Last reviewed 15 December 2021

As the new year approaches, we speak to a range of business owners to discover what they think will be the trends to pay attention to in 2022.

What will 2022 look like for small business owners? It’s a question that is always asked at this time of year. We surveyed enterprise leaders to determine what they see as their key challenges next year and how the post-pandemic trading landscape will influence their decision making.

Richard Osborne, founder at Business Data Group and UKBF (UK Business Forums):

“2022 will see a rise in the micro-business economy where services are delivered by a collection of smaller businesses rather than larger companies. There will be greater collaboration between companies and the sharing of resources. This will include micro-delivery services. It has been common in the haulage industry for years, but it is likely we shall start to see it happen on a more macro level for local, to-the-door, deliveries too.

“The world has changed, and it isn’t going back to the way it was. Online retail and mail order businesses that were started in 2021 have continued to maintain huge growth as people have become accustomed to buying online. E-commerce levels the playing field where small businesses can compete with much larger ones through slick processes. The ones that have invested and got that and their fulfilment right are thriving!”

Many EU countries keen to maintain a trading relationship with the UK

Astrid Geeraerts, Head of Investment at FIT (Flanders Investment & Trade):

“With the first Brexit anniversary upon us, much of the early disruption, caused by Brexit, has settled but I know that many companies continue to struggle, and some have abandoned even trying to trade with the EU. It’s important that UK companies know that many EU countries and regions, including Flanders, are very keen to maintain a trading relationship with the UK. It remains one of our key markets, so we’ve been very active over the year helping UK companies negotiate Brexit, and we don’t charge for that help.”

Jiaqi Pan, CEO and co-founder of no-code chatbot builder Landbot:

“Since the pandemic began, we have seen our dependence on the digital increase dramatically. Institutions must rely on their digital presence as the first port of call for customers, with in-person events still few and far between. As a result, conversational customer service tools are becoming a popular solution, allowing customers to engage in direct dialogue with businesses regarding any issue or query they may have.

“With our continued reliance on digitised platforms, these tools will become more common to meet consumer demands and expectations in 2022. For businesses to survive and thrive, they need to start investing in creating conversational experiences using these messaging channels throughout the entire customer lifecycle. For this to happen low-code Chatbot technology will become essential to help businesses fulfil customer requests, at scale, while keeping the operational cost when it comes to training and IT management.”

Businesses should be investing in technology solutions

Asif Ahmed, advisor to HM Government on tax and author of The Finance Playbook for Entrepreneurs

“Biotech (the branch of applied science that uses living organisms and their derivatives to produce products and processes in healthcare, medicine, biofuels, and environmental safety) and NoCode (a development platform tool for building software applications without coding) are growing rapidly and are definitely ones to watch in 2022. COVID has brought forward the need for cutting edge Health and Biotech solutions to solve global crises. As well as this, NoCode start-ups are at the forefront of a continued macro effort to reduce the barrier to entry for technology solutions across all verticals.

“Small business should be investing in technology solutions that offer scale at low cost. This is very different to tech for tech’s sake. As market dynamics change, one ever present focus will remain on ensuring limited resources are producing maximum return. Technology does this better than anything else. With the introduction of post-Covid hybrid working the focus will be on employee wellbeing.  As the upheaval of the last two years comes to an uneasy peace, retaining staff will be essential.”

Nick Barthram, founder and Strategy Partner at Firehaus:

“Time to move on from what worked for your early adopters as your business scale: start-ups’ early adopter audience is engaged and motivated to translate your product features into a benefit for them. But to grow, companies need to tap into a wider audience who are more risk-averse and less engaged. That means switching from product features to becoming known principally for the problem you solve. Start-ups shouldn’t wait for their sales to plateau in 2022 before doing this.

“Go beyond seeing your logo and name as your ‘brand’. Logos and names are brand assets, not brand fundamentals. A strong brand is rooted in the purpose of the business. A brand powers your business from the inside and helps you communicate your strengths relative to your competition.”

AI can help to improve consumers’ digital experience

Craig Johnson, CEO, Ultimedia:

“AI gets more accessible to use to improve consumers' digital experience. 2022 is the year it becomes within reach of most organisations; AI investment requires lower budgets each year, meaning even smaller organisations can use it. The tablet changed the way we use digital.

“Now that mobiles are more prominent and easier to use, the tablet is no longer relevant. It will start sliding into oblivion in 2022 and be fondly remembered for helping us change how we use digital devices such as the iPod did. Pent up creativity and talent will lead to a year of digital start-ups created by entrepreneurial teens and 20 somethings. Further consumer wariness around data and video content from organisations mushrooms after many turned to video during the pandemic.”

