Trends come and go, though Crocs remain. But when it comes to small business trends, developments in tech, HR practices, and sustainability, among others, are perennial.
Yes, AI was all the rage in 2023, with no shortage of doomsday prophecies along with it, and it will remain a key focus. Meanwhile, here's a quick roundup of other relatively less-hyped developments on the small business horizon.
1. Cracking down on cybercrime.
Cybercriminals have SMBs in their crosshairs. A report from tech.co, reveals that small and medium-size firms fall prey to 82 percent of all hacking activity.
Cybercrime Magazine expects cyberattacks on businesses to cost $10.5 trillion by next year — a threefold increase since 2015. Among the victims of these crimes, small businesses are the most vulnerable. Among the many aftershocks of a cyberattack are loss of customer trust, decreased revenue, and in the worst cases, closure.
Consult this report by Bionic for tips on how to curb your cyberattack risk of cyberattacks.
2. Getting real with Virtual Reality.
Alongside the AI technology bombshell is the ever-evolving of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) space, also known as "phygital" experiences, in case you're looking for another buzzword. Much like the internet itself, VR and AR are potential levelers for small businesses looking to compete with bigger players in their categories, and also to interact with other businesses.
Zoom has had an outsized impact on business, since the pandemic drove us from our desks to the kitchen table. Now VR/AR is upping the be-anywhere-now ante, creating virtual business-to-business events, such as trade shows, conventions, and networking events. Imagine making dozens of contacts, without having to disrupt your workday routine — or deal with airports and other travel hassles. Or if you're an exhibitor, you can create a trade show "booth" to market your goods and services.
3. Improving the customer experience.
If you're a Main St. retailer getting nervous about talk of virtual stores and metaverses, here's some good news: Some customer experience experts foresee a renewed focus on in-person, in-store customer experiences. Sean Turner, Co-founder and CTO of Swiftly, a retail technology provider, cites the increasing fees and higher costs of online retail services as a key reason for consumers seeking "real-world" connections.
With this potential renewed interest in the brick-and-mortar comes increased expectations, says Nikki Baird, VP Strategy at Aptos, a retail tech provider, also quoted in the Forbes report. Customers who miss that personal, human touch online will come into a store looking for a better interpersonal experience — the kind of contact they can't get from a call center. With that in mind, the next trend on our list is all the more relevant.
4. Emphasizing human resources.
Humans, as we've mentioned, are still quite valuable. In fact, a recent report cites an emphasis on training employees in "soft skills:" Emotional intelligence, interpersonal communication problem solving, high-level strategizing, and thought leadership are essential talents for employees doing what bots still can't manage.
What's behind this renewed commitment to communication and leadership? The isolation spurred by the pandemic — especially among employees just starting their careers — has caused a breakdown in interpersonal communications savvy. And as described in Trend £2 above, a degree of online fatigue may put pressure on humans to be better than ever. In this vein, Indeed's list of workplace social skills tips may inspire you to "socialize" your workplace.
"Soft skills are often undervalued in the workplace, despite their crucial role in building connections and fostering empathy," says Deb Hughes, in a recent ADP Research Institute article. "Companies that prioritize, amplify and develop these skills in their workers will be the ones that thrive."
5. Raising your ESG consciousness.
Perhaps you've opted to create a more sustainable and socially responsible workplace. You've instituted specific hiring practices to ensure diversity and inclusion. You're doing your best to reduce your firm's carbon footprint by increasing remote work opportunities and buying from "green" suppliers. You're even destroying your computer hardware — everything from PCs to printers and external drives in a secure and environmentally friendly way.
That's great. But succeeding in environmental, social, and governance criteria (ESG) requires constant progress — and the stakes are high. Maintaining progressive ESG standards attracts employees — particularly younger ones — to your workplace. It also makes your business more appealing to ESG-focused customers. What's more, an emphasis on workplace ethics promotes employee satisfaction and increased productivity.
We hope you're as excited about this year and its opportunities as we are. Keep coming back for more trends and tips on managing your growing small business.
Did you know?
Ransomware attacks are vicious — and expensive for those that chose to meet ransom demands. In Q2 2023 the average ransom payment was $850,700*.
Source: Coveware, Q3 2023 report
*Fora Financial does not recommend this practice
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