Latest posts by Meredith Schmidt
Entrepreneurs have long been known as a courageous bunch, and this group is leading the pack when it comes to adapting to the “next normal,” whatever (and whenever) that may be. With the coronavirus pandemic, the standard road map to success was erased virtually overnight. It’s now more apparent than ever that businesses must be agile and flexible to survive. That’s a scary concept for some, but it’s downright invigorating for some of the brilliant startup leaders I know.
Over the past six months, consumers have changed the way that they interact with businesses, whether it’s through curbside pickup or via their cellphones. Companies need to meet their audiences where they are, and that’s increasingly online.
Building up a vibrant, seamless digital presence can help a startup or small business weather the COVID-19 pandemic. Successful businesses are continuing to pivot their traditional models to find new opportunities in this altered landscape — like restaurants providing grocery services and karate dojos offering digital martial arts classes.
The “next normal” may take a while to fully materialize, but all businesses should expect a heavy emphasis on building and maintaining a strong digital strategy. When customers are relying on their personal devices to make purchases, your online presence will recast their impression of your brand and determine how they engage with you going forward.
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Now is the time
Digital transformation is a top priority right now for all businesses, but it is especially crucial for the small businesses that make our neighborhoods hum.
Two-thirds of respondents in a recent Salesforce survey felt that small businesses are now more important than ever.
Given the strong desire to support local communities, there’s high hope that small-to-medium sized businesses can adapt quickly.
Here’s a real-life example:
In the past, I regularly bought flowers from one of two shops in my San Francisco neighborhood, depending on which side of the street I was walking down. The one still open has marketed to me, sent me emails, offered discounts for delivery and communicated a contactless pickup option. Its digital efforts worked to engage me, made me feel comfortable, and earned my dedicated business.
The moral of the story?
To survive in the “new” or “next” normal, you must enable digital conversations with customers, proactively monitor social media feedback, and nurture sales by providing information through all of your digital channels.
When you set out to upgrade or begin building your online presence as a small business, keep the following tactics in mind:
Meet your customers’ needs in the new or next normal
Customer expectations have changed in the next normal, and they expect to find businesses online. Meeting customers where they want to be met validates your business. If your company is missing from an internet search on the products or services you sell, how can you effectively compete against those businesses that are there? You’d be fighting with both hands tied behind your back.
This idea trickles down to how you interact with your customers, as well. These days, most customers prefer chatbots and self-service to speaking with customer service agents over the phone. You need to offer service the way your customers want it, not how you want to provide service to them. That’s a key distinction that will make a huge difference in your relationship with your customer base.
Utilize platforms to express your stances and build trust
Part of building a strong digital presence is leading with empathy and generating trust. Don’t be afraid to communicate your company’s views on significant issues, such as a commitment to cleanliness and safety to combat the coronavirus, or expressing support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
Current and prospective customers want to see their values represented in the companies they choose to do business with, and you can go into as much detail as you please on your social media platforms, website and blog. You can leverage digital channels to methodically build the trust you seek in order to stay at the top of your customer’s mind.
Invest in technology that connects with your customers
A majority of respondents (65 percent) in the Salesforce survey think small businesses need to utilize better technology. Thankfully, that’s an attainable goal; there are a lot of dynamic tools that have improved the ways business can be done.
Think about consultations through video chat. A personal trainer, a wedding planner, even legal services — we used to engage in all of these meetings in person. But video chat services eliminate the need to put on a mask and venture out in public. Using technology in these ways has the added benefit of creating data that can help round out a more holistic profile of your customer. Data can also help you track engagements, prompt follow-up actions and chart when your internet traffic is heaviest. It’s safer to conduct business online, and the residual benefits are invaluable.
Fold an element of resiliency and flexibility into your plans for the future
COVID-19 has been a true test for every business and made every company on the planet really evaluate its resilience. After you survive the pandemic, will you be ready for the next challenge? What’s your capacity to think differently and be resilient? The answers to these questions should guide a lot of the decisions you make. That’s where adopting new technologies and boldly undergoing digital transformations can be so helpful.
Starting and running a business is not for the faint of heart; it takes courage and determination. The best way to forge ahead and stay afloat is to be prepared, and bolstering your online presence is the surest way of staying relevant in an ever-changing business landscape and a brave new world.