I don’t know about you, but I am so done with dealing with unexpected hiccups and restrictions when it comes to growing my small business. I’m ready for things to begin taking a turn toward ‘business as usual’ so that I can plan with some sense of realistic expectations.
For many business owners like myself, 2020 presented unprecedented challenges as the COVID-19 pandemic introduced a “new normal.” As a strategist whose business relied heavily on face-to-face interaction with my clients, I had to take a step back and examine how I could continue the intimate relationships with my clients in a virtual environment. I had to figure out a way of monitoring effectiveness virtually while keeping my clients from panicking as their own businesses were turned upside down. Also, as the pandemic continued and I realize we would never be going back to ‘business as usual,’ I had to restructure my business to meet customer needs virtually and still be able to attract new customers. The year 2020 challenged me as a strategist on many levels. Although I feel that I have come out ahead simply by keeping my doors open, my revenue numbers took a serious hit.
With this being said, moving forward, I have been able to pull together somewhat of a predictive checklist for surviving 2021 and taking advantage of what the next 12 months have to offer. Based on extensive research and conversations with colleagues, I have been able to pull together 15 predictions of what we can expect to see moving forward. These are all items that should be kept in mind as you make plans for your business over the next twelve months.
- First and foremost…Remote work will continue through 2021 and beyond. Working remotely brings with it many advantages, that although may not be realized this year, will bring positive news in the long-run. In February/March of 2020, we were thrown into a situation that tested our abilities to adapt quickly to environmental changes. For those small companies that were used to working remotely, the transition was not an issue. However, for those companies that did not have remote work processes in place, the transition was much more difficult. This was especially true for our education system and service-based businesses. In these cases, we saw business halted for 30-60 days as technological and training were introduced to streamline the processes. Moving forward in 2021 it would be pertinent to revisit your remote workforce processes to ensure that systems are implemented to maintain effective communication and reporting. It is also imperative to ensure that the mental health of employees is protected. Finally, what we may see is a reduction in salaries to match cost-of-living expenses, which could be significant. Employers should keep in mind when exploring this avenue that employees are consuming their own resources to provide remote services (electricity, square footage, and in some cases cellular usage). Additionally, some employees may not be set up with a dedicated space for working from home. Communicate with remote workers to determine what could be done to relieve the pressure of distractions, etc.
- There will be no speed limits on innovation. As we move more into a virtual environment, gaps will emerge, prompting new technology and systems to streamline production and operations. A world of development tools, infrastructure, and open-source software will be accelerated as thought leaders in the technology fields take advantage of an uprise of customers needing solutions.
- Move to individual technology tools offering ‘disruptive technologies.’ After a hellacious year of consolidating technology in an effort to cut costs and ensure ease-of-use in remote environments, we will see a peak in consolidation in 2021. As companies are able to re-evaluate their technological infrastructure they will begin to look for ways to create value through disruptive technology.
- Employers may require vaccination for on-site employees. Public Health professionals have been clear that vaccinations are the key to fully reopening businesses, workplaces, and schools. However, the speed at which the vaccine has been introduced and the questions surrounding the accurate reporting of true COVID-19 numbers have many (even first responders) hesitating to be first in line for vaccines preferring to wait on results from the first round of vaccines. This is an area where there will be much debate moving forward in 2021 as citizens argue over mandatory immunizations versus personal rights. Think about it, employers don’t require proof of polio and rubella shots before hiring. Where does the COVID-19 vaccine fit into this?
- Concentrated efforts focused on humanizing the virtual experience. With so many virtual meetings between employees and customers, people are experiencing concentration fatigue due to the lack of physical proximity. Companies will be seeking ways to actively engage employees to increase production and participation. Sales and Business Development individuals will be looking for ways to engage new prospects through virtual networking environments, being able to focus on connections, and capturing targeted prospects with innovative virtual techniques. Operations will be seeking ways of adhering, and meeting customer expectations in a virtual environment. All of which will involve thought-leaders partnering with technology experts to produce innovative solution platforms.
- Service providers are brought to task to meet consumer streaming demand. With the massive growth of business, education, telemedicine, and social engagements virtually, service providers are having to respond fast to manage the surge in traffic. Being able to avoid lagging and downgraded quality, and slower speeds we will see providers investing in edge cloud, moving applications and data closer to users and connected devices to enhance user and application experience. Expect to see a lot of changes in the provider industry. It will be important to remain apprised of edge technology and what the different options out there are for you and your business. Just this weekend I had to change my cable provider because of excessive outages and slow streaming capabilities.
