How small businesses can adapt and be ready for what is next in a post-COVID environment.

When states started closing brick and mortar retail shops, I was slightly stunned by how many small businesses were not prepared to promote and take their business online. As I searched the internet to buy goods and services, there were restaurants without online menus; nurseries and garden shops without a method to order online; or businesses with no online presence at all. For many small companies, developing an online presence can be a resource or cost issue but it is also a missed opportunity to grow and build revenue and brand presence.

Businesses relying only on their in-person customers had to quickly adjust and find a model that would allow them to expand their offerings. Here are some thoughts on how to help your business be prepared for the future.

Review your website.

· Is your site professional, accurate and easy to navigate?

· Do you have hours, policies, products, or a way to place an order?

· Does it reflect your personality, or did you just do the bare minimum?

· Are you capturing your customers’ information to allow you to market and communicate with them later?

Everyone is spending more time online, and nobody likes to navigate a poorly designed website. A frustrating experience can result in customers shopping elsewhere. Think from the perspective of the user – is it easy to find information or place an order? Investing in a user-friendly website with e-commerce options will appeal to all your customers, not just ones that are tech savvy.

Improve your visibility & stay connected.

When you can’t rely on foot traffic, how do you get the word out? Staying connected through social media is one way to set up a following of loyal customers, share information, provide offers, and promote your products and services. Customers like to be “in the know” and have insider information on their favorite shops. A modest budget for social media advertising could increase your exposure to a very targeted or regional audience. It also gives you a platform to have some fun and let your customers know what you are doing.

Another resource to stay connected is through direct mail. Consumers are at home and hungry for information but can be overwhelmed with emails. A printed postcard with an enticing offer can help drive traffic to your website or incentivize a new customer to pick up the phone and place an order.

“To expect the unexpected shows a thoroughly modern intellect.” – Oscar Wilde

Stay nimble.

Many businesses that were thriving and successful two months ago may no longer be in existence today. Is your business diverse enough to weather the storm? If one segment of your business is impacted can you pivot to improve revenue somewhere else? I recently received an email notice from my favorite candy company offering logo branded hand-sanitizers in addition to branded chocolates. It seemed a bit odd at first, but they have the tools and infrastructure to create custom branded labels – why not apply them to companies looking for hand sanitizers? It did not take away from the chocolate business and gave them a potential new revenue stream.

Business owners have to re-think how they can adapt and fit into the current market needs. Necessity is the mother of invention – think outside what you have always done and consider what the future may become. Are there plans and processes that you can put into place now that will give you an edge down the road? This moment is challenging all of us to try new things. Now is the time to be creative and plan for the future.

Our everyday has been turned on top of itself, and much of what we thought we knew just isn’t anymore. The days and now weeks tick by, and so do a variety of feelings including fear, anger, frustration or lack of control. Then you realize this isn’t going to pass quickly, and you either let it lead you, or you lean in and lead into it.

There are things we can control when we chose to be a leader. These include your communication style, attitude, ability to be inclusive and an open perspective on what is possible. Looking forward with educated, cautious optimism is a good place to start. When you look backward while trying to get ahead, you will run into walls unnecessarily. Accept what is and begin building on what you do know, what strengths you have in yourself, your team, your structure and your community.

"If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, you are a leader." ~John Quincy Adams

In times like these, valued employees rise to the occasion and it’s important to focus as much energy as we can in the people we trust with our business operations and client interactions. Understanding your employees' needs, the importance they bring to the entire organization, and how those intersect to create long-term, positive outcomes should be front and center. Training, team building and refocused efforts to keep the members of your organization healthy, safe and appreciated will go a long way.

Now is a great time to acknowledge and work on how, as leaders, we assess and approach challenges. How are creative ideas encouraged, collected and implemented in your business? Many of us have had extra time to rediscover hobbies, take up new ventures and use creativity to stay centered during these uncertain times. Conversations are evolving to shift away from the elephant (virus) in the room, to the light at the end of the tunnel. In anticipation of this, leaders can reflect on potential opportunities, draw on the team’s creative thinking and determine what a new, profitable and productive normal could look like. Same as it ever was is no longer. It’s time to dig into your leadership skills and tap into your biggest asset – your employees. Take a breath, retool for what’s ahead and lean into the future, together.

Often times a company gets comfortable in how they forward face and forget how important it is to keep the story alive and fresh. Assumptions (which are often incorrect) are made about their stakeholders.

Existing clients - they already know what we have.

New customers – they can find us.

Future employees – who wouldn’t want to work for us.

Distribution channels – they know we are in it for the long haul.

Today’s marketing means hitting the mark in key areas to fully engage audiences and create long term success. It’s important your brand resonates as authentic, relevant, accessible and financially solid. If you don’t continually manage your message, someone else could. Your outbound marketing position can be swayed to the positive or negative by others on social channels, rating platforms for services and employees as well as word of mouth. Influence on outcomes and engagement decisions come from many different avenues and companies cannot ignore the opportunities to control their voice nor the challenges that come with managing business in today’s environment.

Be brave and get creative yet keep it real. Work on ideas that don’t overwhelm, stay true to your voice and make your brand pop.

marketing ideas that pop and deliver

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