2019 Small Business Trends and Predictions

20 Small Business Trends and Predictions for 2019 Credit: Leszek Kobusinski/Shutterstock

Another year is on its way out, offering entrepreneurs an opportunity to reflect on the past year, with all its peaks and valleys, and plan for the upcoming year with those lessons in mind. Of course, business operations don’t happen in a vacuum, and business trends are always changing. Whether the changes are in technology, marketing, finance or public policy, entrepreneurs need to be aware of all these external factors in addition to their internal operations.

To that end, Business News Daily compiled a list of business trends and predictions to help businesses start 2019 successfully. These 20 key ideas will likely be important focuses moving forward and should be on every small business owner’s radar.

Businesses will further adapt to the modern customer. “Customers today have more choices than ever, and they have shown they will gravitate toward those who prioritize the delivery of fast, seamless and personalized service. This is true whether they are ordering lunch, getting their car repaired or making a financial transaction. In my industry of financial services, we’ve already seen large legacy companies start to fall behind smaller startups who offer better user experiences.” – Bernardo Martinez, U.S. managing director at Funding Circle

Technology will not replace the human touch. “Technology is always improving, and with the latest and greatest tempting every organization, we need to keep in mind that AI and predictive analytics will not replace the human when it comes to delivering the customer experience. While there are definitely some great opportunities ahead for AI … it will not be a true game-changer, at least in the next year. AI can really be thought of as ‘augmented intelligence,’ because it can augment the human, giving people better information, greater insight and the ability to perform their roles better.” – Claire Sporton, senior vice president of customer experience innovation at Confirmit

Genuine relationships trump technology. “Technology runs our lives more than ever, but it is relationships that drive business and commerce, so people will find more ways to connect in person to build trust and strengthen connections. Make sure you offer several ways to talk with [customers] and get to know them. Algorithms can only tell you so much about a customer, [but] transactions are driven by relationships. Use automation where you can, but do not ignore the power of the personal touch.” – Paige Arnof-Fenn, founder and CEO of Mavens & Moguls

Welcome the new kid on the blockchain. “In 2019, I predict that it will be very hard to discuss innovation in business without first discussing blockchain technology. As the industry matures and its use cases expand, major multinationals and Fortune 500 companies will be forced to recognize blockchain’s potential to provide security and efficiency to everyday operations, simply because it will be smart business practice.” – David Wachsman, founder and CEO of Wachsman

The rise of IoT will prompt the rise of edge computing. “When it comes to powering an ever-growing number of IoT applications across every industry, edge computing will make the biggest impact on performance and reliability. An infrastructure that can handle tons of devices and end users constantly emitting and consuming large streams of data is mission-critical. Edge computing deals with these challenges by moving computation as close to the device as possible to run faster and more efficiently, or not wasting bandwidth and battery on tasks that could simply be processed at the edge. We need new computing infrastructure that lives beyond the centralized data center.” – Stephen Blum, founder and CTO of PubNub

Big data contextualization will become easier. “Seeing no end to the shortage in data science experts, a trend toward easy-to-use analytic applications will grow, enabling data scientists to productionize data analytics by making applications more broadly interactive, accessible and usable by business analysts, IT and others in the organization.” – Michael Berthold, founder and CEO of KNIME

We will build ethics into our algorithms. “Algorithms drive business decisions more and more. We have seen how flaws in assumptions built by data scientists have backfired for the companies relying on their algorithms, [with] the messy and hard task of building ethics into an algorithm that treats all consumers fairly (and legally – ‘algorithmic redlining’ may become a term that more corporate lawyers will have to defend). Ethical algorithms will not only lead to happier customers, but less risky business practices. Those two forces will drive this change starting in 2019 for years to come.” – Chris Wexler, senior vice president and executive director of media and analytics at Cramer-Krasselt

Marketing will continue to grow more personalized. “Marketing is becoming increasingly personal, and this trend will keep going as we move into the new year. No longer will stock images, generic nurturing campaigns or impersonal calls to action convince consumers. In order to succeed, you’ll have to provide high-value and personalized content every step of the way.” – Harrison Doan, director of analytics at Saatva

The user review will be king. “Today, customer reviews influence more than 95 percent of online customers before they decide to purchase. Moreover, more than 90 percent of people step back from buying the things online which do not have any reviews, good or bad. In the coming years, these customer reviews will be the greatest influencer of any business. Most businesses will open their review forums to publish their customers’ opinions. Most importantly, brands will drive innovative marketing campaigns through these review forums to influence their target audience.” – Andrei Vasilescu, CEO and digital marketing expert at DontPayFull

