By Tim Russell

2020 is finally over! And let’s face it, I doubt too many of us are sad to see the back of it. Whilst a few business sectors – food delivery, healthcare, online education for example – have boomed during the pandemic, for most of us it’s been a struggle. With our customers on lockdown,they are spending much less than normal, or adjusting their priorities. As the year ends, many businesses are either mothballed or have disappeared altogether. Thousands of dreams shattered, jobs lost, and livelihoods destroyed. 

And whilst a change in the calendar isn’t magically going to fix everything, the mere fact of moving into a new year will give many of us a psychological lift. It imbues us with that sense of optimism and new beginnings that January 1st always brings. So here is our look at some likely small business trends that we’ll see in 2021, and why you need to be aware of them.

Remote Working

Of all the changes in workplace culture that COVID-19 has brought, this is one of the small business trends that’s most likely to stick around. The work-from-home genie is well and truly out of the bottle now. And companies that previously resisted home working have realized that not only can their employees be trusted to work remotely, but that in many cases they’re actually more productive. A 2014 Stanford University study into home working at Chinese travel giant CTrip found that:

With the percentage of Americans working remotely rising from 2.4% to 42% in 2020, more companies will have experienced the benefits of having their staff spending some or all of their working week at home, and with the employees themselves also seeing the benefits. Reduced commuting, more time with family and pets, money saved on transportation, clothes, lunches, greater independence and less micromanagement etc. This is one of the small business trends that is likely to continue to grow as we move into 2021. 

Home working isn’t for everyone of course. Some workers have reported feelings of loneliness or isolation; others find it hard to concentrate with kids, parents and pets competing for their attention; and companies that rely on team spirit find it harder to maintain with people working remotely. And let’s face it, some just miss the office atmosphere, the water cooler chat, the after-work beers, the general camaraderie.

But ultimately money talks and with many businesses likely to be cash-strapped well into the new year, downscaling from large offices to smaller premises or 100% remote working is a trend that is going to increase. It saves you money, it increases productivity, and your staff like it – what’s not to love?

Omnichannel

One of THE business buzzwords du jour, omnichannel has previously been the preserve of larger companies. But it is now highly accessible to small businesses who want to offer fully holistic and integrated marketing and service to their clients. 

What IS omnichannel exactly? Here’s Wikipedia’s definition:

Omnichannel is a cross-channel content strategy that organizations use to improve their user experience and drive better relationships with their audience across points of contact. Rather than working in parallel, communication channels and their supporting resources are designed and orchestrated to cooperate.

Omnichannel is based on the premise that different demographics like to be marketed to and communicated with via different channels at different points in their buyer journey. Some like email, some like ads, some like messaging, and some like using the phone. This has led to most companies using a multichannel strategy. But the problem with multichannel is that it isn’t integrated. 

We’ve all had the customer service nightmare of sending an email, then calling a customer service person or using a chat window and having to explain our whole problem again from scratch. That’s because the company’s various channels are working as separate silos. Omnichannel overcomes this by putting the customer at the centre and integrating all marketing and communication channels. This is one of the small business trends that provides a seamless and consistent experience for clients.

small business trends

Image: FitSmallBusiness

Let’s take an example you’re almost certainly familiar with. TV streaming service Netflix. Wherever I watch Netflix – on my TV, my phone, my PC, my tablet, a hotel TV for example – the experience is the same. I can start watching a movie on my TV, then pick it up the next day on my tablet from where I left off. Then once I’ve finished watching the film, Netflix emails me with recommendations for other stuff I might like. The perfect omnichannel experience. And regular exposure to services that do omnichannel well, such as Netflix, Youtube or Amazon for example, means customers are expecting a similar experience wherever they shop.

Integrating omnichannel isn’t that difficult at a small business level. You simply need a robust CRM system that integrates with whatever marketing channels you use. For example, Adwords, Adroll etc. And it also allows integration with email, website chat, Whatsapp etc. I recently helped a company integrate Hubspot into its marketing communication strategy. And now everything – sales team emails, Facebook Messenger, email marketing, retargeting, website customer chat and so on – goes through Hubspot. It gives them a consistent communication approach and a single 360-degree view of their prospects and customers. Simple, affordable and highly effective. 

Mobile Apps

Mobile apps have been with us since the arrival of the iPhone in 2007. But in 2020 they really came into their own with even the most technophobic amongst us surviving lockdown by using mobile apps. Whether it’s to order food, track their health, watch TV, order groceries, communicate with family and friends, and much much more. 

