small business owners

2018 Predictions

By Rieva Lesonsky

What will 2018 bring to small business owners and entrepreneurs? If I had a crystal ball, I would definitely tell you. But since I don’t, I’ve collected predictions from a number of different sources to give you some hints about what’s in store for you next year.

But first, none of the following information will matter if your small business is not ready for growth. Steve Blank is known for many things. He’s a serial entrepreneur, author, professor, VC, father of the lean business movement, and more. To me, he’s more of an entrepreneurial seer. He warns entrepreneurs they must be prepared—for anything. “Nothing goes by the manual,” he explains, “things happen, it’s completely chaotic.” And it’s easy, he adds, to miss the “signal” in all the noise.

Recently the so-called conventional wisdom says businesses need to be disruptive to thrive. But, Blank argues, you cannot be disruptive all the time. Instead, he says you need to keep doing what you’re doing to bring in revenues. And then, Blank advises, you should create “an innovation pipeline—a culture of experimentation.” Only about 10% of what you try to create will actually work, so if you want to accomplish two big things in 2018, you need to experiment with at least 20.

And if you’re not failing, Blank says, you’re not experimenting enough. The key, he says, bucking the now ubiquitous advice to “fail fast”, is to “learn fast” instead. To succeed you need to fail at the “right times and places” and to fail during the experimentation phase “not on execution.”

On to the predictions:

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Abinash Tripathy, founder and CSO, Helpshift, predicts:

2018 is the year that AI will transition from mainly supporting the routine consumer experience to supporting the brand experience.

  • We’re getting used to Siri and Alexa, but now we’re going to see it in transactional and technical parts of conducting business
  • B2Cs selling commodity products that are the first to deploy chatbots and AI stand to gain market share by creating new and highly personalized experiences for their customers
  • The most forward-thinking B2B brands will also learn from B2C’s use of AI

 2017 was the year of agent engagement; 2018 will be all about the supervisor

  • Automation will free up supervisors to play a more strategic role based on data-driven insights to drive higher workforce productivity and operational excellence.
  • We’ve seen commentary this year about the growing role of AI and automating routine tasks, which frees up agents for issues that involve higher levels of problem solving— increasing engagement as a result. Now we’re going to see how AI impacts the role of the supervisor in terms of automating routine tasks, and freeing them for more “strategic” management.

 AI and chatbots will allow companies to bring higher-level agent jobs back stateside

  • Firms will want to bring operations closer to the customer for an enhanced experience while also seeing cost savings
  • Our research shows that 52% of Americans gave customer service a C grade, but we expect that to rise to a B (or at least C+) by the end of the year as chatbots make customer service more responsive and more personalized

Chatbots will gain wider acceptance from American consumers

  • Our research shows 55% of all Americans—and 65% of millennials—want chatbots involved in the customer service process
    • These numbers will increase to 65% of all Americans and 75% of millennials
  • 19% say chatbots are definitely making things better, while another 40% say chatbots are helpful but aren’t living up to their full potential. By 2018 those percentages will change to:
    • 1 in 4 Americans will say chatbots are making things better
    • 1 in 3 will say chatbots are not living up to their full potential

Gartner predicts:

2020 will be a pivotal year in AI-related employment dynamics as artificial intelligence (AI) will become a positive job motivator. The number of jobs affected by AI will vary by industry; through 2019, healthcare, the public sector and education will see continuously growing job demand while manufacturing will be hit the hardest. Starting in 2020, AI-related job creation will cross into positive territory, reaching two million net-new jobs in 2025.

“Many significant innovations in the past have been associated with a transition period of temporary job loss, followed by recovery, then business transformation and AI will likely follow this route,” says Svetlana Sicular, research vice president at Gartner.

“Unfortunately, most calamitous warnings of job losses” confuse AI with automation — that overshadows the greatest AI benefit—AI augmentation—a combination of human and artificial intelligence, where both complement each other.”

“Now is the time to really impact your long-term AI direction,” says Sicular. “For the greatest value, focus on augmenting people with AI. Enrich people’s jobs, reimagine old tasks and create new industries. Transform your culture to make it rapidly adaptable to AI-related opportunities or threats.”

Additional predictions related to AI’s impact on the workplace:

By 2022, one in five workers engaged in mostly non-routine tasks will rely on AI to do a job.

“Using AI to auto-generate a weekly status report or pick the top five emails in your inbox doesn’t have the same wow factor as, say, curing a disease would, which is why these near-term, practical uses go unnoticed,” says Craig Roth, research vice president at Gartner. “Companies are just beginning to seize the opportunity to improve non-routine work through AI by applying it to general-purpose tools. Once knowledge workers incorporate AI into their work processes as a virtual secretary or intern, robo-employees will become a competitive necessity.”

