By Kalin Kassabov, Founder and CEO of ProTexting.com, a fast-growing enterprise-level text message suite of services.
Many small businesses closed in 2020, and 2021 looks like it’s going to be a challenging year, as well. Aside from lockdowns and restrictions due to Covid-19, rapidly changing technology is putting pressure on businesses to adapt and meet consumer demands. Let’s look at some top small business trends that can help you respond to these challenges and find success in the coming years.
The Expansion Of E-Commerce
Unlike many other industries, e-commerce actually grew in 2020. Small businesses of all kinds need to expand their mindsets and seek ways to cash in on this massive trend. Even if you don’t typically sell physical products, think of what you can sell online to supplement or even replace your in-store offerings.
Sell products related to your industry that your customers will appreciate. You can also sell helpful information in the form of e-books, white papers and reports. If you don’t want to create or stock physical products, consider affiliate marketing opportunities, where you earn a percentage of sales on other people’s products.
Having a strong online presence helps shield you from not only lockdowns but also ups and downs in the local economy because you have access to a much larger customer base.
More Online-Offline Hybrid Shopping Options
Aside from e-commerce, where everything is online, we’re seeing more and more hybrid shopping models. A typical example is a customer placing an order online at a store such as Walmart or Target and then picking it up curbside at the store. There’s no reason smaller businesses can’t take advantage of this model.
Restaurants were forced to switch over to deliveries and pickups when in-house dining was banned in many places. Online apps such as Grubhub or ChowNow make this easier. Other types of businesses can get creative and offer similar options. Even when regular shopping is permitted, many customers find it more convenient to order online or by phone and have their items ready for pickup.
Very small businesses can handle such hybrid orders manually. When a customer orders online or by phone, you arrange a convenient pickup time. If you want to scale this practice, however, it’s best to automate the process as much as possible. Train employees on how to serve customers who pick up curbside. Make sure it’s a visible option on your checkout page. Advertise this service on your website, social media pages and inside your brick-and-mortar business.
Businesses Will Expand Into New Markets
In a challenging environment, one way to increase sales and attract more customers is to expand your offerings. E-commerce, which we already discussed, is one way to do this. You can also think about reaching out to new markets at your brick-and-mortar location. It’s not usually too complicated to start expanding your products or services.
For example, a coffee shop can introduce more food items, such as baked goods, sandwiches and wraps. Contractors and home service providers can upsell customers on additional services. Landscapers can offer more specialized services, such as pest control, mulching or landscape lighting. If you have a spa or salon, think of additional treatments your customers would appreciate.
More Focus on Retaining Customers
Another essential factor in an uncertain economy is retaining customers. One way to do this is to sign customers up for ongoing products and services. Some ways to do this are:
• Rewards and loyalty programs
• Membership sites that deliver services and digital products
• Subscriptions for products. Many companies now offer subscriptions for everything from wine to razor blades.
• Ongoing personal and home services. Landscaping and snow removal are examples of businesses that commonly do this. Personal coaches can sign customers up for ongoing sessions.
Flexible Employee Policies
In 2020, employees and business owners were hit hard by shutdowns and reduced hours of operation. These events combined with longer-standing trends, such as more businesses offering flextime and hiring independent contractors and part-time rather than full-time help. It isn’t always easy maintaining strong relationships with employees in such uncertain times. Here are some points to keep in mind.
• Allow employees to work remotely as much as possible.
• Assess and rethink the benefits you offer. Benefits such as paid time off are more important than ever.
• Offer employees flexible hours. More than ever, people are juggling multiple jobs and responsibilities.
• Communicate clearly and give employees as much notice as possible about changing conditions such as hours.
Businesses Will Seek More Creative Financing Options
You need to be more creative than ever to find funding for your business. Here are some creative options.
• Emergency funding. You may be eligible for a loan from the Paycheck Protection Program. The Small Business Administration has information on this program and other loans for small businesses.
• Invoice and accounts receivable funding. This is worth considering for any business that has existing customers who pay invoices. This can help your cash flow as you collect payments on invoices right away rather than having to wait for customers to pay.
• Crowdfunding. Though no longer new, crowdfunding on sites such as Kickstarter and GoFundMe is growing in popularity, especially if you have new and innovative products or services.
• Microloans. A microloan is a type of loan that can help businesses that may not qualify for traditional bank loans. They are small loans, usually for $50,000 or less, that can be used for any business purpose.
Prepare For The Unexpected
No one knows exactly how the current year will turn out. Based on recent experience, however, it’s best to be prepared for anything. The best approach is to be flexible and agile, ready to pivot in new directions at any moment. When you can’t predict the future, you need to rethink your assumptions and be open to new possibilities.