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The Small Business Trends That Will Define 2020 and Beyond

Matthew Speiser

Staff Writer at Fundera
Matthew is a staff writer at Fundera. He has written extensively about ecommerce, marketing and sales, and payroll and HR solutions, but is particularly knowledgeable about merchant services. Matthew's writing has been published in Business Insider, The Fiscal Times, Best Company, and NJ.com, among others. Matthew was also a co-author for Startup Guide—a series of guidebooks designed to assist entrepreneurs in different cities around the world. He has a degree in journalism from the University of Delaware. Email: matthew.speiser@fundera.com.
Editorial Note: Fundera exists to help you make better business decisions. That’s why we make sure our editorial integrity isn’t influenced by our own business. The opinions, analyses, reviews, or recommendations in this article are those of our editorial team alone.

Watching small business trends year after year shows us just how dynamic the small business space is. When it comes to running small business, entrepreneurs need to stay on their toes—ready for any new technology or shift in demand that will affect their businesses.

So what new trends can small business owners expect in the new year?

We reached out to top entrepreneurs, experts, and business advisors to see what small business trends they think will define entrepreneurship and small business in 2020

Here’s what they had to say.

The 23 Top Small Business Trends of 2020

These insights on small business trends come from entrepreneurs of all stripes across a wide variety of industries. By looking into them, you can better position your business for success in 2020. Let’s get started:

1. Businesses Will Offer More Personalized Customer Service

“In 2020, there will be more emphasis on personalized customer service. This means you’ll have to treat your customer as an individual and offer them a customized customer experience. For example, if you’re an ecommerce business, you may offer product suggestions similar to what a customer had purchased earlier and not something irrelevant. Smart personalization engines used to recognize customer intent are expected to enable digital businesses to increase their profits by up to 15%. Customers will naturally go toward those businesses which offer them personalized service, reducing the noise and giving them precisely what they want. So the bottom line is, focus on personalized customer service.” — William Taylor, career development manager, VelvetJobs

2. Customer Relationships Will Matter More Than Ever

“2020 will be the year that we go back to realizing that relationships matter. Everything we do from a digital standpoint from creating content, websites, lead magnets, and ads need to be thought out in a manner of ‘how will this secure a stronger relationship with the end consumer?’ Messenger bots are becoming extremely popular because it’s a one-on-one conversation that can be taken over by a human and also an opportunity for the consumer to reach out to the business with questions.

We need ad campaigns where we focus on value, talking to our ideal consumer, and building a stronger trust and relationship will result in more conversions and email campaigns where we write directly to our list without all the fluff. And we need to show the human side of our business and be real, raw, and honest to show we are relatable. This is how we compete with big businesses. We get to be more visible to our audience, but in a true, authentic way, by putting them first. It’s not about our businesses, it’s about our audiences.” — Crissy Conner, digital marketing strategist, The Visibility Queen

3. Voice Search Will Grow in Popularity

“Voice search is going to become increasingly important to businesses during 2020. Many people now have smart speakers in their homes, so the barrier to voice search is lower than ever. Both Google and Amazon are also continuously improving their voice recognition technology, which allows them to answer queries faster and more accurately. In my experience, people are likely to use voice search for quick answers to specific queries. For asking a question such as “can dogs eat seaweed?” voice is perfect, which is why we’ve started including short answer sections in many of our articles to better serve voice users. Potential customers are also likely to search for queries such as “mechanic in London” or “lawyer in New York.” Local businesses will need to make it as easy as possible for search engines to pull voice-suitable answers from their content if they want to rank for these queries.” — Richard Cross, owner, The Dog Clinic

4. More Businesses Will Look to Passive Revenue Generation

“As a web designer, I’m seeing an increase in requests for more websites for side hustles, passive revenue streams, online course creators, and membership platforms. More businesses are looking at more passive revenue-generating streams, whether it’s dropshipping T-shirts, apparel, mugs, and calendars, or starting to market more document templates, social media templates, and additional materials that can help a business run more smoothly.” — Jessica Rhoades, owner, Create IT Web Designs

5. Search Engine Marketing Will Get Even More Competitive

“The amount of people clicking on search engine results is going down, with less than 50% of searches now generating a click, and the costs of advertising on search engines for small business seems to be getting ever more expensive and harder to make profitable in many sectors (for smaller firms). I feel these two areas are closely related. As businesses are getting less traffic from the free, organic results, more are turning to ads. Ads are essentially an auction so as they get more competitive, costs then go up and up.