Leveraging technologies such as AI and robotics, retailers will use intelligent process automation to identify, optimize and automate labor-intensive and repetitive activities that are currently performed by humans, reducing labor costs through efficiency from headquarters to distribution centers and stores. Many retailers are already expanding technology use to improve the in-store check-out process.

However, research suggests that many consumers still prefer to interact with a knowledgeable sales associate when visiting a store, particularly in specialized areas such as home improvement, drugstores and cosmetics, where informed associates can make a significant impact on customer satisfaction. Though they will reduce labor used for check-out and other operational activities, retailers will find it difficult to eliminate traditional sales advisers.

More analysis on AI is available in the Gartner Special Report Applying Artificial Intelligence to Drive Business Transformation. This collection of research shows the way for organizations to begin, right now, to make sense of the AI opportunity for digital business and to take practical steps to realize it.

Dr. Sid J. Reddy, Chief Scientist, Conversica, has some “unpredictions”—things that won’t happen in 2018:

  • Self-driving cars won’t happen: While many are predicting a driverless future, we’re a long “road” away from autonomous vehicles that will take us to and fro while we read the news or otherwise spend our time behind the wheel. For a number of years ahead, human operators and oversight will still rule the roads, because the discrete human judgments that are essential while driving will still require a person with all of his or her faculties–and the attendant liability for when mistakes happen.
  • Worker displacement by artificial intelligence is over-hyped: While it is possible that AI agents might replace (but more likely supplement) certain administrative tasks, the reality is that worker displacement by AI is over-hyped and unlikely. Even in an environment where “Auto ML” (Automated Machine Learning) is helping machines to build machines through deep learning, the really complex jobs will not be replaced. This is because firms will still need the expertise of human thinking and judgment to build solutions that address complex matters.
  • Adopting AI isn’t always a simple decision: Despite what you might be hearing from AI solution vendors, businesses that want to adopt AI must first conduct a careful needs assessment. As part of this process, companies also must gain a realistic view of what benefits are being sought and how AI can be strategically deployed for maximum benefit. IT management, business users and developers should avoid being overly ambitious and carefully assess the infrastructure and data required to drive value from AI. Best practices and “buy versus build” analysis also should be part of conversations about implementing AI applications.


Beverage Flavors

David Dafoe, founder Flavorman, a top beverage development company, predicts:

The flavor forecast for 2018 is shaping up to be full of ooey, gooey goodness. Maple, the sweet sign of spring and uniquely North American ingredient is the top trending flavor for the upcoming year. [Editor’s note: We told you maple was hot.] It is famous for its complex sweetness and unmatched flavor. More recently, it is front and center for its role as an alternative sweetener and extensive list of health and nutritional benefits.

Many flavors trend to reflect the current state of the times and this year, there is a definitive trend toward earthy and familiar.

Maple: like bourbon, but sweeter: Maple flavors can be both deliciously complex and subtle. Like bourbon, many factors influence how maple tastes. One could taste notes of roasted coffee while another detects hints of hazelnut and cinnamon. Also like bourbon, maple must age to reach perfection. Trees need to be 30-40 years old before they can be tapped. Another benefit of Maple is its high antioxidant value. It contains elevated levels of the mineral manganese and vitamin B2, which promotes a healthy metabolism, bone structure and thyroid function.

Stick with sticky: Much like maple, honey is a natural ingredient that not only sweetens your favorite beverage, but offers a diverse variety of flavors. Honey delivers flavor and aroma. In the United States, there are 300 varieties of honey, all with unique flavor profiles, from light and mild to robust and strong. Allergy sufferers have long touted the healing powers of honey. It has been known to improve cholesterol, lower blood pressure and acts as a natural energy source.

Fruity over sweet: If sweet isn’t your thing, grapefruit adds a citrusy, zesty touch. Grapefruit is a versatile flavor that that packs a powerful punch. The unique combination of sweet and tart creates an aromatic, distinctive flavor. The popularity of grapefruit-inspired drinks continues to trend upward, and the health benefits are like those in honey. The citrus fruit is packed with Vitamin C and decreases the risk of obesity, diabetes and promotes healthy skin.

Botanical spins:  Herbal blends such as mint, juniper and rose bring the year’s flavor trends full-circle. The uniqueness of these ingredients allows them to be used as the primary ingredients in spirits in other beverages, but also in culinary creations.

Where will you see them?  The top flavor trends of 2018 will pop up in exotic tea blends such as Matcha Tea, international coffee blends, botanical-heavy beverages both alcoholic and non-alcoholic and in craft beverages including sodas, beer and spirits.


