Here’s the bad news: Nobody has invented time machines yet. If they existed, I would climb in, travel into the future and see what the business opportunities for 2020 are. (Heck, I might even take a trip to 2025 and see what lies ahead, before traveling to take a few photos with the dinosaurs.)
Until then, I just have to go with my gut, research trends, and talk to experts to try and get an idea of which small-business opportunities are worth pursuing. Here are my highly unscientific, all-over-the-map suggestions at what appears to be promising in the coming year.
11 Small Businesses That Look to Grow Demand in 2020
1. Artificial Intelligence
The third annual LinkedIn U.S. Emerging Jobs Report puts artificial intelligence at the top of their list of 15 jobs that have emerged over the last five years (and that are experiencing tremendous growth). LinkedIn's data shows that hiring growth for AI-related jobs has grown 74 percent each year for the past four years. It's a field that's especially hot in the San Francisco Bay area, and New York, Boston, Seattle and Los Angeles.
Technology companies that can capitalize on how to make AI better will do especially well, predicts Angelique Rewers, CEO of The Corporate Agent, a business consultancy in Boca Raton, Florida.
“After years of hearing about AI, this will be the year where it shows up in our daily life in a more recognizable way through AI-as-a-service,” she says. “We can expect to start seeing new apps that simplify tasks. We might even hold out hope that after nearly two decades of miserable experiences on automated customer service lines, AI-as-a-service will improve those interactions.”
“IT and the cybersecurity industry should continue to thrive in 2020, unfortunately,” says Will Ellis, an informational technology security consultant based in Adelaide, Australia, and founder of Privacy Australia, a virtual private network review and comparison site.
“Almost every piece of technology is being developed to connect to the internet and become a part of a network of devices designed to make consumers lives easier. We are also seeing a move towards more automation with interconnected devices,” Ellis says. “The move towards connecting everything with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth significantly increases the threat from cyberattacks. The more connections you have, the more places an attacker can go after.”
In fact, some predict that cyber criminals will soon be using AI to help them conduct cyberattacks. In its 2018 Cyber Incident and Breach Report, the Internet Society's Online Trust Alliance reported the cost of those attacks: "...It is easy to justify a total impact of more than $45 billion in 2018."
Protecting companies and individuals from cyberattacks are just one of the many business opportunities out there this year.
It kind of goes hand-in-hand with cybersecurity, but increasingly, consumers are concerned about privacy.
You may have heard about the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) that went into place on January 1. The law allows California residents to review the data collected on them when they visit websites, and to refuse having that information be sold.
It's too early to tell how the law will play out for businesses and consumers. Still, presumably companies that can help enterprises and individuals make sense of the privacy law (which will likely end up affecting people in other states as well) may find some interesting business opportunities.
Sure, this could have been on a list from years past. But it’s still a good time to look for home-based business opportunities and sell products online. Rewers says that if you're looking for home-based business opportunities, this is probably as good a time as any to do it.
“While traditional retailers continue to search for new ways to reinvent themselves, we can expect to see direct-to-consumer brands continue to thrive,” she says. “They have a strong foothold with Millennials and Gen Z—and they’ve figured out how to engage on social media, which gives them greater control over their brand story, customer loyalty and margins. It also means they don’t have to play the expensive, one-sided game with retailers over shelf space, inventory and so on.”
“Consumers, especially upscale ones with disposable income, are increasingly embracing mental and physical wellness services,” says Patrick West, owner of Be the Machine, a marketing agency in New York City. “Large corporations are turning to wellness programs to help with employee happiness and retention.”
Barbara Chancey, whose Dallas-based company Barbara Chancey Design Group has designed fitness centers across six continents, echoes West's thinking.
"The boutique fitness industry is exploding worldwide, and this new industry is changing the world—one pedal stroke, plank and vinyasa flow at a time," Chancey says.
Chancey believes there will be a "significant increase" in the number of fitness studios opening up in 2020.
"Working out is the new going out," she says.