The bigger players and brands have deeper pockets and can often squeeze out the smaller companies that need to make profits from individual sales (where the brands are often playing a longer game). The key change here is that smaller businesses can no longer take a siloed approach to search engine marketing. You can’t just run ads as it is getting too expensive. You can’t just rely on the free organic listings as this is getting ever more competitive and generating less and fewer clicks. So, the big technological change for me in 2020 is that successful marketing on search engines will need a more integrated approach that combines both elements of paid and organic to generate results at a reasonable cost.” — Marcus Miller, head of SEO and digital marketing, Bowler Hat

6. Reliance on Google Will Only Increase

“In 2020, small businesses will rely on Google more than ever. The customer journey starts online, but not on your website. Instead, your prospective customers first interact with you directly on the Google search results pages. When they do a search either for your business or for related terms, they see results from Google My Business before anything else. These results include your basic business information, as well as reviews. As a small business owner, you need to have visibility in Google My Business. Claim and optimize your listing, and make sure you have accurate information, great photos, positive reviews, and everything else. If not, those prospects will turn elsewhere when they search on Google.” — Joseph Colarusso, SEO manager, CORE Search Marketing

7. Businesses Will Use Asynchronous Chats More for Communication

“2020 is going to be the year of media-first asynchronous chats for SMBs. Many small businesses already use Slack, Microsoft Teams, Skype for Business, and other synchronous chats. These are tools meant to interrupt the other person’s workflow with immediate discussion about a piece of work. Asynchronous chats, on the other hand, aren’t urgent. They can be thought of as email with media. They use voice notes and video notes to quickly record and send non-urgent feedback, instruction, thoughts, or advice. In addition to providing productivity value to the recipient, these pieces of media serve to reduce phone calls and meetings, as well as provide a personal touch that can ease workplace loneliness. Asynchronous chats are especially beneficial with remote businesses for this reason.” — Edward Strum, director of marketing, Reverb

8. More Businesses Will Adopt Automation Services

“In 2020, a deciding factor on whether or not small businesses survive will be whether they are ready to, and if they can afford, to adopt automation technology. Consumers are starting to expect automation wherever they look, and won’t have patience for solutions that are not immediate. Larger companies can afford to purchase a variety of technology solutions just to see what works, but we small business owners will have to do more careful research. We can’t afford to invest in technology that doesn’t actually work for our industry, but we also can’t afford to be last to pull the trigger.” — Sara Maria Hasbun, managing director, Meridian Linguistics

9. Remote Work Will Become the Norm

“Remote work will continue to rise as a trend for small businesses. Over the past decade, company culture has become an increasingly pivotal aspect of retaining quality employees. Employers and employees alike are starting to see the benefits of having the opportunity to work remotely one or two days a week, especially if they have a long commute. It aids staff retention thanks to giving them flexibility in their personal life—allowing them to get to go to the dentist more regularly, spend time with their children, and attend to other out-of-work commitments. For employers, it means that sick days are reduced, morale is increased and quality staff members stay with the company. Not only this, but it gives small businesses the chance to recruit top talent from anywhere in the world. Remote working means that companies in remote locations can find quality workers, faster.” — Chris Wain, sales director, Africa Travel

10. Businesses Will Need Mostly Positive Consumer Reviews to Survive

“Consumer reviews already have a significant influence on potential customers when it comes to buying your products, and having a 100% positive success rate is a dream come true for most businesses. Research has shown that more than 90% of people are hesitant to make an online purchase if they see an outweighing number of negative reviews. In 2020, user reviews will become even more important, particularly for smaller to mid-sized businesses. Smaller companies have smaller budgets, meaning that a lot of their success solely relies on pleasing the customer. Therefore, incentivizing customers to leave positive reviews is key to securing more sales; having a large bank of positive reviews to prove the value of your products/services establishes you as trustworthy and high quality.” — Guy Novik, director, Orlando Villa Holidays

11. Offline and Online Retail Experience Will Merge

“Offline to online experiences (and vice versa) will begin to merge and overlap as we move into 2020. There is an increasing demand for experiences and retail is no longer going to be focused on just selling products but delivering an experience. This is being driven by multiple factors: millennials demanding more experience over product; personalization thanks to data; and technology through apps as well as AR/VR.” — Bridget Westerholz, SVP, Fuse Marketing Group

