One of the small-business trends I find really interesting is the growth of small personal services companies. These are firms that have created niche businesses by providing life support services to increasingly harried, time-constrained consumers. Basically, these folks are paid to do things we used to do on our own, or did without.
In our community, there are many small personal service businesses. We have the traditional services like gardening, house cleaning, pool cleaning, shopping services, nannies, etc.
We also have career coaches, college admission counselors, retirement counselors, massage therapists, dog walkers, and others who help us with various life tasks. And we have a surprising number of kid-oriented small businesses that teach sports, music, arts, theater, and academics.
A number of start-up companies have identified this trend and are targeting personal services firms with products that help them find customers or improve their operations.
One example is the online scheduling firm Hour Town (www.hourtown.com). This company makes it easy for service firms to accept online appointments from new and existing clients.
Another example is Teach Street (www.teachstreet.com), a website that connects people who want to learn with people who teach. For students, Teach Street provides access to a wide variety of courses and instructors. For teachers, it provides a broad pool of potential customers.
The recession will likely dampen the growth of personal services firms. But the long-term outlook for these firms and the businesses that support them is strong, as consumers look to outsource tasks they don't enjoy or have time for.
Steve King is a partner at Emergent Research, where he leads an ongoing project to identify, analyze , and forecast the global trends and shifts that will affect small-business formation and operations over the next decade.
King has more than 20 years of industry and consulting experience and has held a number of executive and general management positions with both large and small companies. He is a s enior f ellow at the Society for New Communications Research, a research affiliate at the Institute for the Future. He also is a member of the advisory board at Pond Ventures. King blogs on the future of small business at www.smallbizlabs.com.