6 key small business trends we saw emerge in 2016

Looking back

Whether in the context of your specific niche or online entrepreneurship as a whole, radical monthly change is practically a constant. Hardly a week goes by without some new small business trends, tools or technology heaving into view.

When you’re battling away in the trenches of small business survival, however, it can be tricky to pull back and get a feel for what’s happening in the world at large. Simply keeping the show on the road is likely to take up the bulk of your day-to-day attention.

Fortunately, we’ve got you covered. Don’t worry about scouring the technological landscape, because we’ve gone ahead and highlighted six key small business trends that emerged in 2016. Some are just the latest manifestations of long-lived tendencies, while others represent entirely new fields of endeavor.

Let’s kick things off with the demographic cohort who dominated 2016.

1. Millennials on the march

Boomers might still be dominating the political landscape, but Millennials are the ones making a real difference for small businesses across America. The Millennial generation (those born between 1980 and 2000) are the largest generation in history, and they’re flexing an increasing amount of muscle in the online marketplace.

Small Business Trends Graph
Millennials spend more and return less than other demographic cohorts.

If you’re not already thinking about how to specifically target and attract this age group now is the perfect time to get started. They’ll be holding the purse strings for decades to come!

2. Mobile is massive, but there’s still room for improvement

The mobile/desktop tipping point was officially passed back in 2014, and 2016 showed once again that there’s no turning back on the road to smaller devices. The launch of the AMP initiative this year brought home just how seriously mobile is being taken by our internet overlords, and ordinary users continue to worship at the altar of smaller devices.

As the number of mobile-friendly websites continues to skyrocket, mobile usability is coming into focus as a hot topic. Google’s recent announcement that they’ll be taking a hard line on interstitials is a sign of which way the wind will increasingly be blowing heading into 2017.

3. eCommerce is now an easy option for all

Though there are still plenty of irritating hoops to jump through for those looking to sell online, 2016 has an excellent chance of being remembered as the year when eCommerce finally became a relatively straightforward option for all. This is just one of many small business trends that’s only going to get better from here.

In the WordPress world, Automattic’s ongoing development of WooCommerce is making sure that millions of users are able to easily hawk their wares to the world. Commercial competitors such as Squarespace, Shopify and GoDaddy, meanwhile, also enable people to start selling within minutes with minimum fuss.

Small Business Trends Let’s Encrypt
Let’s Encrypt removes a traditional pain point associated with offering secure shopping.

The recent arrival of the Let’s Encrypt SSL initiative has also removed one of the major traditional stumbling blocks for people attempting to set up their own shops. Pretty much anywhere you look, it’s never been easier to start selling.

4. Small business financing is becoming more flexible

Financing is a traditional pain point for small business owners, but 2016 saw encouraging initiatives start to gain real ground. Services such as Kabbage, OnDeck, Fundera and PayPal Working Capital all offer straightforward ways of securing extra funds.

Small Business Trends Kabbage
Services like Kabbage are revolutionizing small business financing.

Peer-to-peer lending is also an increasingly viable route for SMBs to take in the form of offerings from firms such as LendingClub.

5. The gig economy is firmly in place

Whether you think it’s a weird, doomed bubble or the salvation of American workers, the gig economy is very much here to stay.

Independent contractors, freelancers and more are all thriving in today’s gig economy.


For a growing number of small businesses, whole departments such as graphic design, accounting and website maintenance are increasingly being farmed out to on-demand providers or freelance marketplaces.

6. Facebook is crushing the social competition

Though social media remains as fiercely competitive as ever, Facebook is steadily emerging as light years ahead of the chasing pack. Whether you’re looking at their e-commerce integrations, Enterprise options or ongoing VR work, they’re knocking it out of the park on multiple fronts.

Small Business Trends Facebook
Facebook is increasingly hard to beat for reaching targeted demographics.

From a strictly practical perspective, Facebook’s suite of small business sales and marketing tools is also increasingly essential. If you haven’t yet explored its full power, the good folks at Digital Marketer do an excellent job of making the case for devoting some serious resources to the platform. Small business trends like Facebook marketing are surefire wins — now and in the future.

Recap: Small business trends

The small business trends we’ve highlighted above were by no means the only ones making waves in 2016, but expect to see each one gather pace as we head into the New Year and beyond. Let’s recap them one more time to close things out:

  1. Millennials will increasingly dominate online in terms of spend and wider influence.
  2. The mobile revolution continues to be a huge topic.
  3. eCommerce is now a genuinely accessible opportunity for all.
  4. Small business financing is undergoing a quiet revolution.
  5. The gig economy continues to gain ground as an idea.
  6. Facebook continues to tighten its grip on the attention economy.

Are there any sweeping changes that we’ve missed? Ideas you’d like to tease out further? Get in touch via the comments below and let us know!

Image by: illustir via VisualHunt.com / CC BY