December 29, 2020 5 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
As small business owners think about 2020, the phrase “necessity Is the mother of innovation” has to be right up there alongside the pain, sweat and fear.
There’s no question that the impact of the pandemic has been disproportionately hard on small businesses. Seat-of-the-pants creativity and innovation helped drive these businesses forward even in the darkest times of an unpredictable market. Leveraging that same drive to maximize efficiency and serve customers where they are is going to power business ahead in 2021 and beyond.
The speeding up of digital trends that were already underway before the pandemic advanced years’ worth of consumer behavior in a matter of months. In a survey we conducted with Deloitte looking at how small businesses have changed their digital strategies since the COVID-19 pandemic began, four out of five owners said they expect to increase their use of digital tools going forward.
Here are some thoughts on how this shift will continue to play out in 2021, and how you can position your business to benefit:
Pandemic-driven shifts can be a permanent change for the better
Sure, after polishing their websites, getting creative with social content, embracing new e-commerce options, and rolling out online ordering or curbside pickup, some businesses might revert to what was once ‘business as usual’ as we move deeper into the new normal of 2021. Don’t be that business. Instead, be the business that is permanently augmented for the better.
And it’s not just about digital. In Columbus, Ohio, gluten-free bakery owners Wendy and Letha Pugh say the pandemic prompted them to change the way they’re structuring their business on a sustained basis. They’ve increased wine offerings and other selections at Bake Me Happy to create a bodega-like feel for their shop, and they say they’re leaning even more heavily into engaging on social media as people have increased their screen time (a trend we expect to stick around).
Take advantage of advances in automation to build your brand and inspire your creative
You may not realize it, but our daily lives have gotten so much easier because of automation. Just think about how Netflix helps you find shows and movies, or how an app on your phone can help you control various ‘smart devices’ in your home. This convenience we find in our daily lives can and should be applied to your business too. The science of artificial intelligence and machine learning has advanced so much that new things are possible for small business operations — and it’s all behind the scenes. Automation takes the guesswork out of creating effective ads, for example. You can answer a few simple questions about your business and your goals and easily spin up a customized marketing plan to take your reach and revenue to the next level.
A software developer by trade, Culture Greetings owner Dionne Mahaffey noticed a lack of representation in the greeting card industry and helped fill the gap with a greeting card line featuring imagery centered around and elevating Black and Latinx community voices. She automates reminders to customers via Messenger of important holidays and moments in time like birthdays or anniversaries. So far this year, she says sales are tracking to increase more than 150 percent.
These types of automation tools can also apply to your ad creative online. Have you ever watched your kids create a video in nothing flat on their smartphone? You can be a creative wizard tool with options like Dynamic Creative Ads that simply require you to upload the basic components of an ad, and then automation does the hard work for you.
Showcase yourself to showcase your business
Whether you are an extrovert or an introvert, your own story is literally the story of your business. Freres Branchiaux Candle Co., also known as FB Candle, is an award-winning artisanal candle company owned by three outgoing young brothers who are the face of the brand. In San Francisco, Hrag Kalejiban of Henry’s House of Coffee uses social media to tell the story of his family’s roots in coffee roasting. In the photos that populate his feed, you can practically smell the beans, which he sells to a growing international customer base.
Embrace your community
COVID endeared people to small businesses even further, and that will endure. In Labadie, Missouri, Derek Loeffel’s Labadie General Store has been open for just a few months and already has a wait-list of local vendors who want a spot in the shop. Loeffel, a full-time police officer who started working on his retirement gig, co-owns the store with his wife and brother. Starting a store during a pandemic inspired them to do regular virtual tours spotlighting individual vendors, along with online sales, curbside pickup and shipping. Our most recent survey of consumer buying patterns during the pandemic demonstrates the strong connection consumers feel: nearly three-quarters of people who had started shopping somewhere new said that at least one of those new businesses was a small business.
Looking ahead to 2021 and Main Street 2.0
On the Main Streets many of us grew up with, storefronts drew us in to showcase products and sell us stuff. The new Main Street 2.0 puts the customer at the center, and how you reach that customer fits around that centerpiece. It’s about physical space (if you have one) integrated with your online presence and how you reach and serve customers in a multi-dimensional way. The future is about maintaining and understanding your customers, who have been loyal to you for a reason. If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that we cannot predict the future. By embracing these trends, however, your business will certainly be better positioned for it.