It’s been an extremely trying time to be a small-business owner — many businesses have shuttered their doors over the course of the pandemic. But even if you’re one of the lucky ones who survived, it’s likely that you’re still struggling and may not have fully bounced back. I tapped my network of business owners, entrepreneurs and financial professionals to get their best advice on how small-business owners like you can boost your business in a post-lockdown world.
Look Beyond Instagram and Facebook To Grow Your Reach
You may have been focusing your social media efforts on Instagram and Facebook, but don’t neglect LinkedIn.
“The website has experienced a lot of growth and engagement since COVID, and there is still a lot of opportunities to be a creator on this platform compared to others,” said Brian Burke, founder and “Chief Mac Man” at Sell Your Mac. “Spending effort on LinkedIn now can have a measurable impact on your business and lifetime connections. Having the Linkedin tools and knowledge to ensure the effort is best directed can [multiply] your impact, growth and relationships forever.”
Burke said to start by updating your profile to increase engagement: “Freshen up your headline and about section.”
Then, start posting content that will add value for your audience.
“I recommend daily (or almost daily) posting of content to engage and grow your audience to drive new eyeballs, clicks and business opportunities,” Burke said. “Future value will continue to grow with new relationships, opportunities and sales for years to come. I’ve employed LinkedIn as a strategy with much success, and am now coaching others on how to use this tool to boost their business as well.”
Also, be on the lookout for other social media platforms that will enable you to reach a new audience.
“Emerging platforms enable new technology, new audiences and organic reach,” said Athan Slotkin, an international small-business expert. “Have fun, and show the fun and creativity of your business. Dig into the inspiration behind creating the business, and remember that people also want to be entertained.”
“Automation is headed everywhere,” Slotkin said. “The sooner you can understand it, the sooner you can understand how it can improve your business. If you’re not familiar, go take a class; there are plenty of them online.”
Automation not only enables you to reach more potential customers, but it can also enable a more personal experience for the customers you already have.
“So many parts of the customer experience can now be automated that we really have arrived at a fork in the road,” said Steve Gickling, founder of ETLrobot. “On the one hand, business owners can leverage increased automation as a means for pushing more and more people through the sales funnel. Another approach would be to make use of automation to add a more human touch to the experiences our existing clientele enjoy. I would lean heavily into the latter and trust that doing so would take care of the former.”
Expand Your Offerings Beyond Brick and Mortar
If you are currently only offering services and goods via your brick-and-mortar location, you are missing out on consumers who want to shop online or via their mobile devices.
“Stores that were historically only brick and mortar found the need during the pandemic to offer e-commerce or hybrid solutions, such as buy online, pick up at the curb,” said Jodie Kelley, CEO of the Electronic Transactions Association. “To ensure that consumers enjoy a seamless and integrated customer experience across every channel, merchants need to focus on an omnichannel approach, whether the client is shopping online from a mobile device or laptop, or in a brick-and-mortar store. The old segments of viewing customers in one vertical — physical store, at home/online and on your phone — are gone. Customers are now shopping across all three channels and must be met where they are.”
Misty Larkins, president at Relevance, agrees that being able to reach customers online is now essential.
“Small business owners who were unprepared for the overnight demand for contactless, online commercial transactions can increase their market share by continuing to improve and enhance online options,” she said. “There might be a temptation to ‘power down’ internet offerings now that stores are being allowed to open up their brick-and-mortar stores, but that would be a mistake.”
You may also want to introduce delivery options.
“The best thing we can do as businesses begin to open back up is to make sure we have made provisions for customers who have grown accustomed to local businesses delivering necessities to the doorstep,” said Chalmers Brown, former CTO of Due. “This is especially true for the vulnerable members of our communities. Seniors and customers with pre-existing conditions, in particular, should continue to have options that allow them to do business without compromising their medical directives or incurring an additional burdensome cost.”
Double Down on Marketing Efforts
“We have been telling business owners of all sizes, all throughout the pandemic, that going dark is the absolute worst thing you could do for your brand, and I think that applies to where we currently find ourselves as well,” said Mary Ann O’Brien, founder and CEO at OBI Creative. “Communication, proactive research and strategic action are all critically important to weather this storm and emerge strong on the other side. Knowing which mix of marketing tactics makes the most sense for your small business comes down to knowing your customers very well.”
If you can’t afford full-scale third-party research, start with your sales team.
“Talk with them about what customers are worried about, what they want to know more about and what they need from your brand,” O’Brien said. “Your customer profile may have changed, even dramatically, over the past 18 months depending upon your industry. Spend some time making sure you have visibility into your customers’ journey with your brand. Once you understand all the touchpoints, you can evaluate opportunities for engagement and improvement.”
Apply For a Small-Business Loan
If you need a bit of help bouncing back after the pandemic closures, now may be the best time to apply for a loan.
“Many small businesses need capital to rebuild their businesses but are struggling to secure funding,” said Ed Barry, CEO of Capital Bank, N.A., in Maryland. “What many business owners don’t know is that the SBA temporarily modified its ‘no-fee’ 7(a) loan program to make it easier and less expensive for small businesses to secure much-needed capital. Strapped businesses that would not have qualified for a loan before might qualify for one now. But businesses need to act fast, because the changes only extend through Sept. 30.”
Seek Out Ways To Become More Efficient
“If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the value of our time,” said Yenn Lei, head of engineering at Calendar. “Small business owners should begin taking an inventory of the time-wasters that negatively impact customers, employees, suppliers or anyone else with whom they come into contact. Placing a new level of urgency on providing efficient service sends a silent, respectful message that our post-pandemic clientele will gladly embrace.”
Don’t Let Distractions Get the Best of You
“I firmly believe that as a culture, we have far too many things vying for our attention and time,” said Stephen Dalby, founder of Gabb Wireless. “While I understand that we want to stay connected and be productive, it seems that many of us have yet to master the art of ignoring the various devices beeping for our attention throughout the course of a normal day. If you’ve ever stopped reading a great book because something chirped at you, you’ll know exactly what I mean. Small businesses need to fight back against our culture of distraction, especially when someone has taken the effort to walk into our places of business.”
Treat Everyone You Interact With With Respect
“I think the main thing we can all do right now, and in the future, is to go out of our way to demonstrate respect to other people,” said John Hall, CEO of johnhallspeaking.com. “We’re all in different places with regard to our personal level of comfort regarding vaccinations, face masks and so forth. Business owners, in particular, need to level up in terms of making everyone feel safe, comfortable and welcome. The first order of business is to do a better job listening carefully to those we serve.”
In addition to treating your customers and clients with respect, extend this courtesy to the people you work with.
“There’s a balance to be struck between being a successful go-getter and being an authentic, accessible human being,” said Kimberly Zhang, editor in chief of Under30CEO. “Entrepreneurs and CEOs tend to be moving and thinking at a clip that most ‘normal’ people struggle to keep up with. That’s OK, of course, as that quality makes them good at what they do. Coming out of a worldwide pandemic, though, I’d say that it might be time to steer the ship more toward intentionality, mindfulness and full-focus interactions. Your business revival will depend in larger measure on how you treat those around you.”
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