12. More Business Owners Will Be Getting in Front of the Camera

“A small business trend in 2020 I foresee is using video to increase customer engagement. TikTok, a video sharing app, has become more popular than Facebook and Instagram. Small business owners need to get in front of the camera and start producing videos in 2020 and beyond. More of the web will become video based… I am creating YouTube and TikTok videos in order to get more traffic. It has been helping by ranking my website at the top of the search results for specific keywords. YouTube videos are always ranked as the top spot in Google when applicable so creating videos for the platform is crucial.” — Becky Beach, owner, Mom Beach

13. Inclusion Will Become a Greater Priority

“While efforts to diversify organizations will remain a priority, this alone will no longer be enough to remain competitive in the marketplace. Rather, fostering inclusion will be recognized as a separate initiative from diversifying an organization. In the New Year, creating an inclusive company culture that empowers employees to feel that they can show up to work and be themselves will become more vital as the line between work and life continues to blend together. Fostering inclusion creates a strong and healthy culture that reduces hostility, not to mention lawsuits.” — report by Fierce Conversations

14. More Businesses Will Go Green

“There is a heightened push towards being eco-friendly, especially amongst millennials. This means that companies are going to have to have a ‘green angle’ if they want to get customers in this demographic. As the generation that’s going to have more expendable income (as opposed to retiring generations), this is going to be a make or break policy for small businesses especially.” — Chane Steiner, CEO, Crediful

15. Cybercrime Will Become a Bigger Threat

“A tremendous challenge small business owners will face in 2020 and beyond is Cybercrime. Damages related to cybercrime are projected to hit $6 trillion annually by 2021 (Cybersecurity Ventures), and surprisingly for many entrepreneurs, 43% of breaches hit small businesses (Verizon). As the owner of a marketing and PR company, I realized that small businesses and non-profits don’t know how to react when a breach occurs—from both the technical side and the public relations side. My concern is with the PR side, because while technology can be repaired, relationships between organizations and their hard-won clients may not be as easy to fix. If companies take the time to put a crisis plan in place before they are breached, they will recuperate more quickly and with far less damage to their reputations than if they have to be reactionary. When you are talking about cybercrime, it’s not a matter of if it will impact your company, it’s a matter of when it will hit.” — Trish Stukbauer, founder, Cyber Crisis Communications Solutions

16. Older Entrepreneurs Will Become More Prevalent

“2020 will see a continued acceleration in the number and types of small businesses launched by people in the second half of life. The fastest-growing group of new entrepreneurs in the U.S. is between 45 and 64. Within that cohort the over-55 group is by far the fastest-growing new entrepreneur group in the country. There are over 100 million people in this demographic and 25% (25 million people) say they want to start their own small enterprise.  That’s about the equivalent of 10 years of job growth for our country if we were to enable their startups appropriately.” — Rick Terrien, founder, Ageless Startup

17. Recruiting Will Be a Challenge

“Thanks to the strong economy and record low unemployment, employers may struggle to fill vacancies because low unemployment means there are fewer people looking and thus fewer applications and even fewer who are fully qualified. Some tips for employers recruiting in times of low unemployment include:

  • Considering groups you might normally dismiss: those with long employment gaps or minor criminal convictions who have clearly reformed themselves.
  • Casting your net widely: offer remote work or offer relocation reimbursement to increase your geographic area search and use popular jobs sites and social media.
  • Making sure you are offering a competitive salary and benefits: you know your competitors are doing the same and it is also a great way to keep quality employees.
  • Using regular communication: keep applicants engaged to encourage them to stick with what is often a long process.
  • Offering training: instead of insisting on extensive experience or skills, training those willing to learn builds a strong and dedicated workforce.

