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Top 10 Small Business Trends & Becoming Future Smart

There are many reasons why small businesses need to keep current on future trends, and the following are just a few to consider:

  • Turbulence and complexity

  • Change is accelerating

  • Technological revolution

  • Stress, new requirements, and new relationships

  • Avoid becoming obsolete

Modern small businesses operate in a turbulent mix of societal, technological, and commercial issues. Changes in the world and the marketplace continue to accelerate. Technology is contributing to a significant transformation comparative to the prior agricultural and industrial revolutions. Chaos in the market brings stress and new requirements. Unfortunately, the reality of 2020 proved that many small businesses didn't have the capability to change fast enough to avoid becoming obsolete.

No company sets out to become obsolete, and there are many benefits to becoming future smart beyond avoiding obsolescence. Small businesses benefit from being better prepared, having the right tools and resources at the right time, and improved decision-making. Being future smart leads to enhanced change management and positions companies to move from reacting to change to architecting trends. Being the first to market and leading new trends fuels revenue growth.

Megatrends Impacting Business Beyond 2021

The future decades are anticipated to be very challenging for businesses, and the most impactful transformative global forces driving the future world are expected to be:

  • Speed of Technological Advancement: the rapid progress of speed to market leads to better information and ideas, resulting in improved performance and efficiency.

  • Flexible Employment: increasing variety in work and the workplace.

  • Workforce Composition: an aging workforce that is also working longer.

  • Sustainable Employment: work and a workplace that motivates employees.

  • Environmental Issues: a changing world climate and its consequences.

  • Globalization: businesses, people, processes, services, and products are operating on an international scale.

Based on the impact of these megatrends facing every business, the following small business trends should be leveraged for future growth.

Top 10 Small Business Trends Beyond 2021

Social Purpose. There is an increasing market for innovative, socially responsible, and affordable solutions. Customers are looking for businesses to address society's significant issues, such as social equity and climate change. It is not enough for your small business to be green or promote social justice internally. Companies need to be transparent with potential customers about their social purpose and how they run their business. According to Brand Watch, in March 2020, online posts about purchases made for ethical reasons increased 132%, and posts about purchases made locally increased by 440%.

Virtual Services. Virtual services will grow in demand as an increasing number of tech-savvy consumers look for convenient experiences. According to a recent consumer trends survey, nearly half of consumers say they would be fine never shopping in a brick-and-mortar store again. Already, over half of the products sold on Amazon come from small and medium-sized businesses. Amazon is projected to continue being a revenue juggernaut for small businesses.

Virtual Assistants. Small businesses are challenged by flexible staffing to respond to fluctuating customer demand. Being responsive to customer requests is essential. Virtual assistants help customers get an immediate response and free up small business owners from responding to repetitive inquiries. Trend research for virtual assistant usage projects an increase of 25% by 2023.

User Reviews. 92% of consumers are less likely to purchase if no user review exists. User reviews and ratings are essential to buying decisions and will continue to grow in importance as digital commerce increases and millennials make more of the purchasing decisions.

Non-Traditional Employee Benefits. Employees today are seeking an experience and not just a job. Traditional forms of benefits are not projected to be as compelling, which can be advantageous for small businesses. Employees want flexibility with work hours, job sharing, leave options, and more. Small businesses have more flexibility to be creative than larger, more regulated companies.

Social Media Marketing. According to research, 8 out of 10 Americans are shopping for something at any given moment. Additionally, 32% of shoppers change purchasing decisions based on mobile product information within brick-and-mortar stores. It is important to deliver relevant marketing messages, but they need to be delivered through consumer touchpoints. Social media marketing will not stop changing and rapidly disrupting business, so small businesses need to keep learning to stay relevant.

Gig Economy. The gig economy gives employees and small businesses flexibility. Flexibility is a significant competitive advantage in a complex market. According to a recent Gallup poll, many businesses and almost 40% of US employees embrace the gig economy. Small businesses typically are not able to afford to hire a permanent expert to address their technical issues. Using a temporary employee becomes a strategic advantage, especially for a small business.

Remote Work. Work from home is likely not going away. 57% of small to medium-sized business owners recently indicated they would continue to offer flexible work options for the long-term. Real-estate is not cheap. Infrastructure and space can be a high cost for small businesses. Also, as work schedules move away from 9 to 5 and more workers participate in the gig economy, it doesn't make sense to bring all the positions within a physical office space.

Alternative Payments. As brick-and-mortar storefronts move, online e-commerce is anticipated to grow to $5 trillion before 2025. Customers are looking for touchless and easy payment options that leverage mobile technology. Alternative options, such as Apple Pay and Google Wallet, will continue to increase in popularity.

Mobile First. Adopting a mobile-first mindset for customers and employees is increasingly important. According to Deloitte, 75% of the workforce is projected to be made up of millennials in 2025. Millennials are leaders in the technology business transformation and are mobile-driven. Additionally, advances in 5G networks create speeds as fast as WIFI creating internet availability in everyone's lives.

Becoming Future Smart

The goal is not to predict the future but enable better decision-making and preparedness. Becoming future smart can be assisted by leveraging practices and concepts from the field of strategic foresight.

Strategic foresight is a way of thinking, engaging, discovering, and acting. Strategic foresight is intended to help let go of old beliefs. Traditional strategic planning is heavily focused on the internal organization, and strategic foresight links the organization to the external environment recognizing the business will operate within a larger world rather than be the only change in the world.

Contact us if you are a small to medium-size business owner interested in arranging a complimentary interactive 90-minute webinar to learn about strategic foresight principles and how to apply a tool that will help you be future smart.


Canton, J. (2016). Future smart: Managing the game-changing trends that will transform your world (First Da Capo Press Paperback ed.). Da Capo Press.

Chermack, T. (2011). Scenario planning in organizations: How to create, use, and assess scenarios. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Hines, A. (2006). Strategic foresight: The state of the art. The Futurist, 40(5), 18.

Linthorst, J., and de Waal, A. (2020) Megatrends and disruptors and their postulated impact on organizations. Sustainability. 12, 20:8740.

McGonigal, M. (2020). What’s a futures wheel [video]. Coursera.

Ralston, B., and Wilson, I. (2006). Scan™: Radar for signals of change. In The scenario-planning handbook (pp. 245-257). South-Western.

Van Duijne, F., and Bishop, P. (2018). Introduction to strategic foresight [PDF]. Future Motions.



About the Author:

Jeff's knowledge and expertise include executive coaching, strategy design, driving change, and workforce strategies to influence and grow organizations. Jeff Doolittle is the founder of Organizational Talent Consulting in Grand Rapids, MI. He can be reached at or by calling (616) 803-9020. Visit to learn more about strategic planning services provided.


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About Dr. Jeff Doolittle

He is the founder of Organizational Talent Consulting in Grand Rapids, MI, and Program Director of online graduate and continuing business education at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, IL. Executive leaders who work with Jeff describe him as thoughtful, decisive, intelligent, and collaborative. Jeff is a business executive with over twenty years of talent development and organizational strategy experience working with C-suite leaders in Fortune 100, Forbes top 25 private, for-profit, non-profit, and global companies in many industries.

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