By Claire West

Sometimes we all wish we had a crystal ball, and this is particularly true for small business owners who can often find it challenging to plan for next week, let alone for the next year or even further into the future. As we approach the end of 2010, the new Intuit 2020 report, explores the top trends that will shape the future of UK small businesses over the next 10 years. Here are some of the key trends that the report identifies:

1.We’re ageing but not slowing down
By 2020, 1 in 5 Europeans will be over 65. The majority of ageing baby boomers will work beyond the traditional retirement age, and many will start small businesses both for financial support and lifestyle. What’s more, younger baby boomers, aged 55 to 65, will start more small businesses than any other demographic.

This trend will mean that a growing share of the workforce will be 55 years or older, shifting the needs of workers to age-relevant products and services that make their lives better. This change will provide an opportunity for small businesses with innovative, affordable solutions.

2.You won’t need to be rich to start a business
Starting a small business will be easier — and more affordable than ever. The cost of starting and running a small business will continue to decline as smaller, lighter and smarter systems, components and manufacturing methods emerge. Small businesses will also shift from fixed-cost to variable-cost business models, adopting a pay-as-you-go approach to minimise both the investment risk and the upfront cash requirements of their business.

3.It’s a she-conomy
Women, especially those in emerging markets, will become the dominant force in the global market — taking increased leadership responsibilities across business and education. On a global scale, 870 million women who have not previously participated in the mainstream economy will gain employment or start their own businesses. In countries with limited support services, such as viable childcare, many women will start their own businesses to provide flexibility for their families and avoid traditional constraints that once kept them out of the workplace.

4.Working in the cloud
The brick-and-mortar office will become a thing of the past, as the way people work and do business will change due to emerging Internet cloud and mobile technologies. Working in the cloud will increasingly shift work lives away from corporate offices altogether and toward an in-my-own-place, on-my-own-time work system.

Smartphones, tablets and other mobile computing devices will become the go-to computing devices for most of the world. In addition, “third places” for work such as public libraries, co-working facilities and rent-by-the-hour office suites will join the traditional office and home.

5.Niche markets will continue to flourish
Consumers will demand increasingly unique, niche products and services and businesses will have the means to deliver them driven in part by the vast reach of the Internet and low cost tools and materials. Availability of niche products will be accessible anytime, anywhere due to the expansive reach of the Internet and social media. Continued business cost reductions, due to lower-cost technology, outsourcing and access to third-party services, will drive down the costs of creating customised and niche products.

Intuit is a leading provider of business and financial management solutions for small organisations and their advisors including accountants and bookkeepers. Intuit works with British small businesses to understand the challenges that they face and find the solutions they need to be more successful. For more information, please visit: http://quickbooks.intuit.co.uk

A PDF file of the report is available at www.intuit.com/2020.