The whole world is experiencing unprecedented upheaval as COVID-19 impacts all aspects of daily life. The small business game, in particular, is enduring major change. There’s still no telling how this will play out and for how long, however, I suspect we are just at the end of the beginning. The world will be forever altered. The big question is how do we, the entrepreneurs and small business owners, respond?
We have a choice. One option is to lose faith, give up, and watch our livelihood wither away. You’d be excused for feeling like a proper victim, but I imagine you’re beyond that stage. If you’re reading this, then you’re looking for a different option.
So you can choose to look at this situation with fresh perspective and gear up to play in this transforming game. Wrest back a semblance of control by pivoting, adapting and looking for ways to capitalize on new opportunities. If you’ve been running a business, then take heart--you’re experienced and better prepared than most for the challenge.
I’ve observed over time that crisis can accelerate change and exacerbate any pre-existing weaknesses. But crisis can be a good thing because it’s also clarifying. No more guessing if the small business world is evolving, no more putting off plans to switch up your business game plan. The time to adapt is now.
In fact, our world was changing before COVID-19, with more people shopping online and global digital entities increasingly dominating our local customers’ attention. The pandemic that sent people into a world of shelter-in place, food delivery, and pervasive Zoom meetings simply hit fast forward on this change. And when the whole world is forced into a new mode of working, it’s unlikely they’ll abandon it in the future.
Some things are the same, albeit with a twist. Small business’ innate differentiator has always been its close relationship to the customer. That ability to connect on a human scale versus an algorithmic one. We all know this contact can’t physically happen in our new COVID-19 reality, so how do we maintain that customer connection edge? We do what small business owners always do: we get creative and hustle.
Here are three major strategies that play to that inherent strength of customer connection, and are designed to position your small business to compete in a post COVID world. They require time and effort, but the payoff means survival.
1. Up Your Online Game (Now) - Stop thinking of online as simply a marketing channel and start thinking of it as part of your offering.
- Tune up Your Digital Presence - Get your website and social assets in order. Define your audience and make sure your messaging speaks to them.
- Rethink the Role Digital Plays - How can you get really good at delivering on expectations with internet grade experiences? How can you build trust and delight throughout the process?
- What are the opportunities for follow-ups and check-ins?
- How can you make “Thank You” emails even more special? Is there a referral component or way for people to share?
- How can you make Live Support always available? Can people schedule a time to chat? How about a knowledge source or live Zoom sessions to expand people’s understanding of your product/service?
2. Relaunch Leading with Connection - Foster your brand connection with customers by working towards a progressive model. Start with a back-story, move to access, develop that into customer agency, and culminate in brand ambassadors. You’ll need a group of passionate customers to help tell your story, so here are three tactics to lay the groundwork:
- Build Your Fan Club - Tell your small business story in terms your people care about. Connect with common values important to them. Don’t go big; think small, and the passionate core will follow.
- Build Your Loyalty Program - Keep the core interested and engaged, and they will keep coming back. Any program you put out should be:
- Simple and frictionless to enroll-in and use
- Fun and have opportunities for curious people to find out more about what you do and offer
- Passive and not pushy (don’t just hammer out deals)
- Focused on the customer and what they need
- Driven by insights to deliver more personalization
- Build Your Experiences - Habits are rooted in positive, feel good emotions (or pain avoidance). What experiences can you facilitate for people to take action together? Maybe it’s an expert event or something you do together in the community around a cause. Whatever the experience, your loyal customer tribe should be thinking: “People like me do things like this.”
3. Double Down on Existing Revenue and Look for New Opportunities - Sell what you got and think of new ways to deliver your service. Open up additional revenue streams and leverage the new way people are communicating.
- Make Sure You Have Some Kind of Online Store - It can be swag, or existing inventory delivered direct. Try scheduling a virtual service or learning opportunity relevant to your business
- Your Business a.a.S. (as a service) - It’s a fun exercise to imagine your business as a service. Why not? We have subscription services for most everything, so look for an element you can bring out to capitalize on this model.
- Pivot On Expertise - Are you a pro? Mine your skill-set and knowledge and deliver assessments or how-tos. Your customers are stuck in a DIY world and are seeking guidance.
- Partner Up - Your business is not the only one challenged by the changing game. How can you work with other businesses to deliver value?
Nothing about change and disruption is easy, but this is the situation in which we find ourselves. The good news? Experienced entrepreneurs are no strangers to continuous problem solving and rolling up their sleeves, so let the work begin.
Roy Lamphier is Founder and CEO of Excelerate America. Roy's passion for entrepreneurship, tech and helping small enterprises succeed are central to the Excelerate America ethos. How is your business looking to build during lockdown? Share with Roy at firstname.lastname@example.org.