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In the upcoming decade, will we go back to the “before times” or embrace the new normal? (Photo credit: Muhd Asyraaf on Unsplash)

Back in 2010, Intuit released the forward-looking Intuit 2020 Report that surveyed twenty trends to shape the next decade.

The report predicted that consumers would spend more on health and wellness, businesses would bake sustainability into their business models — and that there would be a rising flexible workforce that does not need to be physically present in the office to manage their work.

Upon reviewing this report in 2020, it is absolutely incredible how the trends from 10 years ago align with our present landscape. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated many of these trends into becoming realities — a transition our world made practically overnight. 

[Related: 5 Pandemic Pivots That Show the Resilience of Women Entrepreneurs]

As we look for a fresh start in 2021, and await the distribution of the vaccines across North America, I wondered what trends that could shape the upcoming decade. Will we go back to the “before times” or embrace the new normal we’ve been living since the pandemic?

Here’s my short list of what to expect. 

1. Businesses that deliver empathy will win customers.

Empathy built unbreakable connections between customers and small businesses in 2020. Customers rallied in their neighborhoods to shop local. Small businesses found ways to safely pivot their offerings and engage with customers in need of compassion and advice. This allowed businesses and customers to establish strong rapports together and helped businesses deliver empathy as part of the customer experience.  

The 2020 Forrester report “To Win and Retain Consumers During The Pandemic, Start With Empathy” illustrates how empathy allows businesses to get closer to consumers. A recurring trend from both the Forrester report and the Intuit 2020 report is that customers increasingly want to shop with brands where people are prioritized over profits. In light of 2020’s racial inequality protests, customers want to align with businesses that have strong ethical stances. Likewise, businesses will focus on their own civic engagement initiatives surrounding issues ranging from social justice to environmental sustainability. 

In the coming year, we will likely see continued support from local communities for small businesses as they weather ongoing impacts from the coronavirus. Some small businesses may even choose to change their business formation structure. They may shift to becoming Certified B Corporations, an entity that balances profit with purpose. As a Certified B Corp, businesses show that they do not want to be the best in the world. They want to be the best for the world.

2. Culture-first companies will rise above.

The phrase “culture-first” comes from Glassdoor’s “What’s Culture Worth?” report. This study was released in 2020. It examines the performance of major public companies that are considered the best places to work at in a 10-year timeline between 2009 to 2019. 

One of the most intriguing findings is the link between employee culture and the company’s real-world financial performance. Everyone flourishes if a business has a strong company culture and continues to hire talented employees. Employees thrive in their roles. The business, and its outstanding culture, receives above-average stock returns. Investing in the company culture essentially means investing in the business.

As mentioned earlier, a recurring trend in 2021 will be customers seeking businesses they can shop with that put people before profits. In a similar vein, a collaborative culture will come first for companies. 

How will this work for organizations that increasingly choose to work remote? Building this kind of culture and connection will mean focusing on hiring, or promoting, the right leaders that are ready and willing to create a strong company culture. If there is no company culture, it will need to be built from the ground up. If the existing company culture is toxic or dated, it may require starting over fresh. Moreover, the dawn of a culture-first decade means reexamining the culture each year. Seek out the feedback of team members for input and ideas that allow the business to thrive and how you may implement it within the company so everyone, regardless of physical location, feels connected and in sync.

[Related: Yes, You Can Network Over Zoom or Email. Here’s How]

3. Small businesses will emerge stronger than before.

Flexibility was a key component for small business survival throughout 2020. Businesses pivoted to create PPE for frontline workers in need. They transitioned to remote work to protect employees. Storefronts evolved to meet customer needs with curbside pickup and delivery options available. These changes were borne out of necessity and in many cases, the new options will now be part of the company’s overall suite of services.

Resilience has long defined small businesses. As the backbone of the United States economy, startups possess enough grit to get up after being knocked down. The unprecedented nature of COVID-19 has silver linings throughout it, if you look carefully. There is a greater opportunity to connect with consumers and to speak up about what your business stands for. Small businesses are working together as a team and making deeper connections with clients and customers. Communities are also standing behind businesses, offering support as they navigate their way back to normal. 

Keep working hard and remain optimistic. Pivot offerings to create solutions when necessary. Create a website that allows customers to find you online and engage with customers. Add to your emergency fund and brainstorm with employees about ideas you may be able to implement. Check in with your team members to see how they are doing and remember to practice self-care in your personal life. This too shall pass — and small businesses will emerge stronger afterward.

Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation.com which provides online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and businesses, startup bundles that include corporation and LLC formation, registered agent services, DBAs, and trademark and copyright filing services. You can find MyCorporation on Twitter at @MyCorporation.

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