By Cliff Ennico

In speaking to business owners and “people in career transitions” nationwide, I am often called upon to speculate about the future of American business.

For example, I am frequently asked:

  • What businesses should I be thinking of starting now?
  • What businesses will still be around in ten years’ time?
  • Where will tomorrow’s jobs be?
  • Will there BE a future for small business in the next 20 years?

I have given the matter quite a bit of thought (being a professional speaker means you have a lot of downtime in trains, planes and automobiles), and have come up with a few visions of what the business world is going to look like in a decade or two, assuming of course that present trends continue.

While not a complete picture of the business world circa 2030, I think a lot of future business trends can be summarized in four simple, commonplace, household words.

The words are: “digital”, “global”, “virtual”, and “24/7” (okay, maybe the last one is two words).

Now, to make sense of them.

The future will be DIGITAL. Since about 1980, our world has been increasingly computerized and digitized. Entire industries that used to live in the physical world now live almost exclusively online. Do you see any Mom and Pop retail stores on your local commercial strip? I’ll bet you don’t.

When looking for small business opportunities, don’t look at anything “brick and mortar.” Rents in most commercial districts are skyrocketing, and only larger businesses that can cover their monthly “nuts” with substantial, predictable revenue (think “big box” retailers, franchises, and banks) will be able to afford those rents.

If you are thinking about a basic retail or service business, it must live on the Web, because that’s where costs are affordable. Put together a Website that is “e-commerce enabled” (that means people can buy stuff directly from your website without having to call you), together with a Facebook page that is linked to your Website, and market the Dickens out of it.

The future will be GLOBAL. The Web has erased local, state and national boundaries, probably for good. Much of our legal and tax system is based on these boundaries, which is why our legal and tax system increasingly makes no sense.

Take sales taxes, for example. These taxes, which have been around for the last century or so, are based on the proposition that the seller and buyer in any sales transaction will always be in the same physical location.

But that doesn’t happen on the Web. The vast majority of online sales are interstate or international in nature, and sales taxes are not charged on those transactions. Just last week I bought something online from a vendor in Russia. As a kid growing up in the Cold War 1960s, if I purchased something from a vendor in Russia I would have had the FBI in my living room within 24 hours.

Today people are finding they have more in common with people in Zimbabwe than they do with people who live down the street. Any business that plans to survive in the future must cast its marketing net globally.

The future will be VIRTUAL. It used to be that companies were organized into pyramids, with hierarchical steps that employees would climb like a ladder, trying to get as close as they could to the top before they are downsized or forced to retire.

In the future, company structures will be flat, and there will be few if any living and breathing employees. Work will get done by a system of “virtual project teams” that will assemble for particular projects, then disassemble when the project is done, then reconfigure for other projects involving different companies.

Picture a “lava lamp” in your mind (if you don’t know what this is, you can see a video demonstration online at http://www.lavalamp.com/c/7/classic-lava-lamp). Notice the way the different fluids merge into each other, then separate, then merge again in different configurations. That is how the world will be working in 20 years.

There will still be companies, of course, but they will be little more than jigsaw pieces that fit into various project teams. It will be the teams that matter, and determine your career path.

Groovy, man.

The future will be 24/7. The barriers between work, play and study will completely disappear in 20 years. There will no longer be weekends, holidays and vacations. Every day will be a work day, every day will be a play day, every day will be a study day.

Last Sunday I worked four hours on client projects, but on Wednesday I took two hours off to shop at a local bookstore and pick up my dry cleaning, when both stores were empty.

Are these four “megatrends” good or bad for the human race? I don’t know. But I think they are inevitable, and as with any organic evolution, you either adapt or die.

Cliff Ennico ([email protected]) is a syndicated columnist, author and host of the PBS television series ‘Money Hunt’. This column is no substitute for legal, tax or financial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualified professional licensed in your state. To find out more about Cliff Ennico and other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit our Web page atwww.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2014 CLIFFORD R. ENNICO. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.