Big Trends for Small Business

Megatrends are the hot topic of conversation. You can’t pick up a newspaper, go online, or be at a cocktail party without running into discussions about AI and machine intelligence, cryptocurrencies, blockchain tech, megadata and other world-changing movements.

While there is no question that any or all of these things will have an effect on our lives in the longer term (include global uncertainty, refugee resettlement, election of alt-right governments) there are many other changes afoot that will have more immediate and more direct effects on small business owners.

We are in the midst of the fastest flow of technology adoption and societal change in history. Instant communication obviates yesterday’s predictions and makes tomorrow’s guesses wide ranging. Articles I began gathering last year are out of date as I review them for this piece. Out of the maelstrom of auguries based on wisdom and those that are so far-fetched they seem like science fiction, there are a few that are genuinely foreseeable, if not controllable, and that can be used by entrepreneurs who are starting or expanding their businesses:

Direct to consumer sales – Opening a retail store? Be sure to have an online component. Your bricks and mortar side must also deliver a unique customer experience or fill a niche that cannot be duplicated in the digital world. Everything is on the block here as changes in physical retail marketing require multi-channel expression. Products as diverse as food, shaving gear, clothing, furniture or any other product (and many services) are seeing increased online presence. Not only is the competition single websites from sellers anywhere in the world, but enterprise marketplaces like Etsy, Amazon and eBay which utilize millions of online marketplace sellers to source and deliver products.

Crowdfunding – Marketing and fund-raising based on community building is growing and provides alternative financing to mostly new product launches. Not only do entrepreneurs fund ideas that might not yet have traction with traditional lenders, they are building future customer connections. Over $34 billion has been raised globally using crowdfunding vehicles. The advantage is proof of concept for next stage financing without a major outlay of capital. As well, crowdfunding purchasers can provide feedback that leads to product improvements.

Rise of the freelance worker – It is expected that 40% of the workforce will be entrepreneurs by 2020. Outsourcing work by major corporations rather than keeping whole departments in place reduces costs and provides the ability to be more diversified and faster acting. While outsourcing is nothing new, todays entrepreneurs seem to gravitate to the freedom of freelance work as opposed to a previous generation that looked upon it as a ‘between jobs’ alternative. Freelance entrepreneurs will need a host of services to support them: financial and marketing management; legal and accounting services; coaching and mentoring to support the ability to work in isolation; networking and connection alternatives; and services that support their special transportation and communication needs. Freelance work enables younger workers to gain experience and older workers to remain in the workforce longer.

These are a few of the many trends affecting small businesses. Lest this blog become ‘blogged down’, I’ll list a few more that I think require consideration when entering into or expanding a business enterprise: collaboration across industries; environment and sustainability; importance of video and augmented reality; Internet of Things that ties our tech to work and home; diversity and cultural intersectionality; urbanization; labour displacement and increased (voluntary or involuntary) leisure; up-scaled CRM; privacy and data protection; and social media as a sales vehicle.

While many of these trends appear threatening, there is an upside as well, including the development of trust as a business currency, increased productivity, increased training programs for work advancement, more empowered consumers, and greater globalization and trade. The global focus on women entrepreneurs as an economic generator will hopefully lead to male/female parity in years to come.

Written by Sandra Altner, CEO Women’s Enterprise Centre of Manitoba