The impact of the COVID pandemic spared no one, but it hit small businesses particularly hard.
Around the world, it pushed entrepreneurs to innovate beyond what they'd expected. And I'm sure you too had to switch things up immensely.
Survival was key for the first few months of the pandemic. Companies had no choice but to evolve and transition all the while still assuring their customers that they were here to stay.
New initiatives like adapting digital innovations for remote work have become a necessity. Leaders had to refine operations to ensure that they will still drive the same efficiency despite being in lockdown.
And while 2020 was a year that disrupted much of what we had been used to, 2021 is all about continued evolution. Even if some governments are now easing restrictions, work won't ever go back to how it used to be.
The business environment has changed, and it's now up to you how you ride this wave of change.
What other strategies are you planning to implement to improve your day-to-day activities? How are you trying to bounce back after months in lockdown? What else in your business model needs change for you to adapt to the highly digital landscape of business?
In this article, I will explain the small business trends you need to adopt in 2021. Now is the time to take action and refine your internal strategies so you can succeed in this fast-changing market.
"Remote work" refers to any work you do that doesn't require you to come into an office. It means you can work from home, a co-working space, or even from a coffee shop. And some remote workers even enjoy flexible hours, where they don't need to work on a fixed eight-hour schedule.
Remote work was one of the immediate shifts in business in 2020. Many companies who had never implemented it for their employees were forced to develop a system fast.
In 2013, a study involving Chinese travel agency Trip Group and Nicholas Bloom, a professor at Stanford University tracked the productivity of their employees when working from home. They divided 1,000 employees into two teams based on their birth dates. Those born on even days got to work from home four out of five weekdays for nine months. Those born on odd days remained in the office all day long.
The results showed that workers were 13% more productive at home for two reasons. First, because there were less distractions at home, employees could squeeze in more tasks into their day. Second, they accomplished more because they were not commuting, shortening lunch breaks, and taking less sick days.
In 2021, remote work has become the norm despite many businesses having to adapt to it swiftly. It still tends to be a challenge when it comes to collaborating and communicating with team members, but it is a chance for companies to reinvest money back into the business. Because they’re closing their offices and going remote, they can use the money for upgrading various software or increasing digital marketing.
With the end of COVID still uncertain and many governments reinstating lockdowns in early 2021, up to 82% of business leaders say their organisations plan to let employees continue to work from home at least some of the time, while 47% plan to allow employees to do so permanently.
Remote work is here to stay, and it’s leading to intricate, hybrid workforces that are more effective and productive.
Business automation is the use of technology to reduce the amount of recurring, manual tasks or processes in a business. It's done to minimise costs, increase efficiency, and streamline processes.
Because of remote working, companies are revisiting their organisational structures and shifting employees to other roles where they can be of more value. Then, they're automating the tasks that these people were doing.
Automation opens doors for companies to focus on core processes and avoid human error. Digital solutions prevent costly errors in key areas of a business like finance, customer service, and HR.
For example, automated customer service with the help of AI chatbots can replace human agents who have to constantly answer phone calls. With automation, they can focus on more complex tasks.
For e-commerce businesses, accounting automation uses software to send secure invoices and transactions. It will also act as the point-of-sale, collecting cashless payments for faster checkout.
Other functions like scheduled social media posts and canned email responses are examples of automation at work. You're probably even using them already. But in 2021, it's time to ask what else you can do to improve operations and optimise efficiency.
In July 2020, a national campaign called "Go Local First" encouraged the support of Australia's small businesses. Funded by the Federal Government and led by the Council of Small Business Organisation Australia, the campaign aims to help the small business sector get back on its feet.
This is one of many efforts to bring focus back on supporting the local economy. When a purchase is made at a local business, money stays in the community rather than going to a nationally (or internationally) owned business.
And with many people supporting these movements, it's time to look at how prepared you are to draw in local customers and deliver a memorable experience for them. For small businesses in 2021, efforts should be poured into winning over the local community.
As a small business, you want to focus your growth by reaching out to your local community. You have the chance to personalise the encounter your audience will have with your brand.
Truth is, even though you're focusing on targeting your area, you're still in for some competition. To succeed in this space, you need to ensure you're set up to draw people in. So, work on dominating your local SEO by making yourself seen on Google. This means setting up your location on Google Maps, optimising your website and social media, and gathering reviews from your customers.
Flexible work arrangements were once looked down on by business leaders. They believed that if everyone worked the same hours and in the same place, they would be more productive.
But work flexibility has been proven to improve employee wellness, increase engagement between employees, and reduce stress levels. It will remain paramount in 2021 to allow customised work schedules for staff members to increase productivity.
The benefits of flexible work arrangements are encouraging many businesses to outsource roles.
Outsourcing is a powerful strategy that expands hiring to a global landscape by attracting top talent from all over the world.
By hiring talented individuals who are perfect fits for the roles you are trying to fill, regardless of where they are from, your workforce will turn into a more globalised unit. As a result, you can expect more diversity in your company culture.
They’ll get to work at their preferred hours and in their own office style while delivering quality results when you need it. With most tools that small businesses use available overseas, such as invoicing systems and CRMs, things can be done at any time with little disruption. This year, it might just be time for you to implement work flexibility within your team to accommodate finding an engaged staff to bring in success.
At the end of the day, you’re investing in your people, and if you can give them the opportunity to be at their best each day, they will repay you with the excellent work they can do.
Purpose resonates strongly with people, and they want to work for companies that are committed to their purpose. Somehow, the effects of COVID left many entrepreneurs questioning the purpose of their business.
As a business coach, I've seen many leaders struggle to articulate their purpose. And in the post-COVID era, it's become much harder to find it.
But my advice is this: the best way to find your purpose is to not intellectualise it too much.
That's where it differs from your company vision. While that talks about what you aspire to be in the future, your purpose is something you feel your way into each day. You need to take one step at a time, figuring out what works and what doesn't.
The vision keeps you aligned to the goals you're trying to achieve, but purpose keeps you focused on why you exist in the first place.
And purpose is often connected to how your company functions in society. People are looking at the social impact of a brand. They look for charitable causes to partner with or an environmental advocacy in how they operate.
When people see your purpose, beyond selling or marketing or promoting, they begin to empathise with your brand. And that's what's going to create faster growth in 2021. No one wants to work for or partner with a brand that has no purpose. Instead, they'll commit more when they know that their efforts lead to something greater.
The workplace is evolving fast, and the best way to stay on top is by embracing change and making it work for you. These business trends may take a while to adjust to, but its rewards are well-worth it. At the end of the day, it's important to have a healthy and effective working environment for your staff to impact your overall business revenue.
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