Every year for the past 20 years over at my USA TODAY column I look at the top trends for the upcoming year for small business. It's an interesting and ever-changing list, that's for sure, as, I suppose, that's the very nature of a trend. Consider some of the developments that were emerging in years past:
• "The new frugality" (2010)
• "The rise of Groupon" (2011)
• "Online video starts to take center stage" (2012)
• "Say goodbye to privacy" (2013)
So, what's on tap for this year? Is my crystal ball any more or less accurate? Let's see. Here are my Top 5 for this year:
No. 5 -- New rights for new workers: The changing landscape of work appears not once, not twice, but three times this year in the Top 5. Yes, it is that big and significant of a change.
The first thing to know is that there seems to be an emerging a consensus that in a new economy in which some 50 million people are freelancing at least part-time, some new rules are needed. The social safety net that was largely based on full-time employment (unemployment insurance, paid sick days, family leave, etc.) is inapplicable when fewer and fewer people are working full-time.
That may be why we are seeing the advent of the $15 minimum wage. And it may also be why we saw Seattle vote to allow Uber and Lyft drivers the right to unionize.
The "gig economy" is great in many ways, but will require refinement as we figure it out.
No. 4 -- Small business insecurity: Last year's No. 1 trend - security - is no less important than it was in 2015, it is just that a few other things are trending a bit more right now. But, that said, security remains a vital, indeed growing, concern for small business.
Consider these stats:
• 60% of all cybercrime is now directed at small business
• According to the Kaspersky Security Bulletin, there were almost 2 million "attempted malware infections that aimed to steal money via online access to bank accounts."
One security expert calls this "the biggest crime spree in the history of America."
No. 3 -- According to Google, it's a mobile world and we just live in it: 2015 was a jackpot year for mobile. Not only was it the first year that more than half of all Google searches were done on a mobile device but it was also the year that Google updated its vaunted algorithm to reward sites that were mobile optimized (and ding sites that were not.)
Mobile is now the new norm and customers expect that they will be able to complete a transaction or surf to a page in a single swipe (OK, maybe two if they are feeling generous.) Are you mobil-ized for this? (Groan, yes, I know.) You better be.
The revolution won't be televised, it will be streamed on a tiny screen.
No. 2 -- The face and nature of small business is transforming: Pop quiz! Which generation is the most populous -- the Baby Boomers, Generation X or the Millennials?
Bonus points if you said the Millennials. They number some 80 million. Whereas the Baby Boomers were the largest generation for many a year, and the largest segment of small business owners for just as long, that is no longer the case. Baby Boomers are retiring, Millennials are starting businesses, and attitudes and businesses are changing as a result.
This demographic swing is but one of the many significant shifts we are seeing in the workplace. Others include the death of 9-to-5, remote working, virtual teams, the rise of the machine, and the emergence of this year's No. 1 small business trend,
No. 1 -- The Uber economy: Did you hear about the guy who is a driver for Uber, rents out his spare bedroom on Airnnb, and runs errands for people in his pare time for TaskRabbit? I don't know him, but maybe that's because he' so tired he never goes out.
The U.S. workforce is undergoing a fundamental transformation that began when the Not-So-Great-Recession put millions out of work. Afterwards, many employers realized they didn't need to hire those employees back as expensive full-time employees, and at the same time, many of those former employees realized they had more options than working a crummy job for a crummy boss.
The intersection of these joint realizations with the Internet has created a new force in the work world, the Uber economy. According to the Freelancers Union, about one-third of the workforce is now comprised of contractors, freelancers, self-employed individuals.
And there you have it. A snapshot of the world of work and small business in the year 2016. Things are changing, a lot.
As Bette Davis said in the 1950 classic All About Eve, "Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy night!"