The business world is changing rapidly, and the long-term impact of COVID is still being determined. Technology is one area where developers stepped up to meet new consumer demands, enhance remote work, and overcome the challenges of switching to a mostly digital marketplace.
That’s the state of things now, but what comes next? What are the big small business opportunities you should consider to remain highly competitive in the new year? Let’s take a look.
What do small businesses need in 2022?
The unpredictability of 2020 and 2021 has left some small businesses reeling. Consumer buying behavior shifted radically almost overnight, with people looking more toward essential goods than luxuries and caring more about social factors.
Recently, researchers surveyed more than 2,500 small and medium business owners around the globe. One big shift has been in online transactions. Approximately 71% of small business leaders surveyed said their customers expect an eCommerce presence.
People expect companies to embrace social causes, treat their employees with respect, pay attention to both customer and employee health and safety, and be transparent.
Which trends should you embrace and which should you ignore? It’s probably best not to ignore anything your target audience cares about, but some factors weigh more heavily in their decision-making than others. Know what your core values are and how they align with your client’s priorities. Understanding who your audience is allows you to cater your choices to their expectations.
Here are the things we think will shape small businesses in the next few years, which ones impact which industries, and how you can jump on board.
1. Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
Customers have plenty of options for where to take their business in a global economy. It makes sense they’ll turn to the brands most likely to put them first. CRM is about more than just adding some information to a database. An excellent program will automatically email your clients when you get in a new product matching what they’ve ordered in the past.
CRM continues trending upward for the foreseeable future. Businesswire reports the global CRM market will reach $94.4 billion by 2027, seeing a growth of 11.3% compound annual growth rate. Why is CRM adoption growing so rapidly?
Creating a customer-centric focus can make your brand stand out from competitors by personalizing communications. Let your sales staff tap into the CRM software so they can see who hasn’t ordered in a bit, who filed a complaint that needs a creative solution, and which brands refer the newest clients. Try to anticipate their needs before they do, so you’re seen as a help to your customers.
You should also frequently survey your customers to ensure you understand what their expectations are for your brand. Your goal is to not only meet their business notions but exceed them. They need to know you value their business and will work to keep it. After all, they have other options available if you fail to pay attention to their wants.
CRM doesn’t just apply to one type of business. Ideally, any company dealing directly with consumers or other businesses will embrace the concept of improving customer engagement. However, how it works may look a bit different for a local car detailing company versus a manufacturing facility. Your CRM approach must adapt to meet the specific needs of your customers.
2. Cloud ERP
Cloud ERP takes software as a service (SaaS) and ties it to enterprise resource planning (ERP). Rather than running a company-wide financial and process planning system in-house, you take it to the cloud, where employees can access it from any location at any time. ERPs allow you to take massive amounts of internal data and run analytics. You’ll function more efficiently and see problems before they become catastrophes.
A cloud ERP can help you future-proof your business. As your brand scales up, you’ll need to consider multiple factors such as cash flow, future projects, and new audiences you’d like to reach. A cloud-based ERP lets everyone in your organization tap into the data and figure out the most likely scenarios you’ll face in the next year, two years, five years, and ten years.
Stand-alone ERPs have much less flexibility than cloud-based ones. Rather than being available to only a handful of executives, you can open your ERP to the entire company and automate manual processes and security features. Around 94% of small businesses see an improvement in security after migrating their operations to the cloud.
You can utilize the data within your cloud ERP to identify problem areas and fix them before they become catastrophic. Run reports for a particular operation or department or look at company-wide data. You can also predict future needs, such as additional supplies you might need in the future, and get out ahead of supply chain issues.
Cloud ERPs are a perfect solution for rapidly growing startups in the tech sector. Established companies also benefit by moving to a cloud-based server. ERPs work well for many different industries, but probably best for companies with at least 25 employees.
Smaller operations may find the costs a bit prohibitive at first. If you sell candles out of your garage, you likely aren’t ready for an ERP just yet. If you ship 10,000 candles a day all around the country with the help of 100 employees, then you need an ERP.
To help determine if your business is ready for this type of investment, be sure that you’re consistently forecasting sales and cash flow. This can give you an idea of when you’ll have enough cash set up to make the investment—as well as if your sales numbers and operational structure warrant this type of service. Just be sure to fully vet your situation, ask questions, and look at performance before jumping into a larger purchase like this.
3. Augmented reality
Augmented reality (AR) takes something real and inserts a virtual element into it. While once limited to bulky headsets and event spaces, the advances in screen resolution now allow people to utilize AR technology on their smartphones and laptops.