Coworking Spaces

Steve King, Partner, Emergent Research (with help from GCUC) projects:

  • The number of global coworking spaces will grow from 14,411 in 2017 to just over 30,000 in 2022. This is an average annual growth rate of 16.1%.
  • The global number of members will grow even faster than the number of spaces. We expect the number of coworking members will increase from 1.74 million in 2017 to 5.1 million in 2022. This is an average annual growth rate of 24.2%.
  • From now thru 2022 the average number of members at global coworking spaces will grow by just over a third, from 121 members in 2017 to 169 members in 2022.

A mix of trends and shifts are driving coworking’s growth, including:

Coworking is a global phenomenon: Coworking is growing around the world and most major cities have coworking spaces. Asia/Pacific (which includes India), and especially China, have embraced coworking, making APAC the world’s largest coworking market.


The global number of self-employed knowledge workers is growing: While there are no solid estimates of the total number of global self-employed knowledge workers, it’s clear their numbers are very large and growing. This growth, coupled with an increasing realization of the value of coworking by independent workers, will continue to drive demand for coworking spaces.

Startups will continue to flock to coworking spaces: Startups understand the cost, flexibility and talent attraction advantages provided by coworking spaces. Because of these advantages, coworking spaces will continue to be the location of choice for most startups.

Niche spaces are expanding the coworking market:  While very large coworking spaces—especially WeWork—get most of the attention, the number of smaller niche-oriented spaces continues to grow rapidly. These spaces appeal to members with specialized interests or needs (shared biolabs, women-oriented spaces, writers’ spaces, industry specific spaces, shared commercial kitchens, etc.) and attract people who likely wouldn’t join a traditional coworking space.

For more details, see the full forecast presentation on the GCUC website.



Steve Pruden, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at cloud services firm Appirio, predicts:

To retain talent in 2018, companies will invest in Worker Experience technologies that modernize the employee experience. Remote work will become more widely accepted, which will stimulate demand for technologies that build an effective remote work environment. We will also see a decline in annual review processes—they are outdated and simply do not work. Instead, HR leaders will demand to have access to technology tools that allow employees to receive regular, ongoing communication from their managers so that they don’t have to wait an entire year to receive the feedback they need to refine their skills and grow professionally.



Sara Ayoub, Senior Director of Marketing at ZeroFOX, predicts:

The CMO and CISO will forge a unique alliance in 2018: Departments within the modern enterprise can no longer work in silos when it comes to dealing with cybersecurity issues. Cybersecurity must be addressed holistically, considering it’s no longer a matter of “if” a company will be breached, but rather “when.” While it’s up to the CISO to employ a company-wide defense plan, the CMO is responsible for developing an outward-facing response in the event the business is breached. When a cyberattack occurs, brand reputation incurs one of the biggest fallouts. The CMO and CISO must work collaboratively in 2018 to both protect the company and prepare for inevitable security issues.

Brand impersonations will run rampant in 2018: As marketers work tirelessly to build a coveted audience of loyal followers and customers on social media, adversaries are tracking this activity and targeting these successful organizations to conduct impersonation attempts. Brand impersonation accounts are easy to create and attackers can immediately select targets from the list of users who follow or engage with the account. From fake coupons to money-flipping scams to fraudulent technical support offers, account fraud will become an even more common issue in 2018, and marketers, working to protect their brand’s reputation, must identify, report and remediate these fraudsters.

Programmatic access to social networks will make scammers & cybercriminals jobs even easier in 2018: Programmatic access to social networks has been a boon for marketers. However, scammers and cybercriminals have also begun to leverage this automations in the past to attack valuable customers at scale. In 2018, automation will expand to be a key tool in the scammer’s arsenal for attacking brands and their customers at scale.

Sara Spivey, CMO of Bazaarvoice, predicts:

Diversity and inclusion will be a top priority not only from an internal standpoint, but in how businesses view advertising campaigns and product development. While we started to see progress this past year, the revamp of Barbie, for example, this will really pick up in 2018. Expect to see more representation across the board.

What CMOs Think

The folks at Pan Communications say marketers have a lot of challenges facing them in 2018. Check the infographic below for some great insights.



Emily Key, VP of Operations at online bookkeeping solution provider Bench, shares some resolutions you should make:

  1. Resolve to take advantage of new tech, and bring your business into the 21st century. One of the top challenges SMBs are set to face in 2018 is staying ahead of rapid changes in technology—spanning mobile, tech products, and software.
  2. Resolve to get out from behind your desk. Find ways to automate more of your day-to-day processes so you can get back to your entrepreneurial journey, focusing your time on doing more of what you love (and less of what you don’t).
  3. Resolve to strengthen your financial IQ. A large percentage of small businesses that fail do so for financial reasons. Not all of us are numbers people. But in the digital age, there’s no reason that should get in the way of understanding your business’s financials. Find a service that breaks it down for you and offers you the kind of support you’ll need to make confident financial decisions. That means having a firm grasp of your debits, credits, and top ten expenses, for starters.