Some businesses have thrived in 2020, but for the majority it’s been hard work. No matter whether your business has been severely affected by the coronavirus or not, almost every company is likely to face new challenges – and new opportunities – post lockdown.
Consumer habits have shifted, maybe permanently in some cases. Adoption of technology has accelerated and ways of working are altering. Parts of the economy look very different today compared to the start of the year.
The most successful parts of your business – and maybe even whole customer segments – may not be your strongest point anymore. Lots of businesses pivoted during the crisis too, as a way to survive. If you were one of them, maybe you’re thinking about not going back to what you once did, or at least not going back to exactly how you used to operate. Other companies have decided to hibernate but may want to re-asses current business models to ensure they provide ongoing value for customers.
If you think it’s time for a fresh look at your business – your model, your customers, your sales and your revenue – then this is the guide for you.
First steps – (re)check the fundamentals of your business and make some choices
With so much having changed, the first step is a sense check before diving back into your business.
If you’ve not been trading, or reduced business the last few months, there’s going to be a temptation to race back into things and start the business moving forward again. It’s a powerful incentive, but it is worth pausing and considering a few things.
There are three big questions to ask yourself:
- What needs to change and what should I keep the same for the future about my business?
- What have I learnt during the coronavirus crisis to bear in mind for the future?
- What are the practical steps I need to take and how can I capture this information?
This is going to be as good a time as ever to revisit your business plan, or if you’ve never made one, to produce it for the first time. The Prince’s Trust has an excellent guide and templates for writing business plans. Further advice is available from the Federation of Small Businesses and Entrepreneur magazine as well.
If you do decide on a significant change to your business, then think it through fully before taking the big decision. It’s important to consider the mental challenges that you’ll face, and how thinking these issues through is key to aligning the business behind you. We’ve also covered elsewhere some of the best advice about pivoting or changing product and service lines.
Finally, talk to your customers, test your ideas, and of course, get your employees onboard and ready to go.
Over the next three to six months – your sales and marketing machine
You had a strong customer base before the Covid-19 pandemic and you want an even stronger one after it. Even if you reduced or stopped trading during the pandemic, you’ve hopefully kept in touch with customers regularly regarding any changes or disruption to your business. If not, now is the time to start. Many of them will be feeling similar to you – figuring out what their plans are for the future and how best to go about them.
Whether you’re keeping the business the same or pivoting to new product and service lines, rebuilding or putting together a proper sales pipeline is vital. The key steps are:
- Benchmark your products and services against others so you know what your unique selling point (USP) is
- Build your immediate customer list – existing customers, previous contacts, recommendations and introductions
- Create a marketing plan to target them and others – phone, email, (virtual) events and trade shows, your website and social media
There are two other elements to consider as you get your new sales and marketing machine off the ground. The first is whether technology might prove useful for you. If you’re familiar with things like customer relationship management (CRM) software then there should be no reason not to continue using it. If you’re not however, then this might be the time to investigate this technology. It can help streamline and provide a far better picture of your customer base. You can find more information about various types of technology for businesses elsewhere on our website.
The second is where and how you plan to sell. How people buy goods and services is the area that has undergone perhaps the biggest change because of coronavirus. If you hadn’t made the move to sell online, now is the time to decide how best to do this. Don’t forget the other ways to promote and sell online too. Deciding whether LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or Instagram could fit your aims will help focus your attention on effective ways to market your products and services.
Over the next year – useful innovation
Innovation has become an overused word, but the idea at its heart – constantly reviewing your business and introducing new ideas and ways of working – remains a good one.
Once you’ve set the revised direction for your business and your sales and marketing strategy is in place, then it’s time to think about other ideas and innovations that might give you an edge.
While large companies talk about complex, expensive programmes of innovation, in reality it can be achieved through small steps which improve or reinvent aspects of your product or service.
One key to innovating as a smaller business is by incorporating new ideas into the routines of your business. So, for example:
- Set aside specific time each week for creative thinking or problem solving
- Encourage employees to listen, read or talk to other people that will spark ideas
- Build rewards and milestones for innovation into your business plan and employee targets
Feedback is also crucial to innovating and understanding what you can do to improve your offer. Make sure there are clear and open lines of communication to you (and your management team) from both your customers and your employees. By hearing from both groups you’ll be able to better source solutions to your businesses problems and make sure you’re not caught out by issues that you should already be aware of.
Statistics also show that many businesses aren’t doing enough to capitalise on data each have access to. Developing a plan for how you use data is a clear way to put yourself ahead of many of your peers. By doing so, you can get a deeper understanding of your customers and improve your processes – and your profits.
Innovation doesn’t need to be revolutionary, but it is necessary to adapting and preventing your business from being left behind by changes in the market.