Last year was tough for small businesses and it will continue that way for much of 2021. However, many small businesses have not just survived but thrived. To put your own business on the same track, it’s useful to look at the current trends of successful small businesses.
1. More Employees Working Remotely
Remote working had been on the rise for several years, but it saw a huge jump in 2020, resulting in 42 percent of employees working from home. It makes sense to continue to allow your employees to work remotely, if feasible. Workers enjoy this flexibility and the lack of a commute, which makes them more productive, and costs for you are lower.
2. Brick-and-Mortar Stores Embracing Ecommerce
For most businesses, there’s no longer a choice between ecommerce and traditional retail — ecommerce is essential. Whereas it may be possible to keep a brick-and-mortar store open, you’ll find it difficult to survive if you’re not also selling online.
This trend extends to businesses that are not selling physical products. If you offer services that usually require your clients presence in person, you may need to figure out a way to deliver your services online, such as over video. Alternatively, you could use an online store to sell items that complement your services, such as guides or ebooks you produce yourself or merchandise from a business you decide to partner with. A final option is to use affiliate marketing to promote products from other brands and receive a commission for sales.
3. Greater Online Presence
Less going out means more time in front of screens. Small businesses are taking advantage of this by making sure they’re the ones in front of their target audience. One of the key ways to improve your online presence is to use social media, as it’s here customers are spending a large amount of their time. Businesses are investing more in ads to build awareness, but those seeing the greatest success are not neglecting their organic strategy — after all, it’s organic posts that engage followers.
4. Better Online Experiences
To stand out, small businesses are paying more attention to customer experiences online.
In some cases, it’s as simple as offering hybrid online–offline shopping: customers order online and then pick up curbside or receive a contactless delivery from an app soon after they’ve placed their order. These strategies prevent slow delivery times and allow small businesses to compete with ecommerce giants.
Other ways small businesses are improving the online experience include:
- Chatbots and live chat
- Accepting more payment types, including from digital wallets
- Creating an app in addition to a website
- Allowing online scheduling for services
5. Adaptability and Innovation
Some business models have become impossible in the current climate. Whereas many companies have simply shuttered, others have decided to pivot — to take advantage of their resources and the client base they’ve already built. Adapting is a particularly strong trend for small businesses, as it’s easier to be agile when you’re small.
Being adaptable requires a great deal of innovation, since there are no specific strategies that businesses across the board can apply. However, one thing you should do whatever your industry is turn to the data instead of relying purely on your intuition. The most successful small businesses have figured out what metrics are necessary to track and have made decisions according to what the data tells them.
6. Prioritizing Communication with Customers
A key way to find out what you should be doing is to talk to customers. Whenever you consider a change at your company — whether that be introducing a new product, adapting how you deliver a service, or taking your business in a new direction — communicate with your loyal customers. They can tell you what they want from you, where you’re excelling, and where you need to make improvements.
Another advantage of communicating more with your customers is it allows you to empathize. Almost everyone is struggling right now in a variety of ways. Consumers prefer companies who acknowledge the problems of their customers and the problems their communities are facing over businesses that are clearly trying to take advantage of the situation to turn a profit.
Stating a mission and values that express compassion is a good start, but you need to back this up with action. Having real conversations with customers is an excellent way to demonstrate your values and build connections for the long term.
7. Investment in Talent
As the economy starts opening up, more employment opportunities will mean small business are once again at risk of losing their in-house talent. This is important because your talent is one of your greatest assets: it is through your employees you maintain customer loyalty, drive innovation, and offer a high-quality service.
Small businesses have always had a hard time retaining talent. They have traditionally been unable to offer the same kinds of perks as large businesses — but, recently, that’s been changing. Small businesses are becoming more creative with how they retain employees.
One idea is to continue to allow employees to work remotely and to offer them more flexible hours. Another is to build a company culture that appeals to employees, such as tight-knit teams and a sense of belonging. Small businesses that intend to go public in the near future can also promise employees a stake in the company. Finally, you can offer opportunities for workers to keep moving up through the ranks or (if your business lacks a hierarchy) the chance to grow in their careers, such as with exciting new projects, mentoring, or the chance to train and upskill.
8. Snail Mail Treats
Most of the trends this year are about transitioning to an ever-more digital workplace. The problem with this is it can make employees feel isolated or unconnected to the business. It’s important to take steps to avoid this as much as possible by helping employees feel valued and motivated.
One way small businesses are addressing this issue is by sending employees packages in the mail. These packages may contain samples of products for workers to try for themselves, desk accessories and posters to remind employees of the company, or even edible treats and stationery. A particularly popular time to send packages is right before an important meeting.
9. Streamlined Meetings
Meetings were already one of the most disliked aspects of work. This has only exacerbated over the past year with Zoom fatigue becoming a worldwide phenomenon. Smart business owners are using the situation as a learning experience to improve meetings for good. They are starting on time to the minute, keeping to a strict schedule by following an agenda, and ending on time, if not early. Plus, they’re only inviting employees who actually need to be at the meeting — or including information that’s relevant to just a subset of the group at the end and allowing everyone else to leave early.
It turns out this may be even easier to do online than in person. As a result, employees are better able to stick to their schedules, which leads to greater productivity. Plus, workers no longer look forward to meetings with a sense of dread like before.
10. Increased Automation
The wider availability of artificial intelligence allows even the smallest businesses to automate processes. Automation is a huge timesaver and results in lower costs. Tools small businesses can use today offer support with everything from productivity and access to data to better customer service. Choosing the right tools for your business and then implementing them correctly is a top way to stay ahead of the competition.
11. Fewer Press Releases
It’s also important to look at what’s falling out of favor. For instance, there’s a trend away from press releases. Small businesses have realized that sending a piece of text to media outlets tends to be ineffective. Instead, businesses are turning to interactive content and videos and then using their own channels to make announcements.
12. Outsourcing More Tasks
It’s a waste of money to hire an employee for every task you need, but it’s also too big a risk to take on work that falls outside your field of expertise. Work like web development (including to build an app), logo design, and website updates are one-off projects, making them obvious choices for outsourcing.
However, it’s equally useful to outsource tasks you need on a regular basis but that only require a few hours a week or month. This includes social media management, bookkeeping, and digital marketing. These tasks require too few hours to justify an employee, but they require knowledge and experience to carry out well.
A final category is activities that no one at your company enjoys, like data entry, scheduling, invoicing, and payroll. By outsourcing these activities, you can be sure you’re making the best use of your time.
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