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What are the most successful business opportunities when times are tough?


Emerging business opportunities: What you need to know

When’s the last time you saw someone use a Blackberry phone? Yeah, it’s been a while. 

Though once a highly popular phone brand, as of 2016, Blackberry had stopped producing phones and switched to building and selling security software. 

What was once a great opportunity during the 2010s isn’t the same great opportunity as it is today.

What happened with Blackberry isn’t a unique story. One thing you can bet on in business is that nothing stays the same—the landscape that all businesses operate in changes, and as a result, the products or services they offer also change.

Amidst change, businesses become faced with a reality to either creatively adapt or become irrelevant. 

But hold on a second… you might be thinking, “What are these changes and what’s causing them?” And also, “Are there opportunities during change that I can jump in on?” 

These are all great questions that will be covered in this article:

4 reasons why the business landscape is changing 

There are a number of factors that contribute to some of the growing trends we see in terms of business opportunities on the rise. Let’s take a look at four key ones: 

1. Technology keeps evolving faster and faster

Computers became common only about 40 years ago, while smartphones gained popularity only in the last decade.

If it feels like technology is progressing faster than ever—that’s because it is. 

According to Moore’s Law, even though computer processing speeds double every two years, the cost of using them will continue to go down.

It’s not just with computers either. The same growth is true for a range of technology products. That 5 megapixel digital camera you bought 10 years ago likely costs the same if not more than a 10 megapixel camera found on a smartphone today (which by the way, comes packed with a whole lot more features).

The speed of technology innovation is growing rapidly (exponentially, in fact!), and this means that we’ll most likely be seeing more and more powerful new technologies (such as artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality, and machine learning) as well as applications of them being developed sooner than we may realize.

As a small business in the technology space, being aware of this exponential growth will help you keep pace with expected developments in your industry.

2. Consumers are getting smarter

With 81% of Americans owning smartphones, that makes for a large number of people connecting and gaining instant access to market information.

Things like information on prices, competitors, and quality are all made accessible right in the palm of consumer hands. Mobile devices enable them to instantly connect with not only information but also other people to share stories about experiences they had with a business.

Because of this, however, businesses are expected to have a credible presence online and promote themselves in a positive way through social media and other forums they may be interacting with customers through (such as review sites, emails, and chat boxes).

3. Social responsibility being shared by everyone 

Social responsibility doesn’t just end with putting up a Facebook post about supporting a good cause. 

For businesses, social responsibility means taking action and making sure that everything down to the products or services offered carry out the intention of doing good for the community that they’re in.  

When you couple the growth of more knowledgeable and discerning customers with the demand for more sustainable consumer goods, you have businesses who respond by taking an active stand to ensure that what they offer meets values of social and environmental protection.

4. Emerging markets are growing

Across borders, emerging markets in Asia, Africa, and Latin America have become some of the fastest growing economies in the world. 

With that growth comes a number of changes for businesses that look to seize these opportunities.

Consumer spending in emerging markets is rising as a result of their expanding economies. This means that businesses are spending their marketing dollars here to target consumers who have a growing appetite for purchasing.

On the flip side of it, a higher performing economy also means a better education system. It’s predicted that by 2021, 60% of the higher-educated talent pool will be from the emerging markets. Businesses looking to grow their employee base, particularly in a remote way, would be wise to look towards these areas for their future hiring plans.

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5 examples of how businesses have adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic

Adapting to change and building a business around what can seem like a new trend can be daunting. But as we’ve seen so far during this pandemic, there are some super-innovative businesses that have been able to do just that, and in a very short amount of time. 

Because of the pressing social and health challenges, businesses have stepped up to help address these new obstacles by re-allocating their supplies or by coming up with new product ideas. How can they help their customers’ shifting needs and concerns? By taking this approach, they’ve been able to stay afloat and still generate revenue—but as a by-product of providing support where it’s most needed.

1. Distilleries brewing up hand sanitizer

When the pandemic first hit and there was a shortage of hand sanitizers, breweries and distilleries switched gears and started producing their own supply of sanitizers for donation and purchase.

Because the infrastructure and equipment were already in place, these establishments took it upon themselves to halt business-as-usual and switch to producing a much needed commodity for their local communities. 

Opportunity takeaway: Changing your business’s focus doesn’t need to start from the ground up. As a business, you likely have pre-existing assets that can be applied in new creative ways without much investment towards change. 

2. Etsy sellers creating face masks

When the initial call came from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to urge everyone to wear face coverings in public, the Etsy community was in a unique position to address this health need. Etsy, by the way, is an e-commerce site that allows individual creators to sell handmade items and craft supplies through its platform.

Following the CDC’s announcement, hundreds of creators from the Etsy community had repurposed their supplies to start creating handmade face masks, which eventually were sold in the hundreds of thousands during the pandemic.

Opportunity takeaway: Even as a single-person business owner, you may have the capability of repurposing your supplies to meet a new economic demand. Don’t overlook your contributions on a smaller scale to support wider social causes because every bit counts, especially during uniquely pressing times.

3. Drones to combat delivery challenges

Despite more retail and grocery businesses offering up delivery services, there’s still some challenges when it comes to possibilities for contagion during delivery handoffs. (an e-commerce business) tackled this challenge by switching out couriers with drones that flew packages over to its intended destination without human interception. The drones were also built with a spray disinfectant to heighten protective measures for those receiving the package.

Leveraging automation was a way to improve both delivery efficiency and mitigate health risks during the coronavirus.

Opportunity takeaway: Rather than repurposing supplies, businesses can innovate its delivery chain to improve its overall service. 

4. Reinventing accessible ventilators for patients

D-BOX is a portable ventilator that reinvents the way patients get relief from respiratory issues.  It’s an inexpensive and rechargeable alternative to manually pumping a CPR device or using a traditionally expensive $20,000 medical ventilator.

With more respiratory cases forming due to COVID-19, the demand on hospital ventilators has become unsustainable, particularly in developing countries. The D-BOX is a way to introduce more equipment to treat a greater number of patients at accessible costs.

The entrepreneur who came up with the idea looks to bring his product to the market quickly and at a price point that’s affordable given its importance during this time.

Opportunity takeaway: Opportunities can arise out of necessity to support a social cause. While it doesn’t have to be a completely new idea (in this case, it was a reinvention based on existing ventilators), it should be competitive on at least efficiency, cost, or usability. 

5. Employee sharing across businesses

With many businesses facing layoffs or partial closures during the pandemic, companies have implemented creative ways to share employees and ease workforce pressures. 

Restaurant staff who’ve been forced to stop working due to shutdowns were hired by supermarket chains and retail stores under a talent-sharing plan, which bypasses the need to conduct interviews or lengthy background checks.

In doing so, it’s helped lower widespread unemployment in some areas while aiding the temporary workers shortage in another.

Opportunity takeaway: Similar to how the gig economy operates, businesses can share employees and distribute labor effectively by hiring an existing workforce of skilled professionals temporarily.

COVID-19 business opportunities can be temporary or permanent

Within a quickly changing market, savvy businesses have been able to pivot in a short amount of time in order to meet new, unprecedented demands.

Though some of these pivots are meant for the short term (like the production of sanitizer and masks), the verdict is still out on whether some changes will last for the long term.

Certainly, new inventions like the D-BOX coming out of COVID-19 will have a lasting impact on the market moving forward, but it’ll be interesting to see if more HR teams will adopt a new employee-sharing strategy beyond just the pandemic.  

6 emerging business models on the rise

Some of the world’s best innovations don’t necessarily involve coming up with breakthrough products or technologies, instead they fundamentally change the way we interact with businesses. 

Not to make this into a history lesson, but to put into perspective just how much business models have changed overtime, we’ve already seen three notable models throughout the years:

  • Bait-and-switch model (popularized in the 1920s): Businesses create a low-cost initial product, but price supplementary products at higher costs (e.g., setting a printer at low cost, but marking up the price of the refillable ink).
  • Franchise model (popularized in the 1950s): To-be owners buy the franchise of an existing business (like a fast food chain) and open them up in new physical locations.
  • E-commerce model (starting in the 1990s): With the advent of the internet, businesses start selling products online directly to customers (as you guessed it, was the first US e-commerce site to start selling products online).

Looking ahead, we’re beginning to see six emerging models that businesses are quickly adopting today:

1. Subscription-based

Goods that were once offered as a one-time purchase are now switching over to a subscription-based model.

If you’ve been a user of the Adobe Creative products for a while now, you’ve probably noticed that instead of paying a one time cost, Adobe now asks you to pay a recurring monthly or annual fee for ongoing use of its software. In return for this, the customer is able to benefit from the ongoing improvements made to the product.

Existing businesses are not the only ones using this subscription-based revenue model. Video streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, for instance, have always had this approach to pricing ever since their inception.

If you’re a small business wondering if this is an appropriate pricing model that can work for you, consider whether or not the product or service you have offers continuous value or can be improved overtime. Don’t be afraid to get creative! Even businesses that sell razors and electric toothbrushes have been able to adopt the subscription-based model.

2. Freemium model

Often seen in combination with the subscription-based model, freemium models offer customers different tiers of services set at different price points.

In the free tier, only the most basic features are offered. As you move up the tiers, you gain access to more premium features, but at higher costs.  

For instance, Harvest is a time tracking tool that offers two levels of pricing for its customers:

The benefit of the freemium model for the customer is that they get to trial the business before making a financial commitment to it.

In cases like the above, if a user starts to gain familiarity with using Harvest’s time tracker and already has data saved in it, they’re more likely to simply pay to upgrade to Pro if their project needs grow, rather than abandon Harvest altogether to try out its competitor.

For small businesses with a brand that’s not as well known and have a smaller marketing budget, consider letting your customers trial your product for free. This is a good way to convert free users into dedicated, paid users in the long term.

3. Crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing is essentially when you rely on a collective group of individuals to solve a specific challenge. 

A good example of this is Duolingo, a free learning tool that teaches users new languages through simple games. What many users don’t realize is that while the tool provides text to translate as part of the learning process, Duolingo simultaneously provides the translated text (at a cost) to service other sites like CNN or Buzzfeed.

You know the saying, “If you’re not paying for it, you are the product”? In this case, it’s true for Duolingo, just like it’s true for Facebook and Instagram. Although users get offered a free service, there is often a catch to how much of your data is being collected and used. 

While many consumers view this technique as manipulative, there is something valuable to take away from this concept of crowdsourcing. 

In a more positive context, users can crowdsource information to the ever-growing online encyclopedia that is Wikipedia for anyone to enjoy.

For small businesses, there are also transparent ways you can crowdsource as well. For instance, Kickstarter is a platform that helps creators get investment money for their business through the act of crowdsourcing from the site’s users. In return, investors gain early access to the product, often at a discount.

4. Ecosystem model

The power of building ecosystems lies in integrations.

Take this for example: RingCentral is a powerful communications tool that offers cloud phone systems, video conferencing, and team messaging all-in-one. As the go-to place for business communications, users don’t need to switch back and forth between apps.

However, we know that users who use RingCentral, might also use other work tools like Microsoft, G Suite, or Salesforce. Because of this, RingCentral has built in the ability to seamlessly integrate with these other tools so that users can share information back and forth between them.

In doing so, RingCentral enables other products to provide their value through its user interface—products that their customers are already using and are happy they can continue using at the same time.

The idea here is to think about building products that can work well within an ecosystem of other supportive tools. Customers don’t want to have to choose between two things that don’t work well together, instead, they rather have them work together seamlessly. 

5. Smart economy

If you’re looking to get into the technology industry, you might be interested to learn more about the Internet of things (IoT). 

In a nutshell, it allows devices to “talk” to each other over the internet without needing human interaction. If you have a set of smart lights set up at home, you can assign them to turn on automatically whenever you get home by allowing your phone to track your location.

Smart technology helps people achieve more time in their day by allowing technology to automate a lot of their regular processes. 

Sure, turning on a light switch or two might not seem like much time saved. But when you have an entire system of smart technology talking to one another, from the dishware to the fridge to the vacuum—all of that time can add up.

Currently, there is a push to add a layer of “smart” to the many devices we interact with on the regular, whether that’s on a smaller scale like thermostats or a much larger scale like cars. 

6. Peer-to-peer economy

In a peer-to-peer (P2P) business, individuals provide the product or service for others to consume, while the business provides the platform to support the exchange. 

AirBnb, Turo, eBay, and Uber are all examples of P2P businesses where people can buy and sell goods directly with each other, without going through a third party.

P2P is seen as being disruptive to traditional business models where typically businesses have to own the assets and infrastructure needed to sell their offerings. 

With services like Airbnb, you no longer need to be a business that owns a multi-level building with staff to run a rental service, you can just be a person with a bedroom to spare.

Because of the flexibility and low barrier to entrance for many people who want to get into the P2P business, it’s gaining popularity overtime. Plus, given the shift in more individuals becoming interested in running their own businesses and joining the gig economy (which we’ll talk about in just a second), there’s a lot of incentive to use this model. 

6 new business opportunities that have arisen in response to change 

So far, we’ve talked about four reasons why the business landscape is changing and acting as a catalyst for six emerging business models. 

Building on these idea, we’ll take a look at some specific opportunities taking up by new and existing businesses:

1. Tapping into the gig economy

If working in an industry where demand for your business fluctuates depending on the time of year, then hiring staff full-time to support year-round might not make a lot of sense. 

Another option is to hire freelancers or contractors to support you when times are busy, on an as-needed basis. 

By being able to hire on-demand talent, even ones who are remote, you have the flexibility to spend as needed while potentially also tapping into favorable pay rates. 

For the freelancer, they maintain the autonomy to work multiple types of positions at one time, while having the freedom to work in whichever location they want (if the arrangement is for remote work).

Interested to get into the gig economy? Check out Upwork, a popular platform that connects businesses looking to hire with proven professional freelancers.

2. Creating business management tools for freelancers

With the nature of work changing into gig work, more and more people are gravitating towards running their own freelance, self-employed businesses. 

With it, they’ll need the right tools to manage everything that historically companies and established business entities would manage.

These include things such as managing clients, drawing up proposals, creating contracts, setting up accounting, and coordinating taxes, which now all rest on the shoulders of just one.

To meet this need, businesses like Bonsai have developed all-in-one products that help the freelancer manage his/her business without needing to rely on feature-packed, holistic business suites or lean on personal-use tools that lack professionalism.

3. Finding ways to automate manual work 

To a lot of people, time is a luxury. To maximize it, we try to work at full speeds, occasionally by multitasking to get work done quicker. 

As a small business, you may be juggling the task of bookkeeping using spreadsheets while also managing invoices in PDFs and documents. 

Despite best efforts though, this kind of intense labor can sometimes lend itself to human errors.

With the rise of technology’s undeniable importance in our day-to-day lives, it’s no surprise that coming up with new tools that help automate common work has big potential.

When 24 Hour Tees started growing to the point where manually serving and responding to each customer became unmanageable, they used RingCentral API to automate text replies, customizing the message to the customers’ specific questions.

4. Enabling remote workers to tackle unique challenges

Given Twitter’s new remote-work policy to allow employees to work from home forever, and Shopify claiming that “office centricity is over”—the verdict is out—remote work is here to stay.

With that comes a host of benefits and challenges.

Of course, there are positive environmental impacts when you don’t have masses congested in traffic during peak hours, and plus, what’s not to like about tailoring work hours to better suit individual lifestyles?

Though, for anyone who’s ever worked remotely (given this pandemic, that’s a lot of people), you can probably agree that there are some unique challenges when having to work with someone who’s not reachable by just walking over for a face-to-face chat. Namely, communication challenges.

Businesses that tap into this burgeoning market are developing products that help remote workers:

  • Connect with others through easy video conferencing softwares 
  • Secure cloud storage to share and collaborate on documents
  • Share screens and working with others via annotation
  • Chat with teams and customers on any device (desktop or mobile)

5. Participating in the sharing economy

The idea behind a sharing economy is to let someone rent an asset (like a car or house) that you own while it’s not in use. It allows new ways for people to borrow and reuse existing goods without needing to own it permanently. 

For instance, Turo is a car-sharing company that lets private car owners rent out their car to other drivers. Competing with traditional car rental services like Hertz or Avis, it creates a more accessible market and lowers the cost of car rentals as a whole.  

Individuals or businesses with unused assets (such as office space) can run their own business by offering up existing products or services within the sharing economy.

6. Discovering plant-based alternatives

Are plant-based diets going mainstream? It sure feels like it is.

The hype around ethical eating might not just be a hype after all. Plant-based foods, which were once considered a fad, have now grown into a $4.5 billion market.

While 17% of consumers are eating predominantly plant-based diets, 60% say they’re cutting back on meat-based products. 

You’ve probably already seen oat milk and cashew cheese on the shelves of grocery stores and Impossible Burgers on the menus of fast food restaurants. Clearly, businesses have made it easier than ever to start choosing eco-friendly food alternatives.

Those looking to make an impact in the retail and food industry should take note of the wave plant-based goods are making right now. 

With lots of room still for innovative development, startups, and entrepreneurs continue to revolutionize what we’re seeing in the food industry. 

Seizing new business opportunities for a continuously evolving market 

To continue thriving in evolving times, businesses need to make it a practice to look at what opportunities best serve them. While an opportunity might work well today, it’s not a guarantee it’ll stay successful ten years, five years, or even just one year down the line.

For now, making sure that your business model can adapt to wider trends like a move towards remote work and higher levels of automation are a good place to start.

Though changing business models might seem like a large task, particularly for a small business, we can think about business models in three key ways: pricing structure, supply chain structure, and the overall value that’s created for the customer (aka the fundamental product or service being offered).

By thinking about them like individual levers you can adjust, you can cautiously test out remodeling your business in small steps that allow you take advantage of new opportunities that are up ahead.

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