What startups and small businesses must do in 2021: respond, adapt, implement

If 2020 was a year of disruption and transition for businesses, 2021 will be the year of continued evolution. Here are some of the emerging trends likely to underscore business gains for small enterprises and entrepreneurs.

To say the year 2020 was full of uncertainties is an understatement. 

With COVID-19 dominating most aspects of our lives, it was a difficult year for everyone, but especially for small businesses locally and around the world. However, with each challenge comes an opportunity. Companies with pre-established systems in place were quicker in leveraging technology and digital adoption, whereas several other small businesses and startups rose to the occasion and understood the significance of technology-enabled solutions necessary to survive in the post-COVID era.

As we embrace the new normal, micro and small businesses will have to be cognizant of the upcoming challenges, uncertainties, and consumer patterns that lie ahead to stay afloat and succeed in moving forward. 

If 2020 was a year of disruption and transition for businesses, 2021 will be the year of continued evolution. Here are some of the emerging trends that will underscore business gains for small enterprises and entrepreneurs in the coming future. 

Increase in ‘Phygital’ experiences

Phygital marries both ecommerce and a brick-and-mortar environment together to bring the best of both worlds. This approach can be the way to satisfy a demanding, hyper-connected consumer, and meet their needs through the use of multiple platforms on an integrated basis. 

Last year made it clear that having a mix of online and social presence for businesses of all sizes is most useful to engage with customers and drive continued activity and engagement with customers for growth recovery.  As digital commerce continues to grow into 2021, brands will have to adapt to social media platforms with new rules for driving business success. 

The GoDaddy Global Entrepreneurship Survey in 2020 found that during the national lockdown, due to COVID-19, 53 percent of participants said they would focus on accelerating their online and social selling capabilities. Yet, despite so much purchasing being online and on social media, customers sometimes still miss the physical purchasing experience. Therefore the trend of connecting the online and offline world or a “phygital experience” is catching momentum. The key here is that your customers have a consistent and positive with your brand while visiting both your online and offline presences.

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Importance of ecommerce 

The pandemic has operated as a catalyst and developed a long-term trend with digital technology playing a significant role in the supply chain evolution. With a decrease in in-person services and change in the preferred mode of communications, customer behaviour and purchase habits have changed considerably. While they will continue to evolve, the upsurge in digital services is here to stay and expected to materialise further. The past year of turbulence and uncertainty suggests that ecommerce is no longer a ‘perk-to-have’, but vital to a small business’ survival. The concept of virtual showrooms, online shopping, and telehealth will accelerate tremendously. Tech-enabled logistic teams will understand the value proposition of being online to meet customer expectations.  

Rise of online learning 

Education was another aspect that completely transformed over the past year. Students were forced into homeschooling with daily online classes. Traditional in-person education classes turned into online classes to continue teaching and learning.  Online classes have allowed people of all ages to learn at their own pace, without inhibitions, and without compromising on other responsibilities. Many organisations and brands have facilitated e-learning programmes and other upskilling and training courses for their employees to help them stay abreast of the changing world around them.  

Remote working – the new normal  

According to a study commissioned by Atlassian and conducted by Australian research agency PaperGiant, about 83 percent employees in India are still nervous about going back to the office despite the vaccine now being available. Additionally, it reports that Indian employees are more likely to want to work completely from home (66 percent) than in any other country surveyed.

The global pandemic has clearly changed the culture of organisations. Businesses adapted quickly to the new normal working styles and leveraged technology to create a work-from-home friendly infrastructure. Solo entrepreneurs, startups, and other small businesses that wish to hire employees in the future should be cognisant of employee welfare. Just providing necessary infrastructure may not be sufficient.

A definite change in processes will be crucial to sustaining ongoing business operations. With the gig economy re-emerging as a workplace trend, companies may have to reconsider their current HR policies and add more flexible working options, part-time and contract-based working options for their employees. Similarly, employees need to adapt to the new working set-ups and use video-conferencing tools on a longer-term basis. IT support will continue to be the backbone and priority for smooth and efficient functioning for work-from-home employees. 

Increased focus on employee wellness

With the continual concerns of an uncertain future, the pandemic took a toll on people’s mental health, causing a spike in anxiety and stress levels. We expect that in 2021, employee wellbeing will be an important point for businesses, with leaders systematically working towards creating wellness strategies and programmes that are holistic, inclusive, and create value for all employees.

What all these trends have in common is a ray of optimism that will help in the uplift of society by bringing life to flexible working hours, increasing job satisfaction, and leading to high employee retention. Small businesses and emerging entrepreneurs that are on the verge of starting their business should consider these emerging trends, while being flexible and identifying their own avenues of success in this new normal environment. 

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