While everyone is glued to their TVs and smartphones, lapping up every last piece of negative economic information spewed by media sources that make money off of site impressions each time you tap on one of their clickbait headlines, there are once-in-a-generation shifts happening at the small business level in our economy right now.
What these small businesses do, change, and adopt during this incredibly fragile economic time in America’s history is important. How important? Well, considering 99.7% of U.S. employer firms are small businesses — and since 1995, small businesses have been responsible for creating two out of every three new jobs in our country — what these small enterprises, freelancers, entrepreneurs, gig economy workers, independent contractors, solopreneurs, and startups choose to do right is everything.
If you’re able to look past the doomsday social media posts about how far the stock market will plunge before the entire world erupts in flames, then I encourage you to read on below regarding my 4 predictions about important economic shifts that are occurring right under your nose.
I am presenting these predictions based on two sources of information: my personal observations as a small business owner and research/statistics that are not “exciting” enough to report during a time where the majority of people would rather consume negative versus positive information (yes, it requires less brain power to think negative thoughts).
I am not trying to diminish the severity of this economic implosion right now, nor the stress of losing someone’s job. I am simply trying to offer up new perspectives as to where NEW jobs and employment opportunities are going to be available as we make our way out of this financial hurricane.
4 Small Business Shifts You Probably Didn’t Even Notice Were Happening
1. The Food & Beverage Business Hits the Road: Maybe it’s the Americana memories of the diners strewn along our highways, meant to provide respite and a hot meal to the truck drivers hauling goods from one coast to the other in our country. Or maybe it’s that the concept of the “restaurant” hasn’t been altered since the first documented one opened in 1765. Naturally, humans don’t like change, which is why we don’t want something as predictable as sedentary dining to disappear in the future.
However, inevitable change that results from the current demands and supplies of a given economy doesn’t care how we feel about the traditions we’ve loved for so long. It’s no secret the food industry is being totally obliterated by the #socialdistancing mandates right now. These establishment owners were ALREADY battling rising wages, higher costs of living, and shifting trends that made making end’s meet impossible before the corona explosion. Now that they are completely in the dark, praying someone places that takeout order for God knows how long, they are basically at the end of their resources. Something needs to change.
As the co-owner of a mobile bar business in which we take old horse trailers and campers, and refurbish them into modern food distribution and serving businesses, I thought to myself as corona-implosion descended upon the U.S.: there’s no way our Campfire Trailers business will survive this. Who is going to buy something as “luxury” as a mobile café trailer?
And then something amazing happened. That first week of panic, we received an unprecedented amount of inquiries for our available horse trailer bars. Whoa. This piqued my interest beyond belief. Why on earth would food distributors drop another $10,000 right now of all times?
This weekend, I went on a hike in the Catskills (and maintained 6-feet of distance from everyone at all times before someone feels the need to lecture me). On my way there, I saw something incredible — a closed diner in Cairo, New York had a food truck in their parking lot. The line was down the block. People were standing (6-feet apart) in line to buy a hot dog, some coffee, and of course, some hot french fries. Technically, the business owner was complying with Gov. Cuomo’s mandates by shutting down his establishment. But, by serving food out of a food truck, alone, to a long line of people very far apart, he wasn’t breaking any rules, was he?
(This is why I love working with entrepreneurs so much.)
And then it dawned on me. The future of food serving is going to be on wheels. Why would someone want to pay their $15,000 rent per month in Brooklyn when they can pull up a food truck with a nice Instagram prop for barely any money and still make the same living?
What’s stopping these people from creating food truck settlements whereby you can sample food from 15 different vendors in one location (they already do this at music festivals and Smorgasburg in Brooklyn)? And during those brutal winter months, what’s stopping these food trucks owner from pitching in to rent one massive warehouse space where they can all gather round for eaters to enjoy? Exactly.
This collective pooling of funds brings me to the next amazing trend I am watching gain traction through my obsessive #business social media sifting every night: co-community arrangements.
2. Co-Community Arrangements: Before anyone gets all up-in-arms thinking I’m promoting working on a collective farm, let me be clear: I am a bleeding capitalist. Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s dive into the potential of these future living-and-working arrangements.
On Instagram, I am part of a variety of digital nomad groups, podcasts, etc. Digital nomads are people that work entirely off of their laptops, traveling around the world at their leisure — so long as there is available Wi-Fi. I fall into this population of millennials, and I must admit, it is a seriously disciplined, hardworking group of people. Traveling full-time while running a business digitally is not for the faint of heart.
The arrival of the digital nomad is what gave rise to the concept of co-working. Now, don’t let the bankruptcy of WeWork fool you: the number of co-working spaces is predicted to grow 42% in 2020 when compared to that study’s findings in 2019. Again, piggybacking off of the idea of a shared warehouse space for food trucks, co-working spaces, for as little as $300 per month, give individuals a place to work, host conference calls, access the Internet, and even partake in community events (and typically, free snacks and beverages).