New sources of customer data will drive new strategies. “With eMarketer recently predicting that mobile ad spend will represent almost half of the U.S.’s entire media ad spend by 2020 (accounting for $113 billion), I expect this unprecedented level of spend will unlock a trove of new insights [for marketers], particularly consumer location behavior trends and how they make purchase decisions on the go.” – Harry Dewhirst, president at Blis

Voice search has finally arrived. “Voice recognition technology has continued to improve, and, as a result, voice searches have increased in popularity. Voice search is popular because of its ease of use and speed. It’s safer for people on the go (or in a car) to search via voice command than by typing. Also, since people can talk faster than they can type, they are able to perform a voice search faster. With the increasing popularity of smart speakers, in 2019 we’ll continue to see the number of voice searches performed go up. This will reshape search engine optimization, as search is shifting to conversational and long-tail queries.” – Alex Membrillo, CEO of Cardinal Digital Marketing

Big shifts could be on the way for banking. “The banking industry is already undergoing significant changes, and we’ll no doubt see this play out in the coming year with massive disruption in how you can make payments. Big players such as Google, Facebook and Amazon will start thinking about offering their own payment services, which will likely trigger the need for their own regulations.” – Alexon Bell, chief product officer for Anti-Money Laundering (AML) at Quantexa

A radical change toward digital banking will continue. “Millennials want to bank wherever they want and whenever they want, which does not align with the traditional banking model. It’s predicted that digital banking will grow to more than 2 billion users by 2020. As a result of this shift, the traditional brick-and-mortar banking solution will be replaced with a technology-first mindset. In essence, your wallet will be your phone.” – Dave Mitchell, president of NYMBUS

Mobile banking means more mobile cyberattacks. “All are experiencing a big increase in attacks on their mobile banking and transactions. Expect that to continue. Approximately 80 percent of financial institutions’ customers are doing online banking; 50 percent are on mobile, and that’s growing. More customers equal more opportunity for attacks.” – John Gunn, CMO of OneSpan

The political conditions favor entrepreneurs. “I [am optimistic] in terms of public policy, regulation and government intervention in general … The Trump administration will continue with its policy of deregulation, because that is very helpful for the economy. Second, the victory in the House of Representatives by the Democratic Party will help strengthen gridlock in Washington, D.C., and gridlock is good for business.” – Mark Thornton, author of The Skyscraper Curse

Data privacy regulations will proliferate worldwide. “The United States will discover that the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) established a global de facto standard, impacting startups and established corporations alike. Acceptance for GDPR will be driven by a continued incline of cybercrime and data breaches in 2019. Stolen identities and passwords will make other regions in the world consider similar legislation.” – Georg Greve, co-founder and president of Vereign

The uncertainty of tariffs continues into 2019. “The economy is in very good shape right now. It appears that we can absorb two or three more quarter-point interest rate hikes before year end without any great material negative effect. However, the uncertainty around tariffs and the impending trade war could change that outlook.” – James Cassel, co-founder and chairman of Cassel Salpeter & Co. investment banking firm

Businesses will prioritize employee happiness. “[B]usinesses [will be] focusing on employee engagement and happiness. Because unemployment is at historic lows, keeping employees engaged and happy is critical to retaining good people. Furthermore, many people are unhappy with the state of our country and the world right now. Keeping them happier at work … boosts productivity 10 to 25 percent.” – Scott Crabtree, chief happiness officer at Happy Brain Science

The shift toward remote work will increase. “People will be spending less time commuting and traveling but more time working remotely, causing business leaders to find other ways to share corporate info and increase workplace collaboration. With the rise of telecommunications (video, chats, etc.), the need for employees to hit the road has subsided, meaning that business leaders will need to rethink their communications strategies. They’ll also need to consider how to encourage workplace collaboration when everyone is in a different place.” – Jen Grogono, CEO of uStudio

Tech startups will hire candidates from a broader range of professional backgrounds. “In 2019, tech startups will look beyond technology-specific hires like computer scientists and coders, and consider the broader spectrum of STEM talent to grow their company. Many startups are, by default, STEM companies. While technical skills are important, graduates of math, science and engineering programs have strong research and analytical skills that can help an emerging tech company reach new heights. A broader representation of STEM-related roles, especially women in these fields, will be a focus for companies that want to increase diversity and innovation, which is essential for competing in the tech industry.” – Andrea Lewis, strategic advisor at Geeky Girl Reality

Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.