In order to plan a journey, you need to know something about the terrain. Are you crossing icy mountains or hacking through jungles? What's the weather forecast? And are you like to meet many enemies or friends on the road?

And just as questions like these are fundamental to planning a physical voyage, understanding the business terrain is essential for entrepreneurs and executives to thoughtfully plan their progress in the coming year. Helpfully for small business owners in particular, a number of specialized consultancies are on the case.

Emergent Research, which specializes in research on the smaller end of the SMB scale, for instance, has put out predictions for the year ahead for the last ten years running. Their latest just came out and includes prognostications about tech, social, and political changes affecting entrepreneurs, but here to get you started are the basics of how they foresee the business landscape shifting.

1. Small business goes global.

Globalization might be causing upheaval in some industries and sectors, but it also is opening up gigantic new opportunities for small and medium businesses. "Exports by small, micro and even solopreneur businesses will continue to expand in 2017," predicts Emergent.

Why? "Digital, global platforms such as Amazon, Ebay and others will continue to drive down the costs, knowledge and effort associated with exporting. Powered and enabled by these platforms, growing numbers of SMBs will access and serve buyers of goods and services around the globe," the post explains.

2. Employees? Who needs employees?

This trend was originally named "the million dollar solopreneur" by author Elaine Pofeldt but Emergent is completely onboard with her prediction that more and more entrepreneurs are "choosing to use outsourcing, contingent labor and Internet services and platforms instead of traditional employees to build their businesses. We agree with Elaine that this growing trend will accelerate in 2017."

3. Corporations embrace freelancers.

Just as solopreneurs will increasingly rely on freelancers, big business too will see the benefits of utilizing so-called "contingent labor."

"This year will see an inflection point in terms of major corporations embracing freelance talent. After studying and testing the use of freelancers (called 'agile talent' and 'contingent labor' by corporations) for several years, 2017 will see the corporate use of agile talent increase and become mainstream. This will, of course, increase the demand for independent workers," write Emergent.

4. It's all about the platforms.

Platforms like "Amazon, Etsy, Intuit Quickbooks, etc. provide SMBs 'plug-and-play' access to world class business infrastructure on a variable cost basis," notes Emergent, but all these great opportunities demand careful strategizing. This is the year more small businesses will have to sit down and seriously think about which platforms to use and how, according to the post, which predicts that "these decisions will increasingly play a key role in small business success."

5. Business coaches go mainstream.

"One of our most surprising (at least to us) 2016 research findings was the extent to which successful small businesses are using coaches. We knew business coaching had developed into a big business, but we had under-estimated how widespread coaching had become. Due to the growing complexity of business and the rapid pace of change, coaching will become even more common as more SMBs seek help on working through complex problems quickly," offers Emergent as their final prediction for 2017.

Check out the complete post for the consultancy's other predictions.

When you peer into your crystal ball do you see the same things Emergent does?

Published on: Dec 28, 2016