It goes without saying that 2020 was the year of the remote office. This presented great challenges to many businesses, but where a challenge arises, innovation can occur.
Some companies were uniquely poised to thrive in the pandemic conditions. For example, the video-conferencing platform, Zoom, saw sales soar 326% to $2.6bn in 2020. Social media became even more central as a way to connect individuals and market products. And on the corporate side artificial intelligence, online HR, and automation became even more essential.
These trends will continue in 2021, not only because the pandemic is still continuing but because companies have recognized significant advantages to working remotely. (For two simple examples consider the money that was saved by lowering the overhead of offices when staff started working from home, or the potential savings when conferences and training events went online making them far more affordable for the average person.)
What follows are three interesting trends that small businesses need to watch as the year progresses.
1 – AI-Powered Everything
Artificial intelligence became a key player in 2020. The speed at with the COVID-19 vaccines were developed was thanks in part to AI which was able to mine volumes of data to predict certain viral developments. Currently AI is now being used to aid with the vaccine roll-out.
Interestingly, according to Forbes.com at Silicon Valley’s Synopsys Science Fair in 2020, 31% of all winning software projects used AI. Impressively, 27% of those AI’s were built by grade 6-8 students!
There are applications for small businesses as well. Keap’s CRM employs AI to help businesses qualify leads and automate campaigns. These are critical time-savers, as the customer life cycle continues to change and develop.
Advanced language learning has also helped businesses by providing more intuitive experiences with chatbots. Chatbots are gaining massive popularity and are popping up on every kind of website. The power of the chatbot is that they are on-call 24/7 and can provide effective help when the customer needs.
2 – Automation
One of the growing needs of small businesses is automation. The more menial tasks can be automated the more efficient a business becomes. It isn’t just about saving time, but the energy it takes to switch from one activity to another. Research has shown that your brain can make a finite number of decisions each day. Decision fatigue is a growing topic among productivity experts who encourage you to put your most important tasks at the start of your day. (Incidentally, this is why Steve Jobs wore essentially the same thing each day; he wanted to save his energy for more important decision.)
This is why the more you can automate your business, the better your business will do because you, and your staff, will be able to focus on what makes the business successful.
For example, when you collect new leads through social media, you shouldn’t have to send introductory emails; those should be automated. Time-tracking for projects can be automated. Invoicing can be automated. Weekly reminders to staff can be automated. Abandoned online shopping carts can have an automatic messages sent to customers in an attempt to regain the sale.
Email automation has been an essential feature in most email marketing services such as MailChimp and MailerLite, but with advances in platforms such as Zapier and Integromat, just about every conceivable task can be automated or optimized for efficiency through automation with low or no-coding required!
For the serious small business owner, automation is essential to understand and employ!
3 – Cybersecurity
Platforms like Zoom aren’t the only ones taking advantage of increased online presence. With the increase of online activities and particularly with the essential rise of video conferencing and cloud-based storage solutions, cybersecurity has never been more important.
On a user-level, businesses need to make sure their employees understand how to create and maintain secure passwords and keep their smart devices secure. At the enterprise level, customer data, confidential internal communications, company data, and websites all need to be protected.
If you are concerned about the cyber security of your company, give eBytes a call. They can assess your level of security and offer solutions to shore up holes in your defences.
2020 was an unusual and challenging year, but there really were some fascinating advances made in tech; ones which will have benefits in 2021 and beyond!