In 2018, the strong economy propelled small business to new heights. In a recent survey, 55 percent of small business owners or decision makers said their business is better off today than it was a year ago.

That’s great news, but businesses in 2019 will face new economic realities, fascinating technological advancements, and distinct challenges that weren’t relevant a year prior.

In 2018, three trends emerged that every business ought to be aware of as they set their sights on the year ahead. By taking advantage of these opportunities, business owners will best position their companies for growth and success, regardless of what challenges lie ahead. 

Relationships Are Just as Important as Technology

While technology promotes efficiency and provides opportunities for communication with prospects and customers, it will not replace a human touch in 2019. As Paige Arnof-Fenn, founder and CEO of Mavens & Moguls told Business News Daily, "transactions are driven by relationships."

Business has always been about who knows and ultimately likes you and your business. If your customers repeatedly have bad experiences with your business, no amount of great technology will save it from its downfall.

Unfortunately, that appears to be more common than we may think. According to a 2015 IBM study, customers are looking for a personalized experience but feel brands don't understand them. 

Small business owners need to know their customers and interact with them both online and offline. Technology cannot completely replace the human experience when it comes to customer service. A personalized touch can include a small gesture or excellent customer service.The deeper the relationship and connection, the greater the customer retention. 

Technology serves as a way to connect with your customers in a meaningful way. Sure, it can make the process of marketing, buying and selling more convenient for all parties involved, but it's all about knowing, understanding and connecting in a relevant way with each customer. 

Employee Recruiting and Retention Will Remain a Challenge

In 2018, the U.S. experienced the best labor market in decades. According to MarketWatch, during one month there were more job openings than unemployed people for the first time since 2000. Furthermore, the news outlet said, "The U.S. is on track to create at least 2 million new jobs for the eighth year in a row, a hiring boom that's knocked the nation's unemployment rate down to a 48-year low of 3.7 percent."

While that's great news for the overall economy, it's a challenge for small businesses. According to Guidant Financial, "Small business owners reported a significant 15 percent increase in challenges with recruiting and retaining employees."

Moving forward in 2019, that means small businesses will have to compete for employees and find ways to keep their best employees from searching for better jobs.

The ongoing wage increase is another challenge facing small-business recruiters. Hourly pay is on the rise, and many states are increasing minimum wage. If meeting salary requirements is a concern, consider financing your payroll. However, be sure your net gain is positive and your employees meaningfully contribute to the workload.

Employees also want a say in when and where they work, and employers are responding with flexible working arrangements that provide better work-life balance. According to Business 2 Community, "Heartland Monitor Poll found that 67% of U.S. workers would choose more flexibility and shorter hours, but less pay."

For many workers, it's not all about the pay. By offering a flexible schedule, you may attract qualified candidates for your open positions while retaining your current employees who are important to your business.

Subscription Services Will Continue to Grow

Online subscription services were all the rage in 2018, and people aren't just paying for Netflix anymore. Consumers are now enjoying the flexibility of paying monthly fees for traditional services in a subscription format. 

In the last few years, companies such as Dollar Shave Club and BirchBox have flipped traditional products or services into monthly subscription plans. Not only is it affordable and convenient for the customer, it solves cash-flow challenges by making income predictability and budgeting much easier.

The bountiful opportunities aren't exclusive to online businesses. Companies that specialize in anything from spa services to car maintenance can create one of these subscription services.

Research shows that 15 percent of online shoppers have signed up for one or more subscriptions to receive products on a recurring basis, and for good reason -- it's personalized and often a more convenient and cheaper way for customers to get what they need.

About the Author(s)

 Ting  Pen

Ting Pen is a ValuePenguin Co-Founder. She previously evaluated corporate mergers and acquisitions as a Financial Analyst at Citigroup. Her experience in financial services combined with her entrepreneurial spirit allowed for her to start her own fin-tech company. Her passions lie in problem solving, growth, and travel.

Top 3 Trends and Lessons for Small Businesses in 2019