes up.
Because unemployment is at a historic low, recruiting and retaining top talent is challenging. Notwithstanding, it is crucial to business success. Through 2020 and beyond, businesses that focus on employee engagement and happiness will experience better recruiting, higher employee retention and a boost in overall workforce productivity.
Employee satisfaction is key to the success of a small business moving forward.
11. The Development and Adoption of Voice Recognition Technology
Over the last few years, smart speakers, such as Alexa and Google Home, and new audio-centric technologies, including Apple’s AirPods and Amazon’s Echo, have made major inroads into traditional web browsing. A report from Gartner Group predicts that nearly a third of all web browsing will be voice initiated by 2020. By 2020, over half of all internet searches will be voice-based and a third of all searches will be performed using a screenless device. You get the picture.
It’s much easier to activate a web search while driving, cooking, exercising or caring for a baby by using voice search rather than traditional web search that requires the use of your hands and eyes for browsing. What does this mean for small business? It means small businesses need to develop a strong, ubiquitous “voice” presence to support their online media and communication channels. This a golden opportunity for small businesses to gain a first mover advantage while voice search is still in early stages of adoption.
Voice recognition technology and voice initiated web search are reshaping the entire web browsing experience. For small businesses to be successful through 2020, and stay ahead of the competition, they’ll need to adapt their search engine optimization strategies to target conversational and long-tail queries which form the basis of voice search.
12. The Rise and Adoption of 5G
5G networks are on the rise. Maybe your business has already begun leveraging lightning-fast internet by using 5G WiFi directly from your cellular network. On average, 5G supports download speeds of 1 Gbps. High download speeds pushed by 5G networks are changing the way users and consumers interact on the internet. By 2020, 5G networks will be implemented across the entire globe offering unprecedented opportunity for small businesses.
With high-speed 5G networks comes the ability for small businesses to communicate accomplish mission critical processes at the speed of light. 5G networks not only provide increased bandwidth and faster internet speeds, they also provide a much simpler setup process. 5G networks will enable use of evolving technologies including driverless cars, drones, and smart cities. To stay ahead of the competition, consider how you’re going to leverage 5G technology in 2020.
13. Cloud Computing. Not Just for Big Business Any Longer
Cloud computing is dramatically changing the way small businesses employ computer technology. Buying and maintaining costly computer systems and hardware is a thing of the past. Today, small businesses can take advantage of much more cost effective, on-demand cloud computing solutions on a pay-as-you-go basis in a manner similar to how utilities provide water and electricity to their customers. Cloud computing is truly a game changer. It levels the playing field for small businesses by enabling them to compete more effectively with larger companies.
A report from Emergent Research and Intuit projects that by the end of 2020 nearly 80% of small businesses in the U.S. will have fully adopted cloud computing, over double the current adoption rate. According to Terry Hicks, QuickBooks Online Ecosystem VP and general manager, “…small businesses will increasingly use cloud technology not only for efficiency gains, but also in more transformative ways that redefine the rules for achieving long-term success.”
Whether you’re a fledgling startup operating from your basement or an established Silicon Slopes firm with a few hundred employees, you need to be aware of the new opportunities and potentially disruptive changes that cloud computing presents to your business. To be successful in 2020 and beyond, cloud computing you should consider the impact and application of cloud computing for your business.