This past year has been a rocky road for small businesses worldwide, to say the least. Still, the entrepreneurial spirit is strong in the cities and communities we know and love, and small business owners continue to push forward the best they can.
A lot has changed in 12 months, but the classic principles of small business ownership remains largely the same. Here’s what CEOs have to say when it comes to navigating the business landscape this year and beyond.
Make a Mark on the Web
When the internet first arrived, many small business owners thought they wouldn’t need to hop on the bandwagon – we know the rest of that story. Companies that avoided the internet didn’t last long in the 21st century, and now the bar has been raised even higher.
At a bare minimum, your business needs a professional-looking website, a Google Business Profile (completely filled-out), and a presence on the major social media platforms. Sounds like a lot of work? It won’t be quick or easy, but it’s necessary, so don’t put it off.
“For any brand, creating a presence on social media is the key,” said Dr. Tim Shu, Founder and CEO of Vet CBD Hemp. “With that, leveraging the different personalities and influencers with similar target audiences can be an effective strategy to raise brand awareness and ultimately drive purchase intent. As with any content strategy, it’s important to be relevant, stay true to the brand and give the target audience what they’re looking for, what they would like to engage with, and recall in the future.”
It’s worth generating some original content that entertains and informs visitors to your site and on social media. Blogging is a classic format that isn’t going anywhere, and video is quickly rising as the preferred content type for younger generations.
No need for a massive marketing budget upfront – just do what feels right and take hints from competitors to get things going.
The good news is that once your web resources are up and running, they’re easy to maintain and will be a huge source of traffic for the future of your business, online and off.
Increase Customer Communication
Small businesses are often the underdog in terms of capital, audience, and media attention, but they have a key advantage with regard to customer communication. People desire a human connection more than ever and will pay extra to get that experience from a small business like yours. It all starts with a conversation, before, during, and after the sale.
Whether the conversations happen in-person, online, over the phone, or through apps, the back-and-forth dynamic is hugely valuable to a small business trying to get traction in the current landscape.
“We created a user-friendly experience on our website that is simple and stress-free, and a communication outlet that is easily accessible and quick in responsiveness,” said Kennedy McDaniel, Founder and CEO of Banting.
Loyalty is crucial for any small business, whether you run a classic barbershop in the countryside or a CrossFit studio downtown. The power of repeat customers can’t be understated, especially if your business is location-based with a brick-and-mortar storefront.
It may seem like a grind sometimes, and customers are demanding in every industry, but if you can set your brand apart with a reputation for transparency and great service, you’ll be miles ahead of the competition before you know it.
Learn to Love Risk and Failure
It’s a bit cliche to say that failure is a key part of the small business journey, but not enough leaders really embrace this mindset. This doesn’t mean you send your company plummeting based on unfounded risks or whims, but simply being at peace with the fact that not all decisions will be perfect.
“We need to accept that we won’t always make the right decisions, that we’ll screw up royally sometimes – understanding that failure is not the opposite of success, it’s part of success,” said Arianna Huffington, Founder and CEO of Thrive Global.
All the great modern business leaders have their failure stories and many continue to hit roadblocks and setbacks in their careers despite earlier success. Being detached from the need for perfection and constant positive feedback is a hugely overlooked trait in the small business world.
Automate and Outsource
Your business will eventually become too big for the founding team to handle, and when things start slipping through the cracks, you know it’s time to outsource. Don’t pressure yourself to pull all-nighters and push employees beyond their limits. It’s better to let another agency or company handle the details while you focus on fundamentals.
“Outsource when you need to,” said Assaf Kostiner, Founder and President of Paint Your Life. “Most small business owners usually wear multiple hats but in order to scale up, you must figure out where you can afford to outsource to increase production and always perform at the optimal level of efficiency. Paying out may seem daunting at first but the end will be worth the means.”
Don’t overlook automation either, especially with the powerful tools available online right now. Finances, project management, inventory, and even social media tasks can be automated easily and for cheap, so explore some of this software and implement it where necessary.
Be Ready to Pivot and Adapt
It’s not a question of when disruption will throw your business off track, but when. Will you be prepared with a go-to game plan, or do you expect to navigate the situation on the fly?
Of course, nothing is fully predictable (as we learned in 2020) but you can use this past year as a framework to manage crisis and stay afloat during tough times. This might mean making a pivot or expanding your list of offerings in a shorter timeframe.
“When your thoughts go to increasing your company’s revenue, it’s time to consider offering products or services that will appeal to a broader audience,” said Jared Zabaldo, Founder and CEO of USAMM. “If your site or online store is targeted to a particular niche, offer a few products that will appeal to a slightly different consumer, and be sure to market these options. In doing so, you will begin to build a diverse consumer base, who may eventually also have interest in your base products.”
Pivoting is never easy or intuitive, but it’s necessary to make progress when the unexpected occurs. Who knows – you may even be in a better position when the dust settles.
There’s no perfect blueprint to running a small business, but these guidelines will help you navigate the challenges of our current business environment.