“Festivals are becoming cultural staples,” West says. “In 2020, the size and scope of festivals is only going to increase. Major names like Coachella, Lollapalooza and Bumbershoot already are popular on the music scene."
But you might benefit from thinking outside the music box when looking for business opportunities.
"Watch out for non-music fests like those catering to yoga, sports and niche cultural lifestyles," West adds. "They are drawing great crowds as people want experiences, not products, these days.”
Digital marketing is an industry that is expected to do very well in 2020. The number of dollars businesses are investing in digital marketing has been growing for the past several years and isn't expected to slow down any time soon.
—Lewis Goldstein, president, Blue Wind Marketing
7. Resale / Consignment
People have always liked getting deals, but society has put a premium on recycling in the last decade or so. That may explain why the secondhand apparel market is doing so well. According to numbers from online store ThredUp and retail analytics firm Global Data, the used clothing market was worth $24 billion in the United States in 2018—and is expected to reach $41 billion in 2022. In 2028, we may be looking at a $64 billion market.
If you can think of an underserved market that could benefit from resale, you might have some great business opportunities to jump on in 2020.
8. Wind Energy
I know: You probably weren't thinking of opening up a big line of credit to start a wind farm. But small-business owners who have land in some rural areas may want to take advantage of the business opportunities that come from getting a wind turbine or two.
The wind industry is currently bringing in more than $1 billion a year in the United States, according to the American Wind Energy Association. There's also the wind energy aftermarket to consider. Businesses that specialize in spare parts manufacturing, blade reconditioning and repair work may find a lot of work in 2020 and throughout the decade. The wind energy industry is expected to be a $70 billion business by 2030, the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis reports.
This is a safe bet every year: The pet industry has been growing steadily since Generation X was Generation Z's age. Back in 1994, it was a $17 billion industry, and it’s climbed every year since then, according to the American Pet Products Association. While the 2019 numbers haven’t been finalized yet, it’s believed to be a $75.38 billion industry.
If you have an idea for a pet business, whether it’s a product or a pet-friendly service (fear-free veterinary practices have become popular in recent years), it’s really never a bad year to start a business and go to the dogs (or cats... pet rats...).
10. Digital Marketing
“Digital marketing is an industry that is expected to do very well in 2020. The number of dollars businesses are investing in digital marketing has been growing for the past several years and isn't expected to slow down any time soon,” says Lewis Goldstein, president of Blue Wind Marketing, a marketing and advertising agency in Los Angeles.
“Attention is the new currency. It's important for businesses to meet their customers where they already spend their time. That presents fantastic opportunities for businesses to generate more customers and increase their profitability,” Goldstein says.
“Whether it's YouTube or LinkedIn," he continues, "you can get in front of your ideal customer base easier than ever before."
11. Online Learning
There's no question that online learning has taken off as a business. Coursera, Udemy and LinkedIn Learning are some of the bigger names out there, but they are hardly the only ones.
"Informal learning is an industry that has been growing steadily and is expected to pick up pace in the coming years," says Steven Cox, founder of San Diego-based TakeLessons, which offers in-person and online lessons. (A recent report from Renub Research suggests that the online education industry will reach $350 billion, worldwide, by 2025.)
Cox says that technology has aided the industry in many ways, with faster internet speeds and better mobile devices.
"We're in the midst of the democratization of education," he says. "A few years ago, if you wanted to learn French, you were limited to the people who might live around you. But now, through the power of technology, you can learn French through livestream classes from a teacher that lives a block from the Eiffel Tower. It's a new world, full of opportunity to those who are curious."
Anyone looking for business opportunities in 2020 should temper their enthusiasm with a healthy dose of realism. Manish Kothari, the president of SRI International, a nonprofit that specializes in innovation, offers up the example of self-driving cars. Many people, he notes, had predicted they would be a big thing by now.
"While tremendous progress continues to be made, there is a long path ahead," Kothari says.
"[Science fiction author] Isaac Asimov predicted that by 2019 humans would have mining factories and a solar-power station on the Moon," he adds. "That certainly has turned out not to be true, but the future does look bright for many industries."
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