— Steve Bulger, SBA Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator, Small Business Administration

18. Businesses Will Need to Get Digital Pollution Under Wraps

“Everyday we send and receive over 125 billion business emails and over 117 billion consumer emails, with little realization of the pollution this creates. Emails are integral to business communications, but unwanted and unnecessary promotional emails are not. 60% of emails go unopened. 2020 will see a rise in businesses applying tech-for-good solutions to permanently erase emails/data that cause digital pollution.” — Edouard Nattee, co-founder, Cleanfox

19. Alternative Financing Solutions Will Become More Common

“In 2020, we predict that you’ll see more and more alternative financing solutions for SMBs. Not only will the current solutions grow, but more and more companies will enter this SMB financing landscape, both marketing directly to SMBs, working in a wholesale fashion, or as an embedded solution within a captive audience. As banks continue to fall short with outdated underwriting processes, low approval rates, and long application processes, fintech companies see a huge opportunity with SMB financing. While this space is bound to become more competitive for fintech firms, the growing number of solutions will empower small businesses both in the US and abroad.” — Vicky Sullivan, marketing manager, Payability

20. Ecommerce Businesses Will Focus More on Accessibility

“While the world becomes more digitized and almost every aspect of our daily lives relies on the use of a screen, an unsolved question for SMBs and ecommerce websites remains: what does it mean for a website to meet accessibility standards for people with disabilities? Today, the vast majority of businesses have websites that don’t meet compliance standards for the Americans With Disabilities Act, and the vast majority of internet users with varying abilities—specifically, those who rely on assistive technologies to enable digital access—still face challenges whenever they try to get online. If they don’t fix their sites, every single SMB and ecommerce site that doesn’t provide full accessibility online will find itself at risk of litigation and bad publicity, as we saw with Domino’s a few months ago.” — Sean Bradley, founder, AudioEye

21. More Localized Websites Will Spring Up

“One of the biggest trends I see on the rise is localization and community based websites. Websites like Craigslist once were the one-stop-shop for all of your local needs. However, as more people have come to rely on the internet to find construction workers, plumbers, lawyers, lawn care providers, and even temporary housing, a new form of business has emerged. In my opinion, 2020 will be the year that many of these relatively unknown websites rise to the top, and dominate the gap that sites like Yelp, Craigslist, YellowPages, and AngiesList once controlled. You have already seen the rise of AirBnB and Uber, but many similar companies are out there for other sectors in the market. For example companies like LawnStarter, YourGreenPal, PlowsandMows, LawnLove and others already dominate the local market for finding lawn care providers and landscapers in many cities. Similar businesses will continue to sprout up throughout the country, and shape the way that businesses connect with their clients.” — Douglas Dedrick, founder, This American Lawn

22. Content Will Replace Sales as a Primary Source of Lead Generation

“Small business owners are going to scale content more in 2020. We’re going to find more and more that businesses will move how they handle their leads from a sales-centric approach with a salesperson to video funnels. Most of the time, that’ll look like a video series of three to five videos that are going to lead consumers on the “buyer’s journey”. This will be especially important for the small business owner because they won’t have the physical manpower to be able to warm those leads up and eventually convert them. Because of the more niche clients that they’re serving, there’s a high educational component that’s needed to be able to explain why their new service is actually more impactful than what else is available on the broader corporate marketplace of products and services.” — Scott Royal Smith, CEO, Royal Legal Solutions

23. B2B Decision-Makers Will Become Harder to Reach

“In 2020, B2B new business sales will be even more challenging for small businesses because decision-makers are becoming harder and harder to reach. Between more stringent spam filters, companies removing landline phones and voicemail from their offices, and the proliferation in sales and marketing messages, B2B prospects are becoming blind to even the most compelling prospecting messages. Therefore, reps will need to take a multichannel, multitouch, multimedia approach to their outreach to get noticed and garner interest from busy prospects. Traditional channels like email and phone will remain important, but non-traditional channels like social media, personalized videos, or customized gifts will also become more prevalent.” — Christian Banach, outbound sales coach

What Small Business Trends Are Relevant to Your Business?

As you can see, these small business trends show that the landscape is changing, and small business owners need to adapt in order to stay competitive.

Are you ready for all that 2020 has in store? Keep an eye out for these 23 small business trends, and you’re well on your way to having the best year in business yet.

Matthew Speiser

Staff Writer at Fundera
Matthew is a staff writer at Fundera. He has written extensively about ecommerce, marketing and sales, and payroll and HR solutions, but is particularly knowledgeable about merchant services. Matthew's writing has been published in Business Insider, The Fiscal Times, Best Company, and NJ.com, among others. Matthew was also a co-author for Startup Guide—a series of guidebooks designed to assist entrepreneurs in different cities around the world. He has a degree in journalism from the University of Delaware. Email: matthew.speiser@fundera.com.