Several businesses already use AR and have for a few years now. We predict the trend will continue as so many more people shop online and eCommerce is perfectly suited for the trend. There are approximately 2.14 billion online shoppers in 2021, an increase from 1.66 billion in 2016.
Younger consumers are likely to tap into new technology and embrace using their smartphones to shop. Brands wanting to grab the attention of Generation Z would be wise to add AR and other trends as they improve in price and function.
One famous example of AR usage includes IKEA’s app that allows people to plop any of their products into their room via a smartphone app. The person simply initiates the camera function on their phone and secures an image of the room. They then place the objects they want to buy in the space, seeing how it fits and looks.
In addition to eCommerce, AR is often used for 3D modeling. The technology comes in handy during the design process of building an automobile, home, or office building. Some manufacturers use it before creating a physical prototype. Healthcare is another field where the implications of AR continue to grow. Imagine doing surgery virtually before attempting a real procedure.
4. Payment gateways
The ways people pay for goods and services are changing and have been for the last five years. PayPal, Square, and Stripe are now widely used options, however, they are no longer the only fintech choices for buyers. Payment gateways most often impact eCommerce, but even the small mom-and-pop store can take payments today with the help of an internet connection.
People all have their own preferences for what payment service they prefer. Many banks tap into Zelle as an option. Others like the immediacy of Venmo. Still, others prefer to use an old-fashioned plastic card.
Don’t rule out cyber currency options for your business. Brokers can convert funds from Bitcoin and other third-party systems. Make sure you fully understand the intricacies of digital currency, though, as the rates change rapidly and you can wind up losing money if you don’t understand the process. Enlist the help of a professional if needed.
One solution is no longer enough for most businesses. Imagine you’re set up at a local craft fair to sell your woodwork creations. Someone loves the flag you created but they don’t have any cash on them. They also forgot to bring their credit cards. However, they do know how to log in to PayPal or Venmo via their smartphone and send you immediate payment.
Payment gateways are more important for companies offering products and recurring services than those selling one-off big-ticket items. The local construction company can take a check or draft from a construction loan. However, the beekeeper up the road needs to sell to multiple people who all want to pay in a different way. One solution is rarely enough for the majority of small business owners.
You’ve likely heard the buzzword “agility.” How agile you are, relates to how well you pivot when changes hit. If your business starts to grow, do you have a plan in place for how to handle the extra orders?
We predict agile will continue to trend into 2022 since small businesses have faced so many changes over the last few years. Embracing an agile mindset is more about your attitude as a brand. Your employees must feel comfortable enough to think outside the box and try new things without fear of reprisal.
Agility looks at all possible scenarios and gives you options to embrace as you scale up. Agility is particularly important to any business with more than a handful of employees. Even solopreneurs may benefit from embracing the mindset. Now, being agile doesn’t mean you’re making random or uninformed decisions.
Instead, you’ve established your organization as being willing to make strategic adjustments based on performance and how it affects your goals. So, to successfully achieve business agility, you’ll want to leverage forecasting and scenario analysis. This will allow you to explore potential results, track actual performance, and make informed decisions based on what’s occurred and what you anticipate. You can do all of this manually or invest in software with specific forecasting features that help you do this sort of work on a regular basis.
6. Hiring talent
There are many challenges in the current employee pool. USA Today recently reported on the country’s labor shortage. Around 23% of workers fear COVID and thus refuse to return to in-person jobs. How this impacts companies into 2022 depends on whether numbers continue to fall or the pandemic resurges again.
Finding the best workers in a challenging economy might seem like an uphill task, but if you develop the right company culture and value those you have, you’ll have better luck. Your current employees may be your best resource for new ones. Allow them to refer family and friends who are qualified for the position. Reward them for recruiting talent.
Every single small business with any employees needs to think about how they’ll fill empty positions. Start building your company culture from day one. Value those who work for you. You may not be able to pay them as much as a huge corporation, but you can offer perks, such as remote work, job sharing, and even bring-your-puppy-to-work programs.
7. Creative joint ventures
Don’t overlook the opportunity of teaming up with other brands. Many small restaurants struggle in the current economic climate due to prices, supply chain issues, and lack of workers. Imagine teaming up with a local event venue to cater weddings and birthday parties.
There are many advantages to teaming up with other brands that are not your competition but compliment you in some way. You both gain access to one another’s customers, for example. It also is a ringing endorsement that a respected company thinks you’re worth working with.
Start small for your first joint venture. Find a like-minded business owner around the same size and offer a joint promotion or host an event for all your customers. If it goes well, you can plan more combination events.
Try new things
Each year, your business will have opportunities to try new things. Part of your growth is figuring out which ones are worth your time and which ones aren’t. Learn the benefits of each new approach and decide what grows your brand and best matches your company values.