Andy Peddar, CEO, Deazy:

“Businesses have long been aware of the need for digital transformation and the pandemic has only accelerated that, with organisations pivoting rapidly to more digital offerings. The skills and expertise required to make this happen have never been more in demand.”

“For a business like Deazy that means growth. We grew by 2.5x during 2021 and all the signs are that this will continue. Every single app, website, digital platform and more, requires development services. The switch to digital has been at light speed, the market hasn’t responded fast enough, and demand is outstripping supply. But it needs to be the right kind of growth — sustainable and without losing sight of what got us where we are. Maintaining the culture as you grow is one of the biggest challenges a business will face, so we will remain mindful of that.”

Businesses that empower their employees will see higher productivity

Melanie Robinson, Senior HR Director UK, Ireland & Nordics and Jeff Phipps, Managing Director at ADP UK: 

“ADP Research Institute found that COVID-19 negatively impacted 64% of the global workforce. Despite the challenges, however, 66% of UK workers do feel optimistic about the next five years at work, and a third think COVID-19 will have a positive effect on flexibility (34%) and work-life balance (28%).

"Businesses that empower their employees to work in a way that suits them will see higher levels of engagement and productivity in the long run. Technology is now firmly at the helm of business success. Leaders must understand the power of using data and insights to drive their decision-making and understand their employees' needs. HR teams already hold some of the most valuable business data. As the world of work becomes more people and culture centred than ever before, this data will only become more instrumental in driving strategy and change.

“We have experienced a tremendous amount of change in the last year, and workers’ priorities have shifted. The effects of the pandemic have seen record levels of unpaid overtime in the UK, hindered the closing of the gender pay gap, and particularly affected the professional lives of those who have just joined the workforce, forcing many to re-evaluate what they want and need from their working lives.

“Moving into the new year, it is more important than ever to address the needs of your teams and ensure communication is a two-way street. Hybrid working is here to stay, and this year has shown that everyone works differently, so having people clocking in and out at specific times, or using rigid metrics to define performance, is unlikely to result in increased productivity or engagement. Leaders must harness individuals’ strengths and provide opportunities for employees to develop new skills or embark on a new career trajectory with more room for growth.”

The key trend for 2022 is going to be sustainability

Darren Hockley, Managing Director and Stacey Taylor, Learning Design Director at DeltaNet International:

“2022 will be more challenging than 2021 for mental health and wellbeing. We often see a delayed response to stressful situations, including PTSD, combined with further change and uncertainty, will see more people than ever suffer. Then the added impact of skills gaps, where fewer employees will need to do more, resulting in a very vulnerable position. Organisations need to do more than ever to help their employees through these difficult times through good effective management, building awareness for self-awareness and help, and providing support mechanisms. Investing in employee mental health and wellbeing will be crucial, not just for organisations and team management, but for talent attraction and retention.”

“The key trend for 2022 is going to be sustainability. As we all start to overcome the challenges posed by Brexit and Covid, it’s time to start turning our attention to the big issues we face as a society and how organisations have the opportunity to impact that. The COP26 and the UK’s expectations for larger companies to publish their net-zero plans are just the beginning of the legislative ‘’squeeze’ we can expect and embrace. Organisations are bound to face increasing scrutiny on the actions they take to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability, so offering training through eLearning is an easy win to that effect. Forward-thinking organisations will increasingly see this as a competitive differentiator as the surge of green activities continues.”

Cyberattacks will continue to rise

Lee Wrall, Director, Managed Services Provider, Everything Tech:

“Cyberattacks are expected to double by 2025, so this is a topic that isn't going to go away. Whether you are a business or an individual, everyone understands that cyber-threats are increasing. But also, the nature of these threats is becoming more elaborate and sophisticated. As I mentioned in the intro, as everyone is online more, so are the criminals.

“The basics really need to be in place to secure your business against attacks. Rights Management is an effective way to control access to files and documents that could have sensitive information on them. Two-Factor Authentication should also be applied to certain files within your server, which will ensure that if someone does try to access a particular sensitive file, the system will send a text or email instantly to the person who is supposed to be accessing the file to ensure it is them.”

Post-pandemic business in 2022 will be different. Whether new start-ups enter their markets that have massively changed, or existing businesses look to redefine their space, next year will see a range of challenges, many of which have been influenced by the pandemic. However, what is clear to all business leaders is that security, workforce support and a renewed focus on customer experiences will form the foundation of enterprise throughout 2022.