2019 predictions: what’s on the way for businesses?

What's on the docket for businesses in 2019? Five experts share their predictions, covering areas from robots to healthcare perks.

With GDPR, Facebook algorithm changes and business rates relief, 2018 has been a wild year for small and scale-up business owners.

What’s on the way for 2019? A few experts from the SME world share their predictions.

Mou Mukherjee, head of Registry Services, .Cloud

Mou shares her 2019 predictions

There are 5.7 million private businesses registered in the UK and 96 per cent of them are classed as micro businesses which employ nine employees or less. Next year we will see more entrepreneurs of every age seek to start a microbusiness, instead of relying on traditional routes of getting a job at a larger organisation.

Antony Edwards COO of Eggplant.io

Brexit will be a nightmare for CIOs, especially in the public sector, but a windfall for IT consultancies 

Separating systems will be a bigger IT nightmare than Y2K and the biggest change management programme we have ever seen.

“Separating systems will be a bigger IT nightmare than Y2K”

Standardised methods will need to be changed, which will be more expensive than building from scratch. It’s also likely to lead to the automation and digitalisation of a huge swathe of processes.

Introduction of robotic legislation

After Brexit, Europe will pass legislation prohibiting the hiring of robots or algorithms to do human jobs, meaning that if a human loses their job, it cannot be replaced on a like-for-like basis with a machine.

Huge investment into skills and training

Based on visas and people movement, the UK will invest heavily in a programme of training at both an educational and vocational level to compensate for migration of talent.

Robots will take jobs, because there are no people left to work

Many countries (including the US and UK) are at a point of, economically speaking, total employment.

In this regard, companies that are expanding and that need more resource are going to struggle to recruit leading to an increase in automation. It’s not that robots are going to take over, but we’ve just run out of people to do the work.

Yuval Ben-Itzhak, CEO of Socialbakers


Influencer fraud will rise – and then fall

In 2018, it became clear that influencer marketing should not be considered an experimental or boutique advertising model. It is a great enabler of revenue and big brands are getting on board.

It’s estimated that influencer marketing ad spending will reach $10 billion by 2020.

But in this golden age of influencer marketing, there is also a good deal of fraud. In 2019, social media marketers will learn that they need to do their due diligence before investing in an influencer – and watch out for fake fans, fake engagement, and fake interests. If brands aren’t vigilant, they’ll become victims of influencer fraud, and risk the fines and reputation that go with this.

The fact that Instagram has taken steps to limit undesirable behaviour shows they have become more vigilant about eliminating illegitimate activity on the platform. By doing so, Instagram is showing its commitment to delivering an authentic environment, free of ‘digital pollution’, for both marketers and users.

Time to drop the chatbot?

In 2019, many brands who experimented with chatbots, with the exception of first-level customer care, will realise they won’t be the big success they thought. In process-oriented industries, to book an airline flight or reserve a hotel room, chatbots are generating a significant return on investment.

However, if you want to complain that your hotel room is not what you expected, a chatbot probably can’t solve the problem. It’s only the starting point in augmenting the human conversation. The truth is that chatbots can have difficulty understanding exactly what a person is asking of them – there isn’t much room for nuance or ambiguity and using a computer to conduct a conversation can still be a barrier to an engaging experience.

“Chatbots can have difficulty understanding what a person is asking of them”

In 2019, to raise brand awareness and reach a broader audience of consumers, marketers will have a hard question to answer: is it time to drop the bots?

Data will still be king

If you want to successfully leverage platforms like Facebook and Instagram, you need solid data to drive your decision making. In 2019, reliable data will still be a business imperative to help you know precisely where to invest your advertising budget in order to maximise reach, engagement and business impact.

Only brands who are on top of their data from the word ‘go’ will have a successful 2019 – and will reap the rewards for years to come.

Angus Burrell, UK general manager of Valitor, an international payment solutions provider

Data-driven SMBs

Last year, nearly 6,000 small retail businesses closed their doors for good. This year things haven’t got any better as retailers continue to come under significant pressure to stay afloat. Small businesses are not helping themselves at this difficult time though.

While many local retailers offer a great, personalised experience, they are at risk of losing this edge unless they adopt a data-driven approach. By combining local knowledge with data collected showing their customer behaviour, retail businesses can develop their own targeted, personalised approach to marketing and after-sales care.

Leveraging this data will also enable small businesses to maximise their budgets and target the most valuable clients. The message in 2019 then is clear: ignore data at your peril. Unless you want to become another depressing statistic.

Brett Hill, managing director for The Health Insurance Group


Mental health

Companies that want to support their staff will need to ask them about their mental wellness and run surveys to get a better understanding to enable them to measure the effectiveness of any support.

We’re likely to see an increase in tangible mental health support being offered, including mental health training, more utilisation of employee assistance programmes, and access to mental health specialists.

Holistic wellbeing

More SMEs recognise that a holistic health and wellbeing approach is needed to support their employees’ welfare, as the understanding grows that physical health and mental wellbeing are not separate, distinct subjects but intrinsically linked to each other.

Gone are the days of looking at healthcare benefits in isolation, employers are looking at putting together packages that support staff holistically.

Companies need to not only look at offering rounded support for physical and mental health, but also preventative care, such as providing access to screenings, health MOTs, access to alcohol management and smoking cessation programmes.

As such, there is likely to be more focus on improving personal fitness, encouraging staff to improve on an individual level as well as part of a team. As this is enabled by developments in technology, companies need to ensure they know what’s available and review the appropriateness for their staff.

Multi-generation workforce

We now have five generations in a workforce, and each has its own particular needs. SMEs will need to look at benefits and communication methods that are relevant for different demographics.

While support for financial, physical and mental health is relevant across all generations, it needs to be tailored to specific needs to be relevant. Companies need to have a good understanding of their workforce to ensure support will resonate.

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Anna Jordan

Anna is Senior Reporter, covering topics affecting SMEs such as grant funding, managing employees and the day-to-day running of a business.

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