Apps generally provide a smoother shopping or service experience than web browsers. Particularly for less tech-savvy users. And are now becoming the default way for companies to interact with their clients and prospects. In 2014, mobile use overtook desktop use for the first time. And the gap has been growing ever since.

small business trends

Image: BroadbandSearch

Therefore many of your customers will expect you to have a mobile app. Even if it’s just a mobile version of your website. Here’s how websites and apps compare:

Image: Buildfire

The important difference is that once a user exits your website, there’s a risk of them forgetting you. Whereas the app is always there on their device, reminding them of your existence and allowing you to communicate with them regularly and consistently.

As with websites, development costs for mobile apps have come down dramatically in recent years. As well as solutions that will convert your website into app form, there are plenty of affordable small business web builder solutions out there. Enabling you to build your own app for relatively small sums. Or you can follow our fifth small business trend below and find an affordable marketing agency. Cough, cough, Booming Businesses!

Sustainability

Already a growing small business trend before the pandemic. 2020 has seen a huge surge of interest and attention given to businesses’ environmental and ethical approaches and impacts. A recent BCG survey found that 70% of respondents are more aware of climate and environmental issues than they were pre-pandemic. And 87% expecting businesses to care more about the environment. 

small business trends

People have also seen the environmental benefits of reduced commuting and travelling. Such as a reduction in pollution and overtourism. And amongst many there is a desire not to go back to the old ways. 

So your business needs to address the concerns of newly-aware consumers, and make a commitment to sustainability. Whether it’s using ecologically sustainable materials or ingredients, ethical employment practices, or contributing to your local community. Or using an eco friendly marketing agency such as ourselves. Even the smallest things can make the biggest of differences. Make sure to shout about it on your website! Sign up to sustainability initiatives, and generally make your customers aware that you’re trying to be as sustainable and ethical as you can. If you don’t, your competitors will!

Outsourcing & the Gig Economy

The gig economy has a bad name in certain circles, and often with good reason. There is considerable evidence that the gig economy, far from offering workers more freedom, has them working insane hours for little reward or benefits. And being on zero-hours contracts that can see them twiddling their thumbs and going unpaid when they’re not needed.

But on the other hand, there’s a large and growing army of freelancers out there happily going from gig to gig. Ready and willing to provide small businesses with the services they need, whenever they need them. As a small business, you need things like logos, letterhead, brochures etc. But you can’t afford a full-time graphic designer, and you probably only need a handful of design jobs every year. And that’s where outsourcing comes in. 

Sites such as Fiverr and Upwork are home to thousands of freelancers able to provide every service imaginable at very affordable costs. And with millions of people made redundant this year, there’s an increasing amount of talent out there.

Increasingly, a small business may consist of one or two founders, a couple of full time staff members, and then everything else. Web design, graphic design, copywriting, apps, digital marketing, fulfilment, dropshipping etc. All outsourced to freelancers or professional companies who are only paid for the work they do when they are needed. And with small businesses increasingly looking to cut costs in 2021, this is a small business trend that is certain to increase. 

Outsourcing can take some getting used to. It’s harder to oversee what someone is doing when you’ve never met them and they’re working remotely. And it can take a bit of time to find the right freelancers for your company. But with us all getting used to remote working and communicating via Zoom or Slack, it is less of a culture shock than it used to be. And the cost savings certainly make it an appealing option and one of the most popular small business trends.

Small Business Trends of 2021

So here’s to a new year! One which may bring with it the same problems as the old one, but also some new approaches to solving and overcoming them. We may have lost thousands of small businesses in 2020. But with huge upheaval comes new opportunities. And lots of people out there who lost their jobs in the pandemic are now ready to go it alone and start their own companies. The businesses that thrive will be those that are most responsive to their customers’ and employees’ needs and in 2021. That means remote working, outsourcing, an omnichannel approach to communication, a mobile-first focus, and a clear and proven concern for sustainability in everything they do. 

So here’s your quick checklist to jump onboard with small business trends of 2021:

Obviously not all these small business trends will be suitable or relevant to your particular business. But there’s bound to be something here that you can implement in 2021 to help your business survive and thrive in what is likely to be another challenging year for us all. Personally, I want to thank you for reading my articles in 2020. And I wish you a very happy and prosperous new year. And if you need any help with your small business in the coming months, please get in touch with us at Booming Businesses!

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