Small business owners are gearing up for what they hope will be another banner year for them.
Fueling optimism are several trends that owners would be wise to understand so that they can further bolster their businesses in 2019.
These trends mostly relate to emerging technology. And while all the rage in previous years has been on the newly developed Blockchain technology, there are several other areas that are just as beneficial to small businesses.
Here, we’ll go over five of the trends that small business owners should take notice of this year.
Here’s a breakdown of its findings about emerging technology.
The non-human personal assistant
As a small business owner, you may not be an expert in using all the technology that large companies are implementing in their operations. IT, and the like, is likely not your specialty unless you’re in the tech industry.
Taking the time to understand all that is available thanks to technological advances may take you away from running your business, but you may find it to be worth it. Also, you may find that it’s not as difficult as you may think, and dread.
Emerging technologies is one of the trends you should at least become familiar with because of the ways operating businesses are evolving.
SmallBizTrends.com found that the top gadget that business operators see as most impacting them are virtual assistants.
This trend isn’t that surprising considering the void these gadgets are filling. Small business owners often must rely solely on themselves only to do most of the tasks that running a business entails. They usually do not have the luxury of being able to hire secretaries or assistants to help them stay organized. Such duties squarely fall on their shoulders.
Blackberries, Palm Pilots and other personal digital assistants (PDAs) used to do the trick, but technology advancements have made them obsolete. These advancements gave birth to these virtual assistants, which are proving to be valuable to small business owners. What’s more, those owners who work from their homes are finding the devices to be helpful in their personal lives as well.
Among the first virtual assistants on the scene were Amazon’s Echo devices and Google’s home devices. While Amazon’s Echo devices have “Alexa” answering questions, Google’s devices have an unnamed male or female doing the work.
No matter, they both can do everything from set reminders and alert the user about what’s on their daily schedules to play favorite tunes.
The sales growth of these devices has been astronomical. Amazon recently announced they had sold more than 100 million Echo devices, and analyst estimates say Google has sold about 50 million Google Home devices, according to SmallBizTrends.
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The machines and talent
Another trend that small business owners should take into account this year relates to artificial intelligence (AI) and how it is affecting the labor market. Small business owners, like their larger counterparts, are struggling to find quality talent to fill positions.
A trend that is expected to gain more traction this year relates to how machines are increasingly being used to do the jobs of humans.
The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) highlighted the challenges small business owners have in finding suitable talent. In November, it released a report noting that 38% of all owners said they had job openings they could not fill in November. This percentage equaled September’s record high. Also, 60% of owners reported hiring or trying to hire, with 88% of them saying few or no qualified applicants for the positions they were trying to fill.
NFIB President and CEO Juanita Duggan said:
“As we’ve seen for months, small business owners continue to be large job creators for Americans in today’s economy. Instead of worrying about costly regulations and high taxes, finding workers to sustain growth is the top concern.”
When asked what was their ‘Single Most Important Business Problem,’ nearly a quarter of owners cited the difficulty of finding qualified workers in October, according to the NFIB. This sentiment mirrors a top problem larger companies are wrestling to solve. For many, the option is taking advantage of technology advancements such as AI. In an interview with 60 Minutes, AI enthusiast and venture capitalist Kai-Fu Lee said 40% of the world’s jobs could be done by machines as soon as 15 years from now.
AI, data collection and analysis
Small business owners often operate on shoestring budgets. This issue can handicap them in running effective marketing and advertising campaigns. They may be able to get the word out about their businesses, but they run into problems accurately analyzing collected data.
This is where AI can be useful, and its implementation in business is another trend small business owners should be aware of this year. Business.com points out AI is indispensable for large companies that have access to large quantities of consumer data. However, it’s also valuable to small business owners who want to get the most out of the often limited amounts of data they collect.
According to Business.com, advanced techniques, such as statistical regression analysis, which can entail hiring analytics firms or even full-time data scientists. Clearly, such hires are impossible for most small business owners to make. AI makes affordable.
Consider this from Business.com: When small businesses have access to sophisticated statistical tools, they can learn more about their customers and discover new ones.
AI can help small businesses better compete with large companies for talents. Large companies can benefit from their name recognition, huge networks, and more resources to throw at job seekers, states Business.com. When coupled with well-equipped HR departments, small business owners find themselves at huge disadvantages in attracting top talent.
AI can equalize this through such tools as machine learning algorithms. These can help you make determine things like which past hiring practices were the most effective. Some of these AI applications can even “learn” what types of communication will appeal to specific candidates, discover solid leads in surprising places, and inform recruiters about the details of a candidate’s work history and his or her fit for a particular role, according to Business.com.
Protecting against cyber attacks
There’s not a day that should go by that a small business owner should not be thinking about cyber attacks. Predators’ victims run the gamut from individuals to large companies. Small business owners should not think they are immune.
This is one of the reasons that cybersecurity will continue to be a trending issue for small business owners in 2019. Observers say smaller businesses are attacked more often than their larger counterparts. Furthermore, the effects are often more severe for them.
In fact, the National Cyber Security Alliance found that 70% of cyber attacks are focused on small business. To SmallBizTrends.com, Kiersten Todt, Managing Director of the Cyber Readiness Institute, said smaller businesses don’t always have knowledge, tools or resources to combat these attacks.
She lauded a new free cyber security program put together with the help of big business that could benefit small businesses.
Todt said that this year, the institute will focus on distributing the program to small businesses. The goal is to evaluate whether the program is having an impact on the cybersecurity of small businesses, and global value chains.
“Because of the interdependent nature of global business today, businesses of all sizes remain at a significant risk if even one of their partners becomes vulnerable to an attack.”
Lastly, there is Blockchain. The technology that underpins Bitcoin and other cryptos is another trend that should take further root this year. Small business owners stand to gain from it helping them with everything from their supply chains to creating legal agreements.
For example, smart contracts are fully automated, eliminating any delay in having legal agreements signed, scanned and sent out. Also, notary services can be faster and easier to access through apps that notarize digitally, according to Ed Sappin of Sappin Global Strategies.
Here are some other innovative ways that small business owners are expected to continue to use Blockchain this year. To:
- raise capital
- authenticate supply chains
- streamline employee verification
As you see, trends for the small business space are largely rooted in technological advances. Whether you are novice, or an expert in the space, it behooves you to learn about how these trends can benefit your business.