How Small Business Evolved During the Pandemic and What Still Needs to Be Done

Steffen Schebesta, an Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) member in Toronto, is CEO of Sendinblue, an intuitive, all-in-one marketing solution for small businesses. We asked Steffen how small businesses adapted during the pandemic and what else they can do to grow. Here’s what he shared:

The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the relationships between customers and businesses forever. The year 2020 was detrimental to many small business owners who found themselves unable to service local and global customers as sales and marketing shifted to rely more heavily on the digital space.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business said one in six–about 181,000–Canadian small business owners are now seriously contemplating shutting down, putting more than 2.4 million jobs at risk. Even major retailers in the U.S shut down hundreds of stores in response to the pandemic. So, how did some companies stay afloat while others closed for good?

Changes resulting from the pandemic were handled differently by various companies. I’ve identified how small businesses that survived were able to evolve and offer a few suggestions for how they can continue to grow, even in turbulent times.

The online space gave small businesses more insights into the entire customer lifecycle, leading them to create different types of relationships with customers during the pandemic.

Small businesses evolved by leveraging all-in-one marketing platforms to stay connected with customers through online communications and pivoting sales to the digital world. For example, through marketing automation, companies gained critical insights into customers’ online activities. Restaurants or mom-and-pop shops used these insights to reveal customer preferences and optimize marketing campaigns to better meet them. Learning what customers gravitate towards online enabled them to optimize their customer journeys through robust marketing campaigns.

Small businesses can better lead customers to what they’re seeking online in quick and effective ways, compared with in-person browsing. Many companies gained the digital advantage of learning more about their customers and how to serve them more effectively. That said, here are three ways small businesses can continue to grow online.

1. Appear in more spaces and places

With more people and businesses online, it’s more challenging than ever to stand out. However, small businesses can seize this opportunity to creatively engage customers and get their company’s name and products in front of prospects. One way to do this is by joining social media platforms such as TikTok, Instagram, or ClubHouse. As new platforms are introduced, there are a wealth of opportunities to get in front of new customers and build relationships with existing ones. Understanding which platforms are relevant to your small business is important, but simply participating in these spaces can help generate brand and product awareness. Get creative: Try participating in a TikTok challenge to showcase your company’s name and personality.

2. Make online relationships with customers personal and intimate

The vast, digital online space feels less intimate than face-to-face, so how can you ensure your business stays friendly and personable? Customizable content can nurture leads. An introduction and ongoing conversation through personalized messaging will help your business resonate with customers. Personalized messages can build trust and develop into a potential sale. Even after a sale, continue to create customizable content to foster long-term customer relationships.

Transactional emails are an important part of online sales. If created strategically, they not only provide customers with helpful information about their purchases but can also upsell other products. For example, a 50 percent voucher off their next purchase will encourage customers to revisit your website and browse.

Transactional emails can also direct customers to your blog or social media profiles, creating additional engagement. The digital space creates more opportunities for one simple interaction to snowball into multiple interactions between customers and businesses.

3. Make each interaction count

In the online space, where one interaction can be seen by many, each digital interaction (from newsletters to social media posts) should be strategic and carefully thought out. Unlike face-to-face interactions with a customer, digital interactions could potentially be seen by hundreds or thousands of people. So, make each post, each email, and each digital message impactful and powerful. Use these opportunities to showcase your company’s brand values. Be clear and strategic because you never know where one post may lead.

The pandemic fundamentally changed the structure of sales and customer-company relationships. However, it also created opportunities in a more digitally mediated world to interact with customers and grow your small business using digital marketing strategies. Stay creative, strategic, and educated about new ways to shift and adjust your marketing approach to thrive rather than simply survive these unpredictable conditions.

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