2020 is officially behind us! For a LOT of people, it was a pretty awful year, for a lot of reasons. Particularly for small businesses, it was one of the hardest years ever, with so many having to lay off staff, lose money, and close their doors (sometimes permanently). Will 2021 prove to be better, or worse? Only time will tell for sure, but I’ve got some educated guesses on what the next year will have in store for small businesses.

Don’t Expect Immediate Returns to Normal

While it’s certainly exciting to see COVID-19 vaccines being administered across the country, that doesn’t mean that there still won’t be concerns and limitations relating to the virus that will stick around for a while. Many professionals who have been working against COVID have said that it is likely that requirements for social distancing and masks won’t go away for at least several months.

There’s also concern over the new strain of the virus that has just made its way to the US, which is more infectious. Great, just what we needed. Thankfully, current indications are that the vaccine will still counteract this new strain. Regardless, don’t throw out your stockpile of masks yet, you’ll probably be using them for a while.

There’s also the matter of the government’s attempts to aid small businesses. The latest stimulus package has provisions that expand the PPP program, allowing for more types of expenses being eligible for forgiveness, and helping more businesses to qualify for Employee Retention Tax Credits (ERTCs).

Once he takes office, Biden’s team has said that they plan on making more use of grants, rather than PPP loans, and focusing more relief on businesses with fewer than 50 employees. Obviously, depending on your business’ size, this could be good or bad news. However, at this point, it feels like trying to predict what the government will do, and whether or not it will be helpful for your business, is harder to predict than the economy.

In terms of how all of this will combine to affect small businesses, it will obviously vary depending on your industry and location. However, my general prediction is that most won’t see a significant change in business compared to the past few months, until around Q3 or Q4. While we’re seeing a lot of promising signs, recovery from something as disastrous as this virus has been will not be a quick process. 

It’s a Perfect Time to Start a Business

While many existing businesses are struggling, don’t let that scare you: now is actually a great time to start a new business, if it’s something that you have been considering. Why is that? Think about the simplest principle of investing: buy low, sell high. Basically, if the overall economic conditions for something you’re interested in investing in are down right now, it’s better to go ahead and invest when the price is lower, since chances are good that conditions will improve, which increases the value of your investment.

Starting a business is an investment, and right now, overall economic conditions for new/small businesses are pretty low, making it a great time to buy in. Since it is pretty likely that economic conditions are going to be improving over the next few years, with a “post-pandemic boom”, having a new product or service to grow along with this economic boom makes selling a lot easier. 

I’m banking quite a bit on this prediction myself, since I’ve already started one company back in July, and I’m working on launching the second one in the next few months. Especially since both are B2B services targeted at SMBs, it definitely hasn’t been instant success right out of the gate. However, once the economy starts to really recover, both businesses will be in a great position to capitalize on the growth. At least, that’s the plan!

Online Services & Digital Content Will be Even More Important

While everyone will be excited about getting to return to a more normal way of living, post-pandemic, the virus forced us to learn a lot of very important lessons. One of the most important ones was the fact that online technologies and services are more powerful, important, and necessary than many of us ever realized. As everyone was forced to stay at home, only able to connect with others and get things done through computers, we realized how convenient some things can be, and how maddening it can be when technology doesn’t work the way we want it to. 

As a result of all of this, any company that was able to help make people’s newly digitized lives easier was very successful; just look at Zoom, which became an overnight household name (which turned out to be a blessing and a curse for the company). Just about every company had to reconsider how they could adapt to so many of their customers being at home, on computers.

So, naturally, IT support and consulting companies had a great year in 2020, and will likely continue to have growth in the next few years, due to more businesses realizing that they need to have better infrastructure going forward. 

If your business hasn’t already, now is the time to consider how you can take advantage of digital/internet technology. Even if you’re a small, locally-focused business, simple things like getting on social media, making sure your business’ computer systems and internet networks are secure, and providing customers ways they can support you online, will make a big difference.

If you’re not sure about how to do any of those things, that’s a big part of why I wanted to launch MSD Consulting: helping small businesses to reach bigger audiences, by making the complexities of digital content much easier to understand and use.