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Focus On People and Invest in Tech — And More Predictions for Growing Businesses

Nearly 95% of growing small and medium businesses moved a portion of their business online during the past year.

Man watering trees and watching them grow: predictions for growing businesses
Seeing what is on the horizon and learning from other growing business leaders can keep your business on track for growth in 2022. [Malte Müeller/Getty]

With 2022 just around the corner, we looked to the fifth edition of our “Small and Medium Business Trends Report” for clues as to what the new year will hold for growing businesses. We also spoke to our savviest small business experts to gain deeper insights into the data. Let’s get into our top three predictions for growing businesses. Spoiler alert: it’s all about focusing on the people who make your business go — employees and customers alike — and investing in technology to support them.

1. Growing businesses will prioritize employees at a whole new level

The Great Resignation is real. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4 million Americans quit their jobs in July 2021, followed by another 4.9 million folks walking away the next month. When it comes to growing businesses looking to hire, retain, and nurture talent, one thing is very clear: talent is in high demand, and employees are being prioritized at a whole new level.

The constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic, combined with the rise of remote work, led employees to reconsider priorities and the role of work in their lives. Growing SMBs (small and medium businesses) responded by offering as much flexibility as possible. Half of the businesses we surveyed offered their employees flexible working arrangements during the pandemic, compared to 38% at businesses where growth is stagnant or declining. Just two in five (43%) SMBs plan to have employees work remotely at least half of the time over the long term. Of course, it’s easier for businesses in industries like high-tech and professional services to support work than it is for, say, manufacturing SMBs who need people onsite working with machinery. But employers will continue to offer talent remote and hybrid-work convenience as much as they can during 2022.

Businesses must adjust to employees’ expectations for a more modern, engaging, and human workplace — or risk a talent shortfall that will stifle growth.

Laurie Mccabe, co-founder and partner, SMB Group

“The Great Resignation underscores that many people don’t want to go back to the ‘before times,’ and are increasingly leaving roles that don’t meet their needs,” Laurie McCabe, co-founder and partner at SMB Group, said. “As the balance of power tips from companies to employees, businesses must adjust to employees’ expectations for a more modern, engaging, and human workplace — or risk a talent shortfall that will stifle growth.”

Along with the ability to work remotely, employees also expect more work/life flexibility and a continued focus on workplace safety. Our list of the top five SMB employee expectations certainly bears this out. Flexible schedules (51%) tops the list, followed by mask usage at work (47%), daily sanitation of workspaces and materials (45%), social distancing at work (44%), and the ability to work remotely (44%).

2. Growing businesses will focus on customers more than ever before

Employees aren’t the only ones whose expectations will shape what growing businesses do in 2022. Customers have thoughts about who they want to do business with, and how, and where they want to do it. For starters, ecommerce will only become even more prevalent. Three-fourths (75%) of growing SMBs said their customers expect online transactions. Accordingly, 72% of growing SMBs have an ecommerce presence — including 35% who added it within the past year. And almost eight in 10 (79%) SMBs plan to offer contactless services permanently.

Customer expectations have forever changed with real-time, personalized, value-based content being the new table stakes.

Tiffani Bova, global growth evangelist, Salesforce

Tiffani Bova, global growth evangelist at Salesforce, thinks the “super-consumer” is here to stay. “Customer expectations have forever changed with real-time, personalized, value-based content being the new table stakes. This will put pressure on companies unwilling to invest, giving the selling advantage to those who do,” she said.

To that end, growing SMBs have also placed renewed emphasis on customer communications. Compared to a year ago, nearly half (49%) of growing SMBs are more careful about their customer communications. Almost as many (46%) have expanded the ways customers can reach them, including the growing use of social media for customer communications, customer service, and more. “Businesses that want to grow need to offer a great online experience for customers,” McCabe said. “Keeping your website updated and fresh are key to improving traffic and conversions. Organizing and automating marketing, social media, pipeline management, and customer service are also essential.”

3. Growing businesses will continue to accelerate technology investments

Technology, of course, has played a huge role in helping businesses survive, and thrive, this year. More than seven in 10 (71%) of growing SMBs say their business survived the pandemic through digitization — the ability to move operations online during shutdowns. So it comes as no surprise that tech will continue as a driving force for SMB growth in 2022.

The majority of SMBs (83%) have at least some of their operations online.

Our research found that 42% of growing SMBs have accelerated their technology investments over the past year, up from 33% in August 2020. The majority of SMBs (83%) have at least some of their operations online, and nearly all (95%) of those moved a portion of their business online during the past year. Further, nearly three-quarters (72%) of SMBs increased their online presence (social media, website, ads, and more) during that same time frame. Where, exactly, are businesses focusing their tech? Customers, customers, customers. Customer service is the number one area SMBs are accelerating their investments, followed (of course) by sales. Customer relationship management (CRM) tools address both areas, so it’s not surprising that two-thirds (67%) of growing SMBs said they use CRM.

Even the smallest company can take advantage of powerful cloud applications to automate business processes, save time, get organized, and operate more professionally.

Laurie Mccabe, co-founder and partner, SMB GrouP

As McCabe explained, the pace of technological and business change is only going to accelerate, and now is the time to invest. “Even the smallest company can take advantage of powerful cloud applications to automate business processes, save time, get organized, and operate more professionally,” she said. “Modern CRM solutions also put real-time information at your fingertips — so you can stay connected with customers, spot  trends, and capitalize on opportunities.”

What will the coming year bring?

Things will continue changing during 2022, but for growing businesses that change will likely be for the better. Seventy-five percent of SMBs believe shifts they’ve made to business operations over the past year will benefit their business long-term. Bova agrees. “2022 will continue to see a significant number of SMBs not only updating existing technology investments, but expanding capabilities making first-time purchases on tools to help them personalize, automate and connect with customers in new ways,” she said. Focus on people — employees and customers — and invest in tools to help them thrive. Sounds like a roadmap to growth in the new year.

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