After bidding farewell to 2018 it’s time for small business owners to buckle down and begin executing their plans within the new year. We’ve all enjoyed several seasons of a strengthening economy, and we can continue 2019 with a bit of a wind at our backs. Still, that doesn’t mean that we should rest on our laurels. Far from it. 

There’s no denying the economy is on a definite upturn. Unemployment is down and consumer confidence is at an all-time high. But the new year will still present some unique challenges for the hard-working entrepreneur. Even in the best of times the business landscape is constantly changing, and to remain successful we need to more than simply watch those changes unfold. If our businesses are to truly thrive throughout the rest of 2019, we need to anticipate the changes and be prepared for the trends that will help define the new year. 

So, as we shake the lingering dust of 2018 completely off our boots, let’s look at five trends that will help shape the small business landscape during the last 3 quarters of 2019. 

1 The Tightening Labor Market 

The most recent data from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics shows the unemployment rate holding at an all-time low of 3.7%. Economists expect that rate to remain relatively unchanged as the new year progresses. While that’s great news for the country at large, it does mean that small business owners will be facing some stiff competition when it comes to attracting, and retaining, the best candidates from a shrinking pool of potential employees. 

In 2019 the key to attracting, and retaining, a diverse and productive workforce will be offering the right kind of compensation package. Business owners will have to match, or exceed, what their regional competitors are offering. In short, it will be a bidding war for the best employees and the winners will be those businesses that offer the most attractive and creative compensation packages. 

The future of compensation packages goes beyond merely salary and vacation time to include: 

  • volunteer leave
  • extended healthcare benefits (vision, dental, mental health, chiropractor)
  • wellness programs
  • remote worker opportunities
  • focus on life work balance

2 The Growing Importance of Wellness Programs 

Sprout Funding logoOver the last decade or more Fortune 500 companies have been incorporating wellness programs into their employee benefits packages. That trend is beginning to gain traction with smaller enterprises, and moving forward it will likely play an important role in employee satisfaction and retention for businesses of all sizes. 

Workplace wellness programs go beyond the healthcare benefits that are typically offered as an employment incentive. These programs focus on promoting both a healthy work environment and a healthy workforce. 

The value of wellness programs in the workplace are hard to deny. Consider what a few choice wellness programs can do for you and your employees: 

  • greater productivity
  • reduction in work related injuries
  • reduction in absenteeism
  • lowered worker compensation costs
  • lowered healthcare costs

Workplace wellness programs can take many forms, and there is a sure fit for almost every business regardless of size or industry. Some of the more popular wellness programs include: 

  • fitness center memberships
  • yoga classes
  • anti-smoking programs
  • meditation and mindfulness classes

3 A New Reliance on Remote Workers 

Office culture has changed dramatically over the last few decades. The days of people manning their desks from 8AM to 5PM, Monday through Friday, are beginning to look quaint by today’s standards. Laptops, smartphones and tablets have made it possible for employees to manage their daily workload from anywhere they can tap into a reliable wi-fi signal. 

Industry experts have been predicting the rise of remote workers for some time. And while it may have taken longer than expected for corporate America to fully embrace the idea, the trend toward a remote workforce is finally gaining traction. So much so that that employees now expect the ability to work remotely to be part of their job description. 

Of course, working remotely isn’t just a perk for employees. There are also some distinct benefits for employers. By allowing some or all of your employees to work remotely at select times you can: 

  • reduce stress and increase productivity
  • decrease office overhead
  • reduce unscheduled absences
  • improves employee satisfaction and retention
  • saves money

4 A Renewed Dedication to Cybersecurity 

It seems as if 2018 was the year of the cyberattack. Data breaches were constantly in the news and it looked like there wasn’t a business or institution that was safe from criminal hackers. The high profile cases are easy enough to remember. Facebook, Marriott, and even Google were subject to data theft. Newspapers, hospitals and government offices all experienced unprecedented cyberattacks throughout the last year. 

But it wasn’t just high profile businesses and institutions that came under attack last year. Small and medium sized businesses were also targeted by malware, ransomware, and criminal hacking. The cost to American businesses was staggering, and all indications are that 2019 will bring more of the same. 

Moving forward into the new year business owners need to assess their cyber security protocols and take all necessary steps to reinforce them and upgrade them where possible. All businesses, regardless of size or industry, are in possession of valuable customer and client data. A breach can cost your company dearly so it is important to address any and all security issues promptly. 

5 An Emphasis on Employer and Employee Communication 

One aspect of small business management that remains constant, whatever the year, is communication between business owners and their employees. But this year it will take on an even greater importance. As you restructure your benefits packages, introduce wellness programs, update your cyber security protocols and implement your remote workforce you’ll need to keep all of your employees up to date. Keep the lines of communication open, and invite a healthy discourse with your staff and management teams. 

The start of 2019 is also the perfect time to revise your company’s employee handbook, The new year will bring new expectations for your employees, and an updated handbook is the best way to keep your staff informed of their responsibilities, opportunities and benefits moving into the new year. 

Riding into 2019 on the strength of a robust economy should give small business owners reason enough to be optimistic. The dark days of the Great Recession are behind us, and the future looks bright. But even in the best of times small businesses face great challenges. To be successful you need to embrace the oncoming trends and find ways to make them work for you and your employees. The new year brings with it great opportunities and it is up to us to to make the most of them.

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