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By Faith Wheller
Small businesses have spent much of the past year scrambling to adapt to extraordinary circumstances. Today, almost a year to the day since COVID-19 was first declared a global pandemic, those extraordinary circumstances still remain pretty, well, extraordinary.
But although the war is not yet won, its outcome swings ever more in our favour. Global vaccination rollouts continue to gather pace, and enterprises of all shapes and sizes endure to show steely resilience and extreme agility to keep operations – and the world – moving.
To help you keep on fighting the good fight, we’ve outlined some of the biggest small business trends and challenges you’re likely to encounter in the year ahead – and how best to embrace/overcome them.
But above all, remember: your small business has weathered the worst of the storm, some of you have even emerged with a tan. So, keep smiling, follow our advice and one day (very soon) we’ll be happily bumping shoulders and enjoying maskless conversations about that crazy time we baked our weight in banana bread.
Preparing for the workplace of tomorrow with technology
In the not-so-distant future, if you haven’t already, you’ll have to decide how your workplace will look when normality resumes. Do you return to the office full-time or embrace hybrid/remote working? Do you relocate to save costs on rent?
Either way, regardless of where you end up working, technology will be vital to how you end up working. In the year ahead, tech can be the difference between an engaged and productive workforce, and one that spends half the day shouting down the phone to IT.
So, for the sake of your IT team’s ears, consider if your technology is currently meeting the needs of your business – and if it isn’t, now is the time to invest, at risk of undermining your employee experience efforts.
Security is essential to this and your workforce must be protected and productive, no matter where they’re located. Cisco Designed Secure Remote Work brings enterprise-grade, cloud-based collaboration and security together in one package that’s easy to purchase, deploy and use.
In the package, you get video conferencing, messaging, file sharing and whiteboarding capabilities, all protected by cloud-based user, device and email security – which leads us neatly on to the wonders of Webex.
If the past year taught us anything, it’s just how important collaboration and video conferencing is, and will continue to be in the business year ahead. But just because Zoom has become a verb, doesn’t mean it’s the answer to your problems, with its questionable quality and security.
Of course, we’re always going to endorse Webex, especially with its host of unique features like the ability to silence background noise – screaming kids, barking dogs, sneaky keyboard typing (we’ve all been there) – so your meeting participants hear only you.
But don’t just take our word for it, read our customer success stories and then give it a try yourself for free, with no credit card or commitment needed.
If it’s to your liking, you can simply select the most convenient plan for your business and benefit from incomparable collaboration, regardless of where your employees are working.
Get your head in the cloud(s)
One other overwhelming trend that isn’t going anywhere is the mass migration to the cloud.In today’s digital world, embracing this trend can bring countless benefits to your small business, with its ability to help you secure your network, collaborate freely, analyse data and run your infrastructure – all via the internet!
Best of all, with no hardware and convenient software subscription models, you only pay for the services you use, to increase efficiency and easily scale operations as your business needs inevitability change.
But more importantly, moving to the cloud can also significantly lower operational costs and free up cash in time for those long overdue team drinks and non-virtual days out – we’ve got a lot of making up to do, after all.
However, from networking to security and workload management, there’s no end of cloud services out there. So, finding the perfect solution for your small business can be something of a challenge.
Cisco understands this, so our small business solutions can be tailormade for the specific budgets and needs of your growing enterprise, with the option to bundle software, subscriptions, services and third-party products on one convenient contract.
But we also understand that funds may not be readily available for all small businesses – cheers, global pandemic. So, to make software and services as accessible as possible, you can simply bundle up everything you need and enjoy 0% interest for three years with easylease.
Finally, it always helps to see how other small businesses have already benefited from our cloud solutions. Here’s how we helped Platform, London’s first-ever esports venue, with cloud-delivered security and connectivity via Cisco Meraki, Umbrella and Purple.
Embracing ecommerce and digital marketing
Since the start of COVID-19, another unstoppable trend has been the rise of ecommerce. In 2021, this trend isn’t going anywhere and small businesses around the world have grasped the opportunity to reinvent their business model and meet their customers online.
Part of this has been out of necessity, to keep up with increasing customer demands and maintain an unblemished customer experience, with digital interactions now twice as important as traditional sales interactions, according to McKinsey & Company.
But many small business owners have also realised the boundless opportunities ecommerce presents, one where previously modest operations now have the ability to go from garden shed to global powerhouse.
However, with this trend also comes the need for digital marketing skills, which is probably one of the few services we don’t provide. But our online resources are filled with useful blogs to support all your digital marketing needs.
In the meantime, if it’s inspiration you’re after, look no further than Karameller: a small candy shop in Vancouver’s quaint Yaletown, which is now enjoying sweet success around the world thanks to ecommerce and social media.
So, I hope the above helps you overcome any challenges you’re facing and embrace small business trends in 2021. For any other queries, big or small, get in touch today to see how we can support you on your journey to success in this year – and beyond.
Explore how Cisco has been helping to support small businesses to recover from the economic impact from COVID-19 here.