Looking forward to the year ahead is exciting - albeit slightly daunting - thanks to all the impending developments which could impact small businesses in all sorts of ways. With an increasingly millennial workforce, technological advancements and political uncertainty lining the horizon, 2019 is sure to be a busy year.
Here, the SME experts at Brighter Business predict the biggest trends in the small business world for the year ahead – and whilst there are definitely a few things to look forward to, there are also some that might require some further thought and planning.
Tech collaboration between large corporates and SMEs
The rate at which technology is developing is, at times, frightening. Sometimes, it’s hard to keep abreast of the latest developments and emerging technologies.
In an effort to remain relevant and prevent themselves from falling behind, larger organisations without technological pedigrees are increasingly turning towards smaller, more agile start-up businesses.
The aim for larger businesses is to understand how these technologies may be implemented, while also giving small businesses the ability to work with new partners, developing their products and propositions while also having the opportunity to network.
In 2019, we expect more collaboration, and more opportunities for small businesses to partner with bigger players, as more technologies develop.
Big, bad data: The opportunities and the challenges
According to the MIT Sloan Review, bad data is harmful to companies, costing as much as 25% of revenue.
If you’re looking to start a business this year, it’s important to know exactly how ‘bad data’ (data that is incomplete, inaccurate, or irrelevant) can affect your business. For example, when bad data is used, it can create issues down the line including system inefficiencies (half of your outbound email list bouncing), irritated customers, and time wasted through repetitive actions.
As such, data and its importance to a successful business is likely to become one of the central themes of 2019. With businesses all over the world relying on data to reach new customers and retain existing ones, it’s important that data is “healthy”: accurate, complete, reviewed frequently (and purged, where appropriate, in-line with your own cleansing procedures and with a view to remaining compliant with GDPR).
However, data poses as many threats as opportunities, in particular when it comes to machine learning and artificial intelligence.
Similarly, legal and regulatory obligations around data protection – particularly the introduction of GDPR in 2018 – make this an area of concern for many SMEs. Data security, and good practice around data management, will continue to be important in 2019 and beyond.
Improved customer communications
Communicating with customers, both existing and potential, has always been of central importance. The growth of digital platforms has helped to diversify the ways in which businesses are able to communicate; social media in particular has changed the game, making instant communication the norm.
Chatbots are now becoming more and more common - 2018 was a breakthrough year in the automation of basic customer interactions.
Although this might seem implausible for small businesses, Facebook now allows business pages to set up automated chat to answer basic customer questions, which gives businesses some scope for experimenting with this format.
We expect 2019 to see more nuanced and capable versions of chatbots being deployed by businesses to help answer customer questions and generally engage with customers in near-real-time, providing depth to the customer experience.
However, this could also drive a shift towards a more “human” angle in customer service. With our days becoming increasingly saturated with technology, consumers may wish to experience a more personal service, whether online or in store.
The rise of conscientious sustainability
Growing awareness of the damage to our planet caused by unsustainable practices, those businesses that put environmental and ethical concerns at the top of their agendas will be the ones which flourish in 2019.
David Attenborough highlighted the very real and damaging effects of plastic pollution when his documentary Blue Planet II aired, and climate change moved from an abstract concept to a tangible problem as the UK careened from snowstorm to heatwave.
Businesses of all sizes have a leading role to play, both in reducing the use of plastics and in thinking how they can reduce their own impact (and by extension their customers’ impact) on a planet which is coming under increasing stress.
It’s not a simple task, nor an inexpensive one, but it is vitally important every business and individual plays their part.
Work perks and wellbeing
As millennials have come to make up a greater percentage of the workforce, businesses have had to adapt and change their offering to employees, including innovative ways of driving engagement.
This means that pensions are out, and ping-pong tables are in. Okay, pensions aren’t entirely out, but the point is that many workplaces are switching to more material benefits that create a distinct culture. Office dogs, flexible working (work from home Wednesdays), free drinks on a Friday afternoon, and all manner of other perks are now presented alongside salaries and job titles, framing workplaces as a place to be as much as a place to work.
This shift has been made to place a greater emphasis on the workplace as a space which is as much about wellbeing as it is work. Encouraging sustainable working habits and preventing employees from burnout is one of the motivators for this.
Offering employees a range of benefits will continue to be a prominent trend in 2019. One popular benefit is flexible working; technology enables people to work from anywhere, even on the move, and workplace benefits are shown to improve employee engagement – with a commensurate positive impact on a business’s performance.
So, as an SME owner this could be the perfect opportunity to experiment and find out what works for your employees and your finances.
These are a just few of our predictions for 2019 - but we’ve seen some other interesting spots, including the impact of voice search and increased gender and racial diversity that will place more pressure on businesses to report on and ensure fair policies. Not to mention, the massive elephant in every boardroom this year will be the impact of Brexit, both pre and post deal. So, is your business ready for the new year?
For more tips, guidance and information for SMEs and start-ups, visit www.brighterbusiness.co.uk.