Nowadays, consumers have an ever-increasing variety of choice, which means businesses need to stay ahead of the curve.
This is even more the case for startups and small businesses, who are more likely to be negatively affected by a few months of poor performance.
So here is a guide to the most likely trends that will affect small businesses in 2019, no matter what industry they’re in.
1) Heavier investment in data security
Small businesses are likely to invest more heavily in cyber security in 2019. This year has witnessed a string of high-profile data breaches, from Facebook to HSBC, the results of which have been lawsuits and fines.
A recent report published by Beaming found that UK businesses are attacked online every 2.5 minutes, with the average firm suffering from 52,596 cyber attacks between April and June 2018. These numbers are even more worrying for small businesses.
Entrepreneurs who want to ensure their growth continues into the coming years will have to invest in cybersecurity training and potentially in-house data security experts to detect and combat threats to their systems.
Teaching staff about the importance of keeping desks clear of private information and destroying documents with bank details or payroll information in a secure manner will help significantly reduce the risk. Likewise, employing a specialist to perform regular penetration tests on your systems will help identify potential cracks and mitigate attacks.
2) Greater focus on wellness at work
In addition to prioritising cyber security, startups will need to focus on how promoting wellbeing, both for current employees and potential new recruits. A survey conducted by Moorepay found that 71% of small to medium-sized firms had seen their profitability be affected by people not coming into work due to stress, low-morale and mental illness.
With smaller companies so reliant on every employee performing at their best, entrepreneurs should look to combat this trend by finding ways to better nurture the wellbeing of their staff.
Flexible working, whereby employees have a greater say over when and where they work, is an increasingly popular working arrangement in many small businesses. Employees who previously felt overworked and bitter about their poor work-life balance have seen their mood improve due to having more agency over their working hours.
In fact, a recent YouGov survey found only 6% of UK employees now work 9-5, while the Heartland Monitor Poll found that 67% of US workers would choose more flexibility and shorter hours, but less pay.
Employees want a better work-life balance, and SMEs will have to cater to these demands to retain and hire the best talent for their workforce.
3) Implementing sustainable practices
Small businesses will no longer be able to afford to neglect sustainability in 2019 – and nor should they. Incorporating sustainability is good for business, according to a report published by the CPD which found that companies who demonstrated business leadership on climate change made more profits than companies who did not.
Millennials are especially more likely to buy from companies that promote green initiatives, as they see the actions of businesses as crucial to combating climate change and other global problems.
SMEs are in a particularly good position to implement sustainable practices, as being smaller means less bureaucracy and less of a dependence on existing energy solutions. Simply switching off electronic devices at the end of the day can go a long way to reducing one’s impact on the planet.
In addition, deciding to go paperless or only using recycled materials is not only great for the planet but can also be turned into successful PR campaigns.
Aidan Bell, co-founder of sustainable company Envirobuild, predicts that sustainability will come to be seen as business critical in 2019.
“Businesses can no longer ignore sustainability,” Bell said. “The UN climate report released recently warned everyone that unless significant steps are taken to combat climate change in the next 12 years, widespread droughts and floods will become unavoidable.
“Consumers are more aware of sustainability, informed by Blue Planet II and continually clear scientific warnings. Therefore businesses need to catch up or lose their business to somebody who does care. No matter what your small business does, there are ways to reduce waste and incorporate sustainability into your wider business goals.
“If you sell a product, could your items be produced more sustainably or be wrapped in biodegradable packaging? If you sell hot beverages, could you reward customers for bringing reusable cups? Find creative policies that suit your business model.”
Innovation is in the DNA of entrepreneurs, and 2019 will hold many challenges for all kinds of industries. Yet with the right preparation, any startup will be able to not only stay in business, but also thrive.
Whether it be investing more heavily in data security, placing more focus on workplace wellbeing or becoming more sustainable, startups will have to evolve in the coming year.
Nik Williams is MD at information management company Shredall SDS Group.