2021 Market Trends: How to Help Today’s Small Businesses Succeed

Hilton Smith, a 60-year-old business owner, was a staple in his local community. His store of 100 years had passed 6 generations of owners. The business had seen good times and bad times. While his youngest son (a business degree) tried to help his dad adjust to the changing landscape, Hilton rejected these ideas, including having a website and developing a social media presence. Hilton barked at the idea of interacting with his customers virtually instead of in-person. Covid-19 hit the community. Lockdowns occupied. Hilton put a sign on his front door: “CLOSED INDEFINITELY!”

Bringing in a New Year creates a sense of renewal and opportunities. Yet, many small businesses have a ‘wait and see’ attitude riddled by uncertainty and unpredictability of the future. Most organizations have limited resources and must be cautious about their business growth. However, if small businesses were given a master list of areas to improve based on market forces, these companies would be in a better position for the upcoming year. This article examines the seven critical trends that small businesses should consider in the economy to better manage market disruption in their organization.

With the uncertainty of a new presidential administration in the United States and the lingering impacts of Covid, many organizations should rethink their business strategies. Small businesses are no exception.  According to a business study conducted between March 28 and April 4, 2020, small businesses have been heavily damaged by the lockdowns due to Covid-19.  In an analysis of more than 5,800 small businesses (reaching a network of 4.6 million small businesses), the research highlighted the damage caused by the pandemic. At this juncture, 43% of businesses had temporarily closed, and nearly all of these closures were due to COVID-19. Respondents stated that they had temporarily closed, largely pointed to reductions in demand and employee health concerns as the reasons for closure. In fact, the businesses, on average, reported having reduced their active employment by 39% since January. All industries have been impacted.  

Why evaluate emerging trends as a small business? Many larger companies can withstand the destructive nature of disruption in the marketplace. However, small businesses are more vulnerable. While incremental change is often slow and predictable, disruptive change can be characterized as rapid and unpredictable. These traits of disruption bring uncertainty into the marketplace. Managers worry. With market disruption, experience can be seen as a liability. McKinsey expert defines market disruption as “a profound change in the business landscape that forces organizations to undergo significant transformation rather than steady incremental changes.” Historical examples can be found in transportation (i.e., horse carriage to the automobile) to communications (i.e., telegraph to the Internet). Furthermore, the fact that nearly 9 of every 10 Fortune 500 companies in 1955 are gone today demonstrates the significance of market disruption. Yet, savvy businesses can take advantage of disruption if they understand the principles. Dr. Clayton Christenson, the author of The Innovator’s Dilemma, argues the opportunity brought by disruption: “Disruptive technologies typically enable new markets to emerge.

Looking ahead to 2021, there are seven trends that small businesses should consider. Yet, nearly a year after this pandemic, the full impacts on the U.S. economy are not fully clear. Small businesses should review the following trends to capture new, unmet customer needs in the future:

  • Global Market – We are connected! Small businesses can tap into resources worldwide, whether searching for new customers in emerging markets or locating talent for hire. According to the Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds, individual employment will accelerate due to globalization.
  • AI and Automation – Artificial intelligence is a disruptive technology. Companies can avoid the high expense of labor through automation. According to a 2013 Oxford University study, nearly half of American jobs are at risk of being taken over by computers by 2033. Small businesses can leverage technology by empowering their employees to utilize AI where appropriate so that that technology is not viewed as a negative.
  • New Work Model – 2020 brought in the explosion of working from home due to Covid-19.  Employees already wanted to have more flexibility in life. They got it from employers. Companies responded by offering 70% of full-time workers the ability to work from home!
  • Freelancing – Freelancing is part of the gig economy. It goes much further than Airbnb and Uber. In the gig economy, businesses hire independent contractors to perform individual jobs, called “gigs.” The total freelancing income is almost $1 trillion. With the gig economy, small businesses can find the necessary talent without the burden of full-time employees.
  • Digital & Ecommerce – Covid-19 ushered the digital economy.  If companies did not have a digital platform in 2020 with the lockdowns, they did not exist.  According to the Internet World Stats, there are currently 4,208,571, 287 internet users. Small businesses cannot afford to miss this continuing trend of digital platforms.
  • Changing Career Landscape – Due to market disruption, the employers’ needs continue to evolve, especially driven by automation and technology trends. Employers cannot afford to utilize unmotivated employees. They want self-starters. The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) has identified eight competencies associated with career readiness. Sadly, most students are not aware of employers’ expectations of career readiness competencies. With that said, small businesses will need to keep up with the changing workforce in the United States.
  • Continuous Learning – Keeping up with the latest trends and disruption requires a learning culture in organizations. Therefore, a trained employee pool is essential, especially during disruptions. With the numerous non-traditional learning platforms like Udemy and MOOC, individuals can stay up to date and advance their skills. Small businesses should be embracing this trend.

Today’s small businesses and entrepreneurs must retool themselves, given the potential impacts of Covid-19 have the necessary capacity to change their way of thinking because of their passion. Disruption will be the word of 2021 as organizations consider the impacts of Covid-19 in 2020. This article discussed the seven critical trends that small businesses should consider in the economy to better manage market disruption in their organization. While larger organizations may survive the impacts of market disruptions, most small businesses cannot. By taking the necessary steps to understand these market trends and maximize capturing unmet needs in the market, small businesses can make a positive investment in their future. Let’s pray that it is not too late.

© 2021 by D. D. Green

About Dr. Daryl Green:

Dr. Daryl Green provides consulting, guidance, and management training for today’s small businesses. He is the Dickinson Chair at Oklahoma Baptist University. He and his students have assisted more than 100 small businesses in the region with marketing and management expertise. If you would like more information about this article or business assistance, please contact Dr. Green at drdarylgreen@gmail.com or visit http://www.drdarylgreen.com.


“The Impact of COVID-19 on Small Business Outcomes and Expectations” by Alexander W. Bartik, Marianne Bertrand, Zoe Cullen, Edward L. Glaeser, Michael Luca, and Christopher Stanton

“What is Market Disruption?” by Becky Kelderman

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