It’s safe to say the past decade hasn’t been a smooth ride for SMEs. During the first half of the 2010s, the nation was still busy recovering from the aftermath of the 2008 financial crash, while the last few years have been dominated by Brexit and the economic uncertainty it has brought with it.
As we enter the new ‘roaring 20s’, many SME owners will be looking to future-proof their business by capitalising on both existing and emerging technologies, and social trends. But what are the key things SME owners need to be focusing on if they want to get ahead of the game?
Here, Opus Energy has shared their thoughts on where SMEs need to focus their time and efforts in 2020.
The green revolution
Thanks to international legislation such as the Paris Climate Agreement, and the rise of campaigners such as Greta Thunberg, we’ve seen a profound shift in the public consciousness towards sustainability and the importance of practising sustainable behaviour in our day-to-day lives. With the newly elected government pledging to go net zero on emissions by 2050, now more than ever the responsibility to achieve this sits with each of us.
This will become increasingly important for small businesses in the next decade as consumers start to choose what products and services they buy based on a company’s reputation and CSR policy.
Making just a few changes to your office, routines or even your suppliers will ultimately work in your favour. Reducing your environmental impact and becoming more sustainable will lower the emissions you put into the atmosphere and help to develop your company or business as a brand that is taking a stand for a more sustainable future.
The ‘socially shareable’ business
As social media platforms like Instagram and Snapchat continue to deepen their hold on our lives, the ways in which we choose to spend our money are rapidly changing. People are increasingly more likely to find out about a product or service through social media, and those who decide to put their money behind it are probably doing so because they’ve seen someone in their network posting about it online. For example, more than 40% of digital consumers now use social networks to research new brands or products, and 72% say they trust a company more after it has been recommended by an influencer.
This means that small businesses not only need to up their social media presence in 2020 to raise brand awareness and attract new customers, but they also need encourage more people to post and share content about their brand online. A recent study by American Express Shop Small revealed that many small businesses have already cottoned on to this, with 40% having made changes to their business to make it look more appealing on social media. The study also found that 30% of small businesses have added signage asking shoppers to tag on social media, while 34% are adapting lighting to make spaces easier to photograph.
While not every small business will have a physical product or store that customers can take a snap of, the continuing rise of social media’s influence will require SME owners to rethink how they visually present their products and services, both online and in real life, to optimise the potential for them to be socially shareable.
User reviews are here to stay
For many small businesses who might be starting out, the available marketing spend is likely to be limited, so it’s important to see customer reviews as a visible outlet for potential customers. User reviews have a massive impact on our buying behaviour – seeing previous feedback from another person about their experience of a product or service makes us more comfortable when making a purchase.
With 92% of people saying they hesitate to make a purchase when there are no reviews, encouraging your customers to leave a review has become an essential part of doing business, and a great way for SMEs to amplify their wares. Customers also appreciate authenticity and a ‘human’ touch, so choosing to respond to feedback where possible can go a long way in strengthening your company brand. It can be time consuming, but often well worth the investment.
AR and VR are no longer an abstract concept
Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are becoming more commonplace within SMEs as tools to enhance the customer experience, as well as design and test new products. AR works by adding a digital layer to devices reading the real world, and is currently being utilised by small companies in a number of innovative ways. For example, retail stores are using AR to let customers try on clothes and accessories from home through 3D animation, while gyms may use AR to show customers how they could look in six weeks’ time.
By contrast, virtual reality is a fully immersive technology which allows users to enter into an entirely visualised 3D space. This can be hugely beneficial to small companies, as it makes prototyping far more affordable, allowing them to design and test out new products without many of the risks and costs normally involved.
Looking forward to the next decade, business owners need to look at how technology can add a new layer to their business, especially sectors such as gaming, retail, education, healthcare, and various industrial fields. Whilst both AR and VR can seem expensive upfront, the customer experience and revenue can make all the difference.
Remote working is the new norm
As a small business, one of the biggest costs you’re likely to incur is your infrastructure and space. After all, office or retail space doesn’t come cheap – but businesses need space to grow. This is one of the main reasons why remote working is on the up, with reports estimating that by 2020, 50% of the UK workforce will be operating remotely, resulting in much smaller workspaces. So, if cash flow is tight, employees can make use of the streams of tech and apps that make these working situations possible.
Employee happiness is everything
This might feel like an obvious one, but you’d be surprised at how many small business owners still think salary alone is enough to keep their employees happy. Now more than ever, employee wellbeing is a top priority for potential recruits. Increasingly, employees want to feel they are making a difference in their role and contributing towards the success of the business.
Employee happiness is also crucial from a business perspective. Research from the University of Oxford has found that there is a conclusive link between an employee’s happiness level and their productivity, with happy workers being up to 13% more productive.
Therefore, small companies should think about making changes where possible to ensure your team feels motivated and positive. Enhancing and continuously working on your company’s culture will boost morale and engagement, and crucially, help you retain top employees and attract new hires.