What are The Most Pressing Issues for Small Businesses and Small Business Owners for 2021?

Four key issues of interest for small business owners are the switch to ecommerce, the shift to remote work, sustainability and cash-free payment options. One area of interest specific to female small business owners is work-life balance.

Switch to ECommerce

  • Small business owners are interested in updating their digital presence, with “39% of business owners prioritizing website modification [and] 31% say they plan to expand their social media presence.”
  • According to Statistica, “global e-commerce will grow to about $5 trillion within the next four years.” As such, it is no surprise that small businesses are rushing to compete, with owners working to “leverage social media to gain more sales, [and] use a cutting edge warehouse to ship orders more quickly.”
  • These changes are in order to address lower sales and decreased consumer demand, which 21% of small business owners cited as pressing concerns as of September 2020.
  • Since early March 2020, 24.2% of small businesses in the US increased their use of online platforms to provide goods and services.
  • In response to the pandemic, 69% of small business owners increased online marketing efforts and 54% saw an increase in web traffic. 92% of small business owners agree that it is “important to be able to sell their products online.”
  • Many small businesses are new to the online space, with 48% of small business owners reporting that they have opened their online store fronts in the last 11 months.
  • In order to easily move into the ecommerce space, many business owners are looking to Amazon Fulfillment. As of 2020, 54% of brands were available on Amazon, and this is expected to increase to 74% of brands by 2025. As the already fierce competition on Amazon increases, business owners will need to “optimize their visibility on the platform.”
  • As part of this shift to ecommerce, user reviews are becoming increasingly important. According to Fan & Fuel, “92% of people will hesitate to complete a purchase when there are absolutely no reviews available.” Small businesses must harness the power of user reviews to build consumer trust in their products when buyers are no longer viewing products in person.
  • Other new digital tools for small business owners to consider in 2021 include the use of stories and “smart personalization engines that recognize customer intent”.
  • Almost one third of small businesses believe that “their revenue will come from online avenues in 2021.”

Shift to Remote Work

  • By June 2020, 42% of the American workforce was working completely remotely. 66% of companies allowed for employees to work remotely for at least part of 2020. As most employers and employees have now adjusted to this working model, experts expect small businesses to continue this trend.
  • Resulting from the shift to remote work, mobile-first communication with employees will become important. Current employees, as well as job applicants, will want to utilize mobile technologies to easily communicate with their employer from anywhere. The use of email will decrease as workers move towards mobile-first communication.
  • The trend towards mobile-first communication is also being driven by the increase of younger generations (millennials and Gen Z) in the workforce.
  • Utilizing mobile-first communication “strengthens productivity, lifts engagement, [and] reduces misunderstandings.”
  • Small businesses can benefit from the shift to remote work because it decreases the need for office space and therefore can decrease costs. Remote work can also boost employee productivity. 
  • There is also the need to balance the concerns of workers that cannot work remotely, especially in instances where some employees at a single company are able to work remotely and some cannot.
  • Since remote work was so widespread in 2020, experts predict that it will continue into 2021 and beyond. However, it can be challenging to maintain a strong workplace culture, so experts expect to see some hybrid remote and in-person work models emerge in 2021.
  • As companies are moving to remote work, they will need to invest in new technologies that help facilitate remote communications, such as enterprise social networking software.


  • Sustainability was a key trend prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but then took a back seat. However, “the research shows the pandemic only increased awareness around this issue.”
  • A July 2020 survey found that 90% of consumers were as aware or more aware of environmental issues than they were prior to the pandemic.
  • As such, experts recommend small businesses make efforts to go green, and then publicize these efforts on their social media and website.
  • Some potential areas of focus include “reducing reliance on single-use plastics to cutting carbon emissions.” Another area of focus is on packaging, especially for shipping and deliveries.
  • Small businesses should attempt to provide as much detail as possible about their sustainability efforts to consumers.

Cash-Free Payment Options

  • According to experts, small businesses should begin to consider adding cashless options at storefront locations as well as having ecommerce options in 2021.
  • Only 40% of millennials carry cash on a regular basis.
  • This trend was accentuated in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic as it was considered more sanitary. 
  • There are many services that can be used to facilitate cashless payments, including PayPal, Google Pay and Apple Pay.
  • However, there is controversy over completely cashless stores, with some feeling they discriminate against minorities and the poor, while others are concerned with privacy.
  • As small businesses do not want to drive away any sale, experts recommend including cashless payment options, but still accepting cash.

Work-Life Balance

  • According to a survey conducted by Groupon of 500 female small business owners in the US, 54% of the women surveyed stated that “they sometimes find it difficult to balance running a business with family life.”
  • In a recent survey by Babson’s Diana International Research Institute, 50% of female business owners reported family care as one of their top concerns during the pandemic.
  • This concern has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and changing childcare and work-from-home norms.
  • The new frequency of remote work has made it even harder for female business owners to balance their business and home lives, as there is now a less defined ending point to the work day. Experts recommend setting and maintaining boundaries between the work and home life.
  • The desire for better work-life balance is what drives many women to leave the corporate workforce and start their own businesses, in order to better represent their core values.
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