Even at the best of times, the future is unpredictable. As anyone who has run a business for any length of time understands, there will often be challenges, many of which are unexpected — such as a global pandemic — coming straight out of left field. Here are four strategies your small company can use to build strength and resilience for unexpected challenges.
1. Prioritize Marketing
When business is booming, it's easy to let marketing slide. After all, customers are coming in regularly. But it's important to build brand recognition and awareness. And when the economy or a particular industry hits a slowdown, some businesses see marketing as an area where expenses and resources can easily be cut — at least until profits improve. But it's during those tough times that you need solid marketing.
Consider the public perception that's likely when marketing slows down. It's a case of "out of sight, out of mind." Many members of the public assume that if a business has fallen silent, it has closed its doors. Instead of cutting back on marketing — which could be a nail in your business's coffin, it might help to rethink and restructure how you're marketing.
Here are some marketing best practices:
Keep it simple. Make monthly marketing goals. Design them so they all relate to your business's strategic objectives. Don't let a day go by during the month that you don't think about that month's theme.
Identify your target audience. Start with the end goal. Who are you trying to attract and what message do you want them to hear? It's possible you've been throwing darts wildly instead of focusing on actual customers. Or you may need to rethink your audience entirely.
Pick the right platform. Once you've correctly identified your audience, find out where they are. Is your intended audience on social media and websites? Or are offline channels such as networking and word of mouth a better fit? Focus your attention mostly on one or two channels. It can help you reach new markets, generate more leads and deliver greater value to potential customers through an improved customer experience.
Measure your efforts. Quality improvement expert W. Edwards Deming famously said, "If you can't measure performance, you can't manage it." That certainly applies to marketing. Create goals and key performance indicators for your marketing efforts and develop ways of tracking them. This might be as simple as asking new customers how they heard about you. Then place more emphasis on the marketing efforts that reached the most people and marginalize or eliminate the less effective efforts. For example, if most customers found you through word of mouth and very few through social media, adjust your marketing efforts to emphasize word of mouth.
2. Stay on Top of Technology
Some businesses are tech-oriented, while others aren't. However, every business must take advantage of some technologies (think computers). Automated payroll systems and cashless or peer-to-peer (P2P) payments, such as Zelle, PayPal, Venmo and Cash App, can create efficiencies that ease your business through rough patches. For example, automated payroll can eliminate errors and free you up to concentrate on initiating new business and maintaining existing customers. Adding P2P payments may open a new customer base among those who don't carry cash.
Also, consider modernizing your customer relationship management (CRM) system. New CRMs can communicate with your customers on whatever platform they may be using.
Don't forget or delay establishing a strong cybersecurity program. Depending on the complexity of your online business operations, you may be able to strengthen your cybersecurity affordably, but you should be willing to pay whatever it costs to protect your digital assets. Just one ransomware attack could cost you thousands of dollars in lost revenue.
3. Continuing Education
Do you know what is new in your industry? Are you aware of what your competitors are doing? There's always plenty of new things to learn about your specific industry or business in general.
To get started, check out free education resources, such as SCORE and Bank of America's Small Business Resources sites. If you find valuable information there that your employees might also benefit from, consider giving them time during the workday to take some courses. If you prefer more formal educational programs, organizations such as LinkedIn and the Small Business Administration have online learning programs. And Bank of America offers a free online program for women to earn a business certificate from Cornell.
It can be easy to become isolated when you're solely focused on your own company. Being too internally focused keeps you from interacting with other people running similar businesses or even other business owners in your community. So, if you don't already, reach out!
Consider organizations such as your local Small Business Chamber of Commerce, Entrepreneurs' Organization, Business Networking International, Rotary or Kiwanis. You might also check out organizations such as the National Association of Women Business Owners or Luminary.
The four tips above can help you reach your yearly business goals, regardless of economic conditions. The important thing is to keep growing, learning and improving — even if it's just in small ways. Otherwise, your company might stagnate and, eventually, disappear. Take steps now to actively position your company for success.
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