Five Trends That Could Affect Your Small Business by 2020

What's Next? Small Business Trends

If you are an entrepreneur looking for a sure-fire business idea, manufacturing crystal balls would be a good one. Everyone wants to know what is going to happen in the future. Unfortunately, few people have a consistent knack for accuracy. Still, by carefully reviewing recent events, it’s possible to glean some ideas about what may be coming tomorrow, even without a crystal ball. Here are five trends on the horizon that may impact your business down the road, if you aren’t already feeling some effects today:

Harnessing Big Data for Small Business

Big Data is nothing new. It’s been a buzzword for a decade now and many large corporations have successfully used large amounts of data to gain insight into their customers’ wants, needs and buying patterns. So why is it here? Because soon small businesses will affordably have access to Big Data’s power themselves to learn about their potential markets and how to better reach and exploit them, just like their big business brethren.

However, the real challenge of Big Data once you gain access to it is to manage this tidal wave of information and interpret it in a way that is meaningful to your business rather than be inundated by it. Without a solid understanding of what the data points represent, it’s easy to be overwhelmed. One trend sure to follow is the emergence of highly-focused specialists that can help apply Big Data to small businesses and assist them in mining the numbers so they can make informed decisions. Small businesses that can do this will have a significant advantage over those that can’t.

Small Business Has Its Computing in the Cloud

Just like small business will gain greater access to Big Data, so will it make greater use of cloud computing, another technology once limited to big business. Currently, only a small percentage of small businesses, those with less than 100 employees will be able to take advantage of this revolutionary concept. But in the next two to five years, this number will grow to the point that a majority of small businesses will enjoy its advantages.

Cloud computing helps businesses of all sizes reduce the costs of IT and makes it more efficient. As more and more small businesses adopt cloud computing, they will be able to take advantage of economies of scale, giving even the smallest of firms the IT power of the largest corporations for a fraction of the price it once took to maintain a computing department. Cloud computing will also help smaller businesses better access and exploit Big Data, that will transform their companies by putting a world of information at their fingertips.

Getting More Done With Less, and From Remote Locations

With the Internet, Skype, cloud computing and Big Data, a small business can literally operate anywhere… and everywhere… at the same time. For small business employers, this means they will now be able to increasingly hire the best and brightest workers, often regardless of their physical location. And for many small business workers, such as those in the back office, they can literally perform their function from anywhere, be it from home a few miles from the office, or even from across the country.

This will help small businesses reduce the cost of maintaining a physical location. Some small businesses may learn they don’t even need a physical location. Others, such as in manufacturing, will always need a physical building to perform their duties. But for those engaged in marketing, accounting, payroll, etc., these roles can be performed at any location via telecommuting.

Technology will also allow for more flexible scheduling, an item rated high on the list of desirability by incoming Millennials and Gen Z workers who, if they have to come into an office, would prefer to have greater control over their work-life balances. Offering telecommuting and flexible schedules will make a small business more competitive and attractive in this era of low unemployment.

Finally, as it has in the past, improving technology will boost employee productivity, enabling small businesses to not need as many workers because those they already have can get more done with greater efficiency.

New Skills Needed for the New Workplace

Thanks to all the rapid technological changes taking place, workers need to constantly update their existing skills and acquire new ones to stay relevant in the job market. In an earlier article, we examined the revolution taking place in manufacturing. Where once workers simply needed a high school diploma to get a good, high-paying factory job, today a high school diploma won’t even merit a call back on an application. As a result, the nation’s high schools and colleges are radically altering their vocational education programs to help students meet the increasingly more technical requirements of 21st Century employers. Businesses themselves are getting into the act, partnering with education to help steer courses and students.

Leaner, Flatter Management Structures

Technology will not only continue to allow companies to get more done with fewer workers, it will also allow them to flatten the organizational chart. Big Data and other innovations have helped businesses make more informed decisions. These innovations have also allowed them to make faster, more far-reaching decisions. This eliminates the need for many layers of management.

One major key to business success is getting to market before your competitors. The deeper the organizational chart, the slower a business moves. With a flatter, shallower org chart consisting of less management, decisions can be made quicker, with less deliberation. This makes a business nimbler and better able to respond to change in the marketplace. A company with a flat org chart can come up with innovations, devise new products and make adjustments with greater speed.

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