COVID is certainly creating challenges for organizations globally. Across the board, certain industries are trudging through social distancing, closures, PEP, and COVID compliance regulations. Small businesses are experiencing the largest burden with closures starting to fall like dominos.
While being a small business can be beneficial from an adaptability perspective, you can quickly pivot and make strategy changes because you don’t have the drag of a large, bureaucratic organization. Another benefit, as a small business, you are used to stretching dollars and resources. But to stretch already stretched resources is difficult at best. Here are 7 tips to think about as you look for additional ways to survive this pandemic.
- Invest in your business. During economic downturns, interest rates tend to drop, extended payment plans are offered and vendors are likely in a position to negotiate terms (they’d rather retain business than lose to a competitor). Use this opportunity to invest in a piece of equipment or software that can help you run more efficiently or service your customers more effectively. On average, companies that invest during downturns have improved their profits long term.
- Listen to your customers and employees. I’ve written an entire blog on listening to your customer, this point cannot be emphasized enough. Your customer is the oxygen for your business, if you cut off that oxygen, your business will suffocate. You can listen in a variety of ways; surveys, calls, visits, or online meetings. Evaluate your financials for insights into changes in their purchase behavior. Enter the discussion without any intentions other than to listen to their thoughts and feelings. Don’t forget to ask your employees, they often are the front line and hear about things that you didn’t know about. If your customers are the oxygen to your business, your employees are hydrogen, so if you don’t consider their opinion and contributions, your business will drown!
- Look at your budget. This goes without saying, as a small business owner, this is nothing new. But consumer behavior is fickle and sometimes small business owners ignore important essentials out of fear of what they will see. During a downturn, rather than looking at what’s not coming in, look at what is going out. Do you have software you are spending money on that you aren’t using? Subscriptions to things you don’t use. Office supply orders that aren’t essential? Expenses that you could turn into revenue opportunities. When you focus on what is going out, you may see opportunities to help your bottom line or even your top line.
- Evaluate your value proposition. If you have spent time on bullet 2, then you have the information to work on your value proposition. Don’t fall back on price reductions. This may hurt your brand in the long-term, rather focus on what you do well and how you help your customers thrive and survive. Show them you listen and how you solve their problems.
- Clarify your communications. With a polished value proposition, create communications around the value of your brand. Look at ways to take advantage of testimonials and e-word of mouth. Remember that 85% of prospective buyers look to reviews prior to making a purchase. Creating engaging communications and leveraging customer brand advocate communications can help move prospects along their decision process. Make sure your visuals align with what you are saying.
- Edit Your Offerings. Now is a great time to look at the products or services you offer. Are they profitable? How does the volume look? What stage is it in – growth, maturity, or decline? If it’s in decline, maybe it’s time to pull funding from this product and move to bullet 7. Make sure you are listening to clients, looking at what products they are buying, and focus on the right products to sell to the right consumers and the right price and places. Maybe you have a higher margin product that you can offer ‘bundled’ to your customers to increase the value ad. Be creative…that will help you to be ready to innovate.
- Innovate. If you listen to your customers, your employees, and take a look at what’s trending online (think Twitter Trends, Google Trends), you may just notice a pocket of opportunity. All grey clouds have a silver lining, with shut-downs, compliance, social distancing – new product and service opportunities have emerged. You can offer branded masks, delivery services, custom hand sanitizer; maybe you have some products that you can reallocate to create a COVID product offering.
Now is not the time to social distance from your business strategy. Stress can put a damper on creativity, however, it’s all about your perspective. Try and look at your brand from different angles, seek input from your employees, and listen to your customers. If you dig a little deeper you can find that silver lining and survive this turbulence. If you can maneuver expenses to invest in your business, connect deeper with your customers, be ready for recovery, and prepared for your next challenge of rapid scalability.