The small business world is fast-moving and continually evolving, thanks to start-ups and fresh thinkers disrupting industries and sectors. To navigate this ever-changing landscape, small businesses have to be aware of new trends and reactive to the demands of their customers and their team, ensuring they don’t fall behind the competition.
Part of the role of a successful small business manager is staying ahead of the curve and keeping up-to-date with upcoming business trends. To help you stay informed, and to provide a few hints and tips for the coming year, we’ve asked a series of small business experts for their predictions for the trends to look out for in 2019. This is what they had to say.
A flexible approach to payday
The rise of the payday loan demonstrates that more and more professionals in the UK are struggling to manage their personal cash flow without the help of an extra cash injection before payday. Sadly, this is not a long-term solution and is one that can have a negative effect on the individual seeking the loan.
Rob o’Donovan, co-founder and CEO of small business HR software provider, CharlieHR, suggests a far more beneficial alternative may be increasingly popular in 2019:
“Managing personal cash flow can be difficult, and a number of new financial wellbeing products have arrived to save the day – such as Wagestream, backed by Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates – to enable employees to get access to wages they’ve already “earned” without having to wait until the end of the month. I expect that models like this will become increasingly adopted throughout 2019.”
Rise of the chatbot
The online shopping experience is growing more comprehensive and complete with every passing year. Functionality such as same-day delivery, try-before-you-buy and endless personalisation options are providing extra value for online customers. The customer service aspect of online shopping is set for an overhaul in 2019, according to Ben M Roberts, head of marketing at tech start-up Talkative.
“A trend that will continue to gather pace, and become increasingly important for small businesses will be the use of instant customer communications. This could either be in the form of live web chat or a chatbot. “Customers are increasingly wanting quick and accurate answers to their queries, and are becoming fickler about their experience when dealing with companies. Businesses will increasingly have to adapt to this. This is where live web chats and chatbots will help. When implemented properly, they will allow the small businesses to be able to provide quick, accurate and personalised replies to each customer interaction.
“The days of email communication between customers and businesses are dying. We are entering the age of live conversations.”
Lena Gore, co-owner and Sales & Marketing Director of Find Me A Gift, suggests there is a relatively easy and low-cost buy-in for small businesses looking to implement chatbot technology:
“As more consumers embrace instant messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, small businesses can embrace these platforms to talk to customers instantly. For instance, if a shopper wants to track their order, they can just ‘ask’ the retailer on Messenger, and a chatbot can automatically retrieve the shipment information. This technology is increasingly accessible to small businesses.”
Another aspect of the online shopping experience set to change is the actual customer journey. Social media is widely seen as a great customer acquisition tool – grabbing the attention of potential customers and directing them to a brochure or sales platform. However, ecommerce specialists are creating ways to streamline this process, and Patrick Tonks, Creative Director at Great Bean Bags, believes this will be increasingly important in 2019:
“We expect more direct purchasing options to become available, encouraging customers to 'buy now' whilst they scroll through their feed. Instagram has made leaps into this technology allowing users to tap to discover items featured in the image, but we can see this being taken much further and hopefully allowing businesses more avenues to reach customers.
“This will help to keep the purchase journey to the smallest number of steps as possible, making buying a new product as simple as liking the ad in the first place.”
Ian Blackburn, MD of Hidepark thinks this will go one step further – with virtual reality taking a starring role in the buying process.
“The challenge over the next 12 months could be the gap larger retailers are able to create with the use of AR and VR technology. It won’t be long before you’re able to virtually try on clothes with your phone camera, much like you can now do with glasses. With increased demand for AR, however, there will be easier and cheaper options for smaller retailers, it just may take some time to utilise this technology across all sizes of business.”
Nomadic business approach
Flexible working is continuing to grow in importance and prominence, and Craig Pannazzo of Gazeboshop believes this will intensify in 2019 – to the extent many businesses will move on from having a permanent location for their employees: “The demand for flexible working has soared in popularity this year. Many job seekers now prioritise a positive work-life balance and flexible work over other aspects of a company.
“In light of a lack of flexibility in some established workplaces, many entrepreneurs have taken a ‘nomad’ route to run a business with no permanent location, such as an office or shop. This is supported by flexible technology, and it comes as no surprise as the cloud tech market is set to be worth $116 billion by 2021, making it easier than ever to run a business without a physical premise.”
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Improved and impartial hiring processes
Another prediction from Rob o’Donovan of CharlieHR suggests that small businesses will have greater access to hiring processes that remove bias:
“For all the progress of 2018 in raising awareness around diversity issues, it’s 2019’s job to go some way to solving the problem. Tech platforms will take centre stage in enabling a more widespread practice of ‘blind hiring’ – where all personal and demographic information is removed so candidates are assessed on ability alone, helping to mitigate any potential bias in the early stages of the candidate pipeline.”
With all the predictions, and the many more changes to the small business world due to emerge in 2019, it is certainly an exciting time to own and run an SME in the UK. We hope this guide has helped shed a little light on the trends and changes which could help your business during the next 12 months and beyond.
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The views, opinions and positions expressed within this article are those of our third-party content providers alone and do not represent those of Gazprom Energy. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. Gazprom Energy accepts no liability for any errors, omissions or representations.
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