- Companies will be implementing Augmented Reality (AR) to enhance the customer experience in a virtual world. It’s all about the experience! What was generally reserved for large multi-conglomerate organizations is now becoming a necessity for smaller businesses. With the advancement of AR, technology pricing has dropped considerably, allow small businesses to afford to build this technology into their virtual infrastructure. Virtual demonstrations, conferences, and a virtual gaming environment are all ways of engaging prospects and customers into the experience of your brand.
- Rise in Learning Educational Systems and Virtual Conferences. As we are held hostage at home, the importance of virtual learning and conferences has become important in our ongoing growth development as a company. One of the main contributions that my company has made over the past 10 months was to convert all of our cognitive educational programs into a virtual education system focused primarily on small business education. Call MarketAtomyy Academy, we have built a customized platform to provide the tools small business owners need to grow a successful business. More and more companies have seen the value of moving into an educational environment whether it be through a Learning Management System (LMS) or through Virtual Conferences.
- The rise of the new CEO – Chief Empathy Officer. As a strategist, I have always focused on the customer-centric organization. Never have it been more important than now to focus on how Empathy will play into the overall charter of the organization. This does not just apply to certain individuals but rather to all employees from the C-suite on down to the janitor whose job it is to preserve the brand look for the organization. The business challenges experienced in 2020 have made it clear that leaders need to go all-in on empathy, tapping into the human perspective to make customer-centric decisions. Learning from team members who interact daily with customers is critical to successfully building an empathetic organization.
- Business travel will continue to be significantly reduced. Not only will the ongoing pandemic maintain a hold on business travel, but the impact of testing and possibly mandatory immunizations may also restrict travel growth after COVID-19. As a result, travel resources will struggle with balancing passenger counts with expanded inventory for more frequent trips.
- Increased number of new business start-ups. With a large number of layoffs as a result of the pandemic, many individuals have decided to take a chance to go out on their own because they could not find work. A recent article in the New York Times quoted that small business licenses have increased 83% since April of 2020. As technology grows and new systems are introduced, their positions have become obsolete. Some companies will work to retrain and reskill employees, but many will be left to their own devices. Those who do delve out on their own will face a new set of challenges, especially if they don’t have the knowledge of how to run a successful business. This could introduce increased numbers of failed businesses by the end of 2021.
- The glut of commercial office space available will lead to reduced rental rates. Because of corporate downsizing and virtual employment, companies will be looking to reduce fixed overhead expenses including rent. As more and more office space becomes available we will see lower rental rates and more creative packages to attract new renters.
- In-Store Service Personnel will Shift to Pickers, Packers, and Drivers. Social distancing as a result of the pandemic has shifted service-based responsibilities to those of order tracking, picking, and packing for home deliveries. Although these activities contribute to the customer experience process and provide a basis for monitoring customer expectations, it does limit revenue growth dependent upon resource capabilities. Whether some form of customized personal service remains after the pandemic is still to be seen.
- We will see more Mergers and Acquisitions. COVID-19 has definitely put a hamper on small business as many have closed their doors during the pandemic. Some have simply closed temporarily, others permanently. Those small and medium businesses that have been able to weather the storm have sought out ways of strengthening their infrastructure by partnering with other firms or simply selling. According to Ernst & Young Global, a recent study indicated a 33% M&A closure rate among American businesses, despite a great deal of uncertainty in the market. Depending on how people behave during this crisis will impact brand awareness reflecting in future M&A deals.
- Success hinges on people strategy. Looking ahead to 2021 and beyond, it’s not necessarily the technology itself that will make the biggest impact on a company’s success, but rather how well organizations deploy and manage their digital solutions. In short, the success of a digital strategy hinges on the organization’s larger people strategy: recruiting, retaining, and reinventing the right talent to manage their technology investments.
MarketAtomy, LLC is a growth development-learning environment for small and medium business owners with one goal in mind…to empower them with the tools and knowledge needed to build their business on a rock-solid foundation. Through foresight and fortitude, entrepreneurial dreams become a reality. For more information, please visit marketatomy.com. Visit MarketAtomy.Academy to find out about the only Learning Management System developed for early-stage business growth.