What Does the Future Hold for Small Businesses?

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What Does the Future Hold for Small Businesses?

Working from home and data are set to transform small businesses and SME owners need to prepare to remain ahead of the trends.

According to futurist Andrew Grill, the future of small business is set to be local, personal, and all about data.

Grill, who has previously worked with Nike, the British government, and Nestle, has commented: “It’s about being local – harnessing the power of the community – understanding the power of data, and personalisation, making things individual or even just redecorating your home.”

“If you can get those three things right, there’s a lot of opportunity for a lot of small businesses.”

In some good news, there may never have been a better time to be the owner of a small business.

According to a survey completed by Vistaprint, over 66% of Brits believe the Covid-19 outbreak has highlighted the importance of small business to our society and economy.

41% of the survey participants said they would pay extra for coffee or lunch if it meant they were supporting a small business. Whilst 63 per cent would pay more in an effort to help their local economy.

Grill, who is a former IBM Global manager partner turned sought-after futurologist, has said that the pandemic has accelerated these trends by around two or three years.

To show the rapid speed of change, Grill looked back at 2018, when only one third of small businesses had a website, as they were still reliant on local footfall.

“But if you have an online presence, you don’t have to stay local. You can grow your presence beyond your local area,” comments Grill.

Due to an increased number of people working from home, fresh life has been injected back into local communities. With fewer people leaving their village, there have been in a rise in opportunities for more independent shops on the high street.

The Vistaprint survey found that a butcher is regarded as the most highly prized local asset (37 per cent), followed by a bakery (36 per cent) and then coffee shops (32 per cent).

In the future, supermarkets on the high street may end up sharing space with independent stores, as they will require less shelf space due to the increase in popularity of online shopping.

Grill says: “Working from home, you’re going to be spending more time in your local area, which is going to be good for small businesses because of increased footfall.”

Due to the new working-from-home reality, we can expect to see opportunities for local co-working spaces, as just because people are working from home, they don’t necessarily want to spend all their time at the kitchen table.

Grill has also predicted that we are set to see a boom in the number of start-ups, as due to the increased number of people working from home, people have more time to invest in their passion projects. It is also possible that many side-hustles could become full-time hustles.

The Vistaprint survey also found that just under one-third of respondents have plans to start their own small business in the next few years, and 11 per cent of those surveyed said the pandemic had accelerated these aspirations.

Grill believes that small businesses that will see the most success in the next few years will be those which harness the wealth of data available to them. This doesn’t necessarily need to be a complicated process and could simply involve a shop reacting to customer footfall in a more sophisticated way than just recording the number of customers crossing over their threshold.

Small businesses also have the advantage of personal service over bigger competitors, as they can create their own communities. However, the other side of this is that small businesses must be able to match the same level of customer service that national brands offer through their apps and online services.

Grill has highlighted five areas, where we can expect to see the future of small business changing:

1. Fitness

Data collected on this industry has suggested that there is an opportunity for fitness trainers and beauty therapist to create personalised fitness plans and beauty regimes. For example, wearable fitness technology, such as Fitbits, mean that personal trainers can develop more individualised training plans.

Grill says: “There’s a whole SME opportunity for people who are practitioners in this space, analysing the data from health devices can help wellbeing. Those practitioners who become more digitally curious and investigate what data is available are going to be one step ahead.”

2. Creatives and Makers

3D printing is going to be incredibly beneficial for creatives, as they will be able to print objects on demand.

3. Home Improvement

Over the next few years, 3D technology should be able to allow hardware stores to provide services to print-on-demand instore and provide complete custom design capability.

4. Wellness

Many have already embraced using wearable physical fitness trackers, so we are set to see wearables for mental health become available.

5. Restaurants and Cafes

We are likely to see a more automated process in restaurants and cafes, where customers can use apps to order food and drinks directly to their tables. The challenge with this is that we need to ensure such platforms are suitable for small businesses.

However, it is worth considering the PwC report which has predicted that nearly one-third of UK jobs at risk of automation may have been replaced by AI by 2040.

In response to this, Grill has pointed out that this will simply be the fourth industrial revolution. It is likely that currently unimaginable jobs will be created. For example, a decade ago no one would have predicted that search engine optimisation would become such a highly desired skill.

People need to start preparing for this digital, data-led future.

“I would encourage people to be more digitally curious,” Grill said. “Data and digital technology are here to stay. There’s an opportunity for small businesses to offer digital retraining.”

“Small businesses are really going to thrive post-pandemic because they offer something different. They’re being started by entrepreneurs who want to offer something to the local community. They’re going to be started by entrepreneurs who have passion and that’s the sort of service you don’t require tech for.”

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