Co-working is nothing new. What is new is combining co-working with co-living. Hear me out.
There are a few nascent companies right now that are creating these entire communities of people that share commodities for lower pricing. The shared communities typically contain the following: working spaces, Wi-Fi, conference rooms/videoing rooms, electric bikes and scooters, electric cars, community gardens, and now, yes, you guessed it, dorm rooms. For one monthly fee of somewhere in the $1,700-$2,500 range, you will have access to everything you virtually need to live comfortably and successfully. You can wake up, pluck an apple from the community tree out back, sign out the electric car, pick up some coffee, and run your startup — for little-to-no money.
If now isn’t the perfect time to start promoting these co-communities to individuals with lost jobs, new business ideas, or changed business concepts to meet new demands, I don’t know when will be.
3. Amazon Bars and Cafés: Allow me to have some fun with this point. As you can see, I’m a huge entrepreneurial advocate, digital nomad sympathizer, and pretty typical millennial. I am, however, not blind to the tech company takeover that is happening right now, especially as Amazon announces it is going to be hiring 100,000 new workers in the coming months. Clearly, while the world burns, Amazon is fueling their fires with the leftover ashes and debris scattered around the planet. Why? Amazon was hip to the eCommerce movement long before the rest of us. Now they’re sitting pretty while so many people are struggling to make the jump from retail to online marketing in just a few days.
Since Amazon had such a nice head-start, they’re sitting there with some sizable leverage right now. As we come out of the coronapocalypse, there will be many retail vacancies. This is both a good and bad sign: it’s a bad sign that the business could not longer afford their rent, but a good sign that maybe they’re tired of the excess business expenses and ready to take their business online or on the road.
Either way, Amazon is like that ominous turkey vulture lurking next to a major highway, waiting to scarf down road kill when no cars are whooshing by. I predict they are going to swoop in and grab all of these vacant retail cafés, restaurants, bars, etc. for dirt cheap. They are then going to transform them into what are called “Amazon bars and cafés,” modeled after their already-successful Amazon stores today.
In order to add a wow factor, they are going to staff them with robots only. They’re already doing this in Tokyo, folks. When I went to Japan in 2019, entire train ticket booths, bars, etc. were manned entirely by robots. I didn’t mind it at all, to be honest.
Amazon is going to introduce that kind of Asian technical proficiency we have been resisting all these years. It’s not going to cost them much, and the sheer spectacle of what they are going to pull off is going to be hard for us to all ignore. I mean, who doesn’t want to Instagram Story a robot delivering their drink at the bar?
And if you think Elon Musk isn’t already planning a similar kind of robot-staffed retail experience, think again. I’m sure Grimes will help pen a catchy robot jingle that starts playing every-time you walk into one of his new stores (or virtual stores).
4. Gig Economy Explosion: I saved the most obvious prediction for last. Previous models predicted by 2027 half of the U.S. workforce would be steeped in the gig economy. After this grim pandemic, I argue that these numbers are outdated.
First, a quick background on me: I work full-time on a freelancing site called Fiverr.com. I offer copywriting and copyediting services, providing blog content, press releases, website content, eBooks, biographies, and social media copy to buyers around the world.
While the War of ‘Rona wages on, the world of Fiverr remains untouched. My earnings have not budged an inch. It’s incredible. You know what that should tell you? That people around the world are rushing to their laptops to open online businesses. What does every online business need? SEO-optimized website content that helps them rank in search results while also converting website leads.
It only makes sense. We’re trapped inside right now. What else do you have to do but finally launch that website and generic product or t-shirt with a funny saying you’ve always wanted to make? There’s no risk of buying real-estate, the entire planet is your market, and you only need some time and a phone/laptop that you already own.
I predict every industry is going to devolve into this decentralized online economic marketplace in the future, especially as companies are realizing that allowing their workers to work from home actually makes them more productive (leading innovators have been trying to tell the dinosaurs this for more than a decade now).
When workers go entirely remote, companies will enjoy a happier workforce, people no longer need to waste hours commuting, fewer emissions are spewed into our atmosphere, and yes, there is less temptation to eat meals out every week, siphoning money out of our accounts while packing unnecessary saturated fats into our bodies. It only makes sense.
A Future After Corona
Before anyone attacks me by stating that the stock market directly impacts the small business economy in our country, consider this: the richest 10% of U.S. households account for over 80% of American stock ownership. Therefore, the richest 1% own half of that, or about 40% of stock. That means 50% of Americans own no stock at all.
I have no problem with billionaires, the American Dream, or accumulating wealth. I have no problem with these stats, either. But I think they are something you should consider when the media tries to tell you tonight that the ‘end is nigh’ because the historically volatile stock market is struggling through a global pandemic.
New jobs are on the horizon. The virtual small business economy is benefiting from a moment of anarchy as dreamers, thinkers, doers, and innovators come up with newer, better, and more efficient ways to do things. Be patient and vigilant. Change is inevitable, whether we like it or not. Embrace it and you’ll settle in swimmingly.