Everyone’s talking about megatrends. Read a newspaper, go online, or make small-talk at a cocktail party, and you’ll hear about AI.machine intelligence, cryptocurrencies, blockchain, megadata, or some other world-changing movements.
While there is no question that any or all of these things will affect our lives in the longer term (include global uncertainty, refugee resettlement, election of alt-right governments) many other changes will have a more immediate and more direct effect on our small business clients.
We are in the midst of the fastest flow of technology adoption and societal change in history. Instant communication renders the gap between yesterday’s predictions and tomorrow’s guesses ever wider. Articles gathered last year are sadly out of date as I prepare for this piece. Out of the maelstrom of prognostications based on wisdom, and those that are so far-fetched they might have been taken from the entrails of sheep, here are a few that are genuinely foreseeable, if not controllable, that we can use in our work with entrepreneurs:
Direct-to-consumer sales – Opening a retail store? Do have an online presence, and make sure that your bricks and mortar side promises and delivers a niche or for your customers that digital just can’t replicate. Everything is on the block; modern retail marketing requires multi-channel expression. Products from food to furniture, and every product and service in-between, are seeing increased online presence. Not only is the competition single websites from sellers anywhere in the world, but also enterprise marketplaces like Etsy, Amazon and Ebay which deliver products to your customer from millions of online marketplace sellers.
Crowdfunding – Marketing and fundraising based on community building is a growing trend that provides alternative financing to many new product launches. Entrepreneurs are using this method not only to fund ideas that might not yet have traction with traditional lenders, but also to build future customer connections. Over $34 billion has been raised globally using crowdfunding vehicles to date. The advantage, naturally, is proof-of-concept for next stage financing without a major outlay of capital. As well, crowdfunding purchasers can provide excellent feedback for improved product development.
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, today’s 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. Freelancers will need a host of services to support them: financial and marketing management; legal and accounting services; coaching and mentoring; networking and connection alternatives; and services that support their special transportation and communication needs. This more flexible work enables younger workers to gain experience and older workers to remain longer in the workforce.
These are only a few of the many trends affecting small businesses. Others that require consideration by startups or those expanding their business include: collaboration across industries; environment and sustainability practices; use of video and augmented reality; Internet of Things that ties our tech wherever we go; diversity and cultural intersectionality; urbanization; labour displacement and increased (voluntary or involuntary) leisure; up-scaled CRM; privacy and data protection; and social media as sales vehicle.
While many of these trends appear threatening, there is an upside. We see the development of trust as a business currency, increased productivity, increased training programs for work advancement, a more empowered consumer, and greater globalization and trade. Most importantly, the global focus on women entrepreneurs will be an economic generator enabling greater male/female parity in the years to come.