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Small-business owners looked to 2021 as a chance to rebound and rebuild from nearly a year of coronavirus-induced losses. Instead, many were dealt repeated blows with supply chain backups, unfilled “hiring” signs and renewed restrictions and mandates.
The year wasn’t a complete bust, though. Entrepreneurship grew at a record pace in 2021, with more than 4.6 million applications for new businesses filed through October 2021, according to business formation statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau.
And shoppers continued to rally behind their local small businesses: Compared with pre-pandemic, 40% of Americans were still making an increased effort to shop small and shop local as businesses reopened and pandemic restrictions eased, according to an August 2021 survey by NerdWallet conducted online by The Harris Poll.
So, what does 2022 hold for small-business owners? Will supply chain issues ease? Will hiring pick up? And what’s in store for business lending absent two of the Small Business Administration’s main COVID-19 relief programs?
NerdWallet's business writers touch on those topics and more with their predictions for the coming year.
1. Technology bridges the employment gap
Tina Orem: Small-business owners will flock to business software that allows them to do more with fewer employees. This may mean more tableside ordering and checkout technology at bars and restaurants, for example, and more self-checkout options for retail customers.
Hillary Crawford: QR code menus at restaurants are here to stay, even if COVID-19 precautions fall to the wayside. Many restaurants have found that digital menus allow them to update items and prices more easily, as they don’t need to reprint the menu each time. They also enable restaurants to function with a smaller front-of-house staff.
Smart investments in technology can help you ease the pain of staffing shortages, without sacrificing the customer experience.
2. Business lending ramps up, community banks take the lead
Kelsey Sheehy: Small businesses can expect more access to capital in 2022.
Banks pulled back on business loans amid COVID-19, tightening lending criteria and even halting traditional loans to focus on Paycheck Protection Program loans. But small-business loan approval rates will continue to rise as the economy and consumer spending rebound, especially for businesses working with community banks and nonbank lenders.
That’s good news for small-business owners who’ve managed to hang on through nearly two years of pandemic-related restrictions and are ready to invest in new equipment or need working capital to grow in the new year.
Consider community banks, credit unions and online lenders for your next business loan.
How Much Do You Need?
3. It's the year of the brick-and-mortar
Tina Orem: Brick-and-mortar small-business retailers will shine as consumers learn that it's often faster to go into the store or get curbside pickup than to wait days or weeks for deliveries from beleaguered shippers.
Consider adding “buy online, pick up in-store” options to your e-commerce platform to draw more customers into your business.
4. Customers need to be in the loop
Rosalie Murphy: Managing customers' expectations is going to stay very important. Amid the supply chain crunch, inflation and labor shortage, what business owners can provide customers in 2022 won't look the same as what they provided in 2019.
Customers may be coming around on longer shipping times, smaller product lines and maybe even higher prices, but it's important to communicate those changes clearly as we move toward some kind of new normal.
Set realistic expectations by talking with your customers — in person, on your website and on social media channels — about the challenges your business is facing and how they may affect the shopping experience.
5. Supply chain, hiring woes continue
Randa Kriss: Supply issues have been a big problem for small businesses, and relief is still a ways off. Business owners will need to figure out how to be creative and agile with their processes, whether by working with multiple suppliers or by trying to streamline their inventory catalog.
Rosalie Murphy: For small-business owners who successfully hired new people in 2021, it's time to start thinking about how to retain those workers into 2022. For those who lost employees, what changes can be made to attract new hires? Workers' expectations for better pay, benefits and schedules may ease over time, but I don't think businesses can bank on that yet.
Adapt to solve for the current reality, as it doesn't appear that supply chain and hiring challenges are going to ease in the near future.
6. Some COVID changes become permanent
Hillary Crawford: New restaurants will have to build takeout options into their business models. While this has been a given for full-service restaurants, it's not always been a consideration for businesses like breweries, and canning or bottling lines can be expensive.
Relying solely on an in-person experience can leave businesses vulnerable. Use e-commerce software to build online or to-go options into your business plan so your company can quickly adapt if external factors force you to close your primary business line.