Although we can’t predict what will happen in the future, we know that small businesses will have their fair share of challenges in the coming months. And while 2020 marks the beginning of a new decade filled with opportunity, businesses will still have to prepare themselves for any approaching trials, too.
With the help of business insiders, we’ll look toward some of the challenges the new year may bring, what they mean for small businesses across the country, and how they can take on these challenges in an effective, pro-active way.
With cyberattacks increasing, the need for the necessary security will be a big issue next year. And it’s not just large companies who are the target for hackers; they’re turning their attention to smaller businesses too. That means that their current security offerings may no longer cut it as attacks and hacks become more and more sophisticated.
Before falling victim to attacks, the worst of which can put new companies out of business within six months, small businesses must take the necessary steps to improve their cybersecurity as soon as possible.
How can small businesses tackle cybersecurity threats?
There are a number of small steps businesses can take to protect their operations from threats to their cybersecurity. From educating their employees on how to spot potential attacks, to safeguarding things like passwords, emails and important documents, the proper measures aren’t difficult, but they could prove incredibly effective.
In need of some direction? Be sure to check out our primer on cybersecurity fundamentals with Jonathan Whitley of WatchGuard right here.
“Consumers now expect as standard to know – or be able to find out – pretty much everything about the brands they engage with,” says Vanessa Woodfine, Managing Director of retail at Gobeyond Partners. “Certainly, today’s mindful consumer knows exactly what they want, and our retailers are going to have to work hard to fulfil that need.”
“In a survey of over 10,000 consumers from around the world, 78% of consumers said it is ‘somewhat or very important for a company to be transparent.’ And 70% said that ‘these days I make it a point to know more about the companies I buy from’.
Small businesses can use transparency to build trust with their customers. That might mean rethinking how they communicate with the public, but as Vanessa’s numbers have shown, customers appreciate honesty.
How can small businesses demonstrate transparency?
There are numerous ways that small businesses can increase their transparency in effective, positive ways. Firstly, an internal culture of trust amongst employees goes a long way, as it naturally comes to the fore in your business’ customer-facing situations.
When communicating with your customers in a transparent manner, timely responses with an open and honest approach are highly valued. Consider pricing and invoicing; customers don’t like to be confused or deceived so it pays to be straightforward about things such as pricing structures, how and when you offer deals, and how you’ll collect payments.
If you make a mistake, then it’s far better to communicate the error rather than attempting to conceal it, too. Let the customer know you’re working on remedying the mistake and stress that the problem won’t happen again. Additionally, frequent updates on changes within the company – good or bad – keeps customers informed and reassured, displaying a courtesy they’ll very much appreciate.
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Faster customer service
Interaction with customers is as quick and immediate as ever, but sometimes customer service can falter, turning off potential leads and reducing return customer numbers. The window of time that people expect a response from you can be very short. Businesses that are slow to respond can expect people to take their custom elsewhere.
How can small businesses improve customer service speed?
Active support channels allow businesses to answer inquiries and engage customers in a much quicker manner. Live chat, for example, can provide a customer or a potential lead with answers in real-time.
Elsewhere, small businesses should be fully leveraging their social media channels as a way to stay in touch with their customers. Additionally, it’s a good idea to match your customer service hours to the hours your customers are most likely to call. The genuine connections you make as a result not only improve your customer service but can boost the transparency we mentioned above too.
If your responses have suffered lately, then it’s worth noting what customers expect from you going into the new year.
An increase in remote workers
Whether it’s by choice or necessity, small businesses can certainly benefit from remote working. Helpful for both employer and employee alike, a workforce spread out across the country – or even the globe – is not without its challenges. Recent studies have shown that 73% of teams across the world will have remote workers in the next decade; so if working from home becomes the norm, small businesses will have to prepare themselves for a number of potential issues.
How can small businesses maximise the potential of a remote workforce?
The distance can make it feel as though not everyone is part of the team, creating issues with teamwork and productivity. If remote working is part of your business, the onus should be on using technology to overcome these challenges. However, it’s worth noting that face-to-face work is still going to be needed in certain circumstances.
Looking for more on how remote working can benefit your business and its employees? We delve into the topic in this handy guide here.
Automation replacing human workforce
Though automation will only affect a small percentage of jobs in the next couple of years, it’s predicted that within the next 10 to 15 years, that percentage will increase significantly. The challenge lies in whether your business welcomes autonomy, sticks with the human element of your workforce or synthesise the two. A combination of both could create a powerful system that puts you ahead of the competition, with autonomy taking over the repetitive tasks so your staff can focus their energies on the more essential business elements.
How can small businesses leverage automation?
The process of automation may seem like a costly endeavour if it’s something you haven’t considered before. Unfortunately, it’s not merely a case of “A costs less than B, therefore A is better”. The annual costs of automation could easily exceed an employee’s salary, but does not necessarily equate to a poor investment once you factor in the potential increase in productivity.
Businesses will have to assess its cost-effectiveness by considering the cost of automation tech, its maintenance, how productive it is likely to be and how many of the employees’ tasks it will take over.
As for the kinds of tasks automation can take care of, we’ve collected seven time-consuming duties small businesses must deal with here.
As we mentioned earlier, we can’t predict the future entirely, and a large question mark looms in the form of Brexit. Keith Humble, Managing Director of Linthorpe Beds expands: “With regards to that, if the worst forecasts come true and trade does become difficult, then the challenge will obviously be to maintain and grow our market share in difficult trading conditions. We can do this by continuing our positive outlook, having even greater determination to gain sales, holding our nerve when it comes to maintaining our prices, and supporting our suppliers that aren’t doing so well by buying more from them.”
How can small businesses prepare for Brexit?
The uncertain political climate is sure to be a challenge for small businesses, leading to fluctuations in the economy that can affect things like consumer spending. Right now, all small businesses can really do is stay up to date with political changes and react accordingly. This will allow you to plan for the future in the proper manner.
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