Like 2020, small business trends in 2021 weren’t what most of us expected. Many businesses continued to feel the effects of COVID-19, which caused problems from cash flow to workforce retention.
However, small businesses didn’t stand by and wait for the storm to pass. They looked for new ways to increase value for clients, created new products or services to attract new customers, and generally decided to set the trends in small business rather than wait to see which trends were set by others.
Small businesses bounce back
It worked. While 23% of small businesses reported lost revenue in 2021, 74% of small business owners reported being somewhat to very happy despite that fact. Other studies showed that roughly half of small businesses reported either a positive impact or no impact at all from COVID-19 this year.
What does that tell us? Running a business in this new world doesn’t feel quite as daunting as it did a year ago—especially if you see some positive business trends emerging.
5 inspiring small business trends from 2021
1. New and improving businesses thrived
Owners who experienced positive trends in small business in 2021 saw or underwent key changes:
- 67% saw an increase in demand
- 35% rethought their business plan
- 29% embraced work-from-home models and started selling online
- 27% staffed up
On the flip side was an unexpected trend in small business: Established businesses felt a greater negative impact from COVID-19 than new businesses. Enterprises that had been operating for more than a year were 16% more likely to see a negative impact compared to businesses whose doors had been open less than a year.
Again, of the small business owners who responded:
- 80% made some sort of adjustment
- 75% changed their products or services
- 22% noted these changes as “major” while 44% reported them as “minor”
The bottom line: Small businesses that gained good traction in 2021 were often new businesses or those willing to make drastic changes to draw in new revenue.
2. Work from home (WFH) continued to grow
Before COVID-19, experts predicted remote work would increase 16.4% in 2020-21. After the pandemic broke out, that number more than doubled—increasing to 34.4% in 2021.
Today, the U.S. leads the trend:
- More than 70% of remote job listings are in the U.S.
- 42% of remote workers say they’’ll continue working remotely in the future, and
- People are happier doing it, with 83% saying they’re happier to work from home.
Many businesses made this switch early in the pandemic. Savvy small businesses quickly shifted to a WFH model using systems like eBillity’s Time Tracker to keep operations reliable, efficient, and profitable.
3. Flexibility reigned supreme
One of the crucial trends in small business in 2021 that carried over from 2020 was prioritizing work-life balance. This year, employees enjoyed a more flexible work model that allowed them to change how and when they work to accommodate their life—not the other way around.
Research shows that employees of small businesses now:
- Exercise the option to start early or finish late
- Log on and off during the day to balance other responsibilities
- Use async communication to get work done without the pressure of immediate responses
It’s a trend that’s working for business owners and employees alike—as long as the right tools are in place. Look for a system like Time Tracker that will track hours as they happen, allow employees to clock in and out throughout the day, and help them work seamlessly with async communication.
4. Small businesses thought—and acted—big
When it comes to small business trends in 2021, another surprising one is that successful small businesses are the ones that are willing to act like big businesses to achieve gains.
Whether it’s investing in IT and automation or structuring their organizations as if they’re much bigger than they are, Forbes says that small businesses need to be willing to take big steps to succeed. That includes building a strong digital and cloud presence, as well as being proactive in staying on top of technologies customers are using.
One easy way to start: Make sure critical solutions like your time tracking system are cloud-based. Nothing shows employees and clients an unwillingness to move forward as quickly as a manual time card.
5. Productivity didn’t drop—if organizations had the right tools
Identifying trends in small business often comes down to productivity. After all, what metric matters more when it comes to measuring whether you’re generating the revenue you need?
Since the pandemic started, small businesses have found that automation and engagement are essential to maintaining productivity.
Experts believe automating and engaging on a higher level—no matter the size of your business—will be key to small business success moving forward.
The bottom line
What do these small business trends for 2021 tell us? Owners should embrace the new and improved, including increased flexibility and the opportunity to work from home. They should be willing to think and act big—on both digital and personal fronts. And they should be happy that many of their employees are happier with the changes that have been made over the past few years, as painful as many of those changes were to make on the owners’ end.