Globally, many small businesses have moved into the fall season with a renewed sense of resolve. Driven in part by entrepreneurial optimism, innovation and technology, those that survived the first 7-8 months of the COVID-19 pandemic were able to adapt and remain viable, despite continuous changes in regulations and in consumer habits. Now, as we slowly adjust to the “new normal,” many small businesses are seeking out ways to use technology to build a resilient business that will thrive and grow, well into the future.
Below are 5 key tips to help keep your small business moving forward:
- Continue to invest in technology:
While your new or updated website, integrated storefront and online shopping experience may have helped you keep your business afloat over the past few months, investment in technology now can help prepare you for the future. People’s habits have changed worldwide and businesses large and small are adjusting by providing an omnichannel experience. From websites and apps, to staging and in-person pickup, success will depend on your meeting customer needs in multiple ways.
Technology can also be used to access new markets, reach new customers and manage business operations more effectively. In fact, according to Forbes, “Technology providers are making it easier for small businesses to adopt omnichannel solutions that consumers crave. A village of vendors from eCommerce platforms to payment processors are helping small businesses compete on a more level playing field.”
By choosing the right online solutions, small businesses can help lower costs, streamline operations and improve efficiency. And that can translate into increased revenue that can help achieve long-term success.
- Get social:
You may have already set up your social media channels and have been sending out emails to let customers know what your business has been doing. You may even have responded to questions and received several follows and likes. Now is the time to take it up a notch and use social media to engage and connect with customers and develop a presence and following to help you anticipate and understand their needs.
Although in-person interaction may continue to be limited for months, social media can be used to build trust and provide support. A few social media platforms have even come up with specific tools to help small businesses. Facebook offers Facebook Shops, where businesses can set up virtual storefronts. The Support Small Business sticker on Instagram can help businesses reach new customers and stay connected to the people they serve. And the LinkedIn Virtual Events tool allows businesses to leverage the LinkedIn network to host a virtual conversation and stay connected to their professional communities.
- Communicate with and get to know your customers:
While you’re engaging with customers through social media, email and other avenues of contact, it’s important to figure out ways to anticipate what their needs may be in the future. A simple way to do that is to ask. Think about every touchpoint on the customer journey and engage through online surveys and conversations to find out what customers are thinking and how you can meet them where they are now — in addition to staying relevant and top-of-mind long into the future. Strengthening and building relationships with customers, and keeping them updated on what’s happening, can also help you determine how to move forward.
One good example of this in action comes from a bison rancher in Colorado, who was able to get back on his feet by communicating with his customers. When restaurants shut down across the state, he was at risk of losing his business. He then posted on social media, asking for help. That message went viral. It was shared by his customers who shared it with people all across the state. What this rancher got in return were individual customers who wanted to support his local ranch by buying meat – so much so that he had to shut down his website while he restocked.
- Get creative:
Think about all the things that customers value about your business and then think about how you can reinvent and revolutionize the way you serve them. For example, breweries and distilleries teaming up to produce hand sanitizer or selling products direct to the customer for pickup only. Or wedding gown designers keeping their machines humming by selling masks online, made out of sequined and jeweled fabrics. Or restaurants that offer basic food supplies like eggs, bread or milk, plus pickup, delivery or dine-in (where allowed).
Collaboration with other organizations can benefit everyone involved too. These creative partnerships with other businesses, neighborhood associations and even municipalities can help you reach new customers and increase revenue at the same time. Getting the word out through social media can be key, and cross-promoting services through joint advertising or offering e-discounts and coupons are small ideas that can make a world of difference for the businesses themselves and the local community.
- Rethinking your business model:
According to consulting firm McKinsey, “navigating the current crisis and thriving in the next normal will require significant changes in business and operating models for all businesses.” Now is a good time to reassess and reevaluate your business model and strategy to ensure it is sustainable in today’s environment, as well as in a post-pandemic world.
To be successful in the long-term, small businesses must have strategies in place that will fit the post-pandemic world. While COVID-19 has changed the way we work, it also opened the door to many new ways of doing business. And for small businesses, these opportunities often begin with a sound and adaptable business plan, a computer and an internet connection.