Today’s small businesses are faced with unprecedented