10 Business Trends Shaping the SME Landscape in 2022

Published: 31 January 2022

It seems at long last that we are on track to leave the “New” and “Next Normals” behind us and enter the “Nearly Normal” era. As South Africa steadily approaches a 50% adult vaccination rate, along with the government’s decision to downgrade to Level 1 regulations hours before New Year’s Eve, the current SME atmosphere is abuzz with cautious optimism. There is renewed hope that the economy may see further recovery over the next few months.  Businesses that managed to weather the storm during the turbulent past two years are now more prepared for the unexpected than ever before.

To enable your business to strategise and gear up for 2022 (and the potential turning tide), we’ve compiled a list of the top business trends. Some are the ripples of trends that suddenly and irrevocably emerged in the Covid Era, while others stand in direct response to two years of global chaos. We’re eager to learn how these insights could play a role in shaping the imminent recovery of the South African economy.

Preparing for the Unexpected Still a Must

If there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s to anticipate and prepare for the unexpected. What we have been through turns what we believed about a VUCA world in its head. While the green shoots continue to sprout, one can’t neglect the importance of scenario planning and risk mitigation strategies – and this isn’t limited to large corporates as small businesses are even more exposed to risk and have less fail-safe mechanisms.

Virtual Networking is the Place to Be

Many business owners have found comfort in community; that essence of Ubuntu makes South Africans who they are. The webinars and group chats of the early Covid Era evolved into full-scale virtual networks, enabling entrepreneurs to connect in digital ecosystems, sharing not only products and services but resources, insights, tips and general support. Gone are the days of physical conventions – cyber is king in the Nearly Normal.

Less Conservative Budgets

Although many businesses remain cautious of overspending and are still in cost-cutting mode, many have started to lift spending freezes in areas that saw the most severe budget cuts, such as marketing, recruitment and other agency dependent functions. That said, the ongoing war against inflammatory pressures and price hikes has led many business owners to protect their cash flow with a buffer, either by demanding deposits from prospects or accessing business funding.

Hybrid is the Way to Work

One of the most significant shifts of the pandemic, working from home, had to be implemented cost-effectively and practically overnight. While some businesses have returned in full force to a five day work week, many have either given up on the traditional office life altogether, or have adopted a hybrid model, seeing employees working in office only on certain days

The Wellbeing Wave Gains Momentum

Mental health became a hot social topic during the height of global lockdown and has since become a crucial workplace concern. Employee wellbeing and careful consideration of a work-life balance have led many to become part of what has been coined the “Great Resignation”: a shift in workplace unhappiness from being financially driven to driven by the desire to leave a toxic work environment. Employers need to prioritise a culture of balance and wellbeing or risk losing high performing team members.

Supporting Local is Lekker

With many international supply chains in disarray, some even months after production resumed following the suspended lockdown restrictions, businesses are looking elsewhere to meet demand. Where better to look than in one’s backyard? The recent red listing saga, which saw a slew of countries closing their borders to South Africans after confirmation of the Omicron variant over the festive period, scared many into exploring local sourcing and production to avoid potential future supply chain disruptions.

Prepare for Cash to Card and Beyond

Last year saw a great drive to formalise township businesses using POS systems as a means of tracking card transactions. 2022 is set to see many SMEs go cardless as consumers shift to paying via their smartphones.

eCommerce is More Than a Sales Channel

The shift to eCommerce was one that many businesses adopted, and quickly! With initial growing pains that were expected but frustrating, many business owners found their feet in the eCommerce space and are working towards optimising and automating their digital processes, including accounting and result forecasting.

Embrace Digital Marketing in an Online World

The online shift has also necessitated a change in how businesses approach marketing and customer conversion. Digital marketing consists of any customer-facing advertising that exists in a virtual space, including social media, Google Ads, SEO (search engine optimisation), email and more. We’re also continuing to see leaps and bounds within the digital marketing space, with companies turning to non-traditional marketing channels such as Pinterest, TikTok and Snapchat for increased exposure. Marketing itself has turned into the pursuit of a seamless experience, and this trend will only gain traction as virtual spaces, such as the Metaverse, strive ever towards a completely immersive, AI-powered digital realm.

The Greener, The Better

The green revolution is another trend that has been on the radar for a few years and continues to impact how we do business. In recent years, the improved infrastructure and technology for adopting eco-friendly solutions have become much more affordable and accessible. Hence, consumers are increasingly less forgiving of businesses that forfeit their ecological responsibilities. If it’s not eco-conscious, you can kiss a fair portion of our customer base goodbye, especially as Xenials enter the marketplace.

Were you inspired by the insights but struggling to implement your 2022 strategy with cash flow restrictions? Learn more about accessing up to R10 million in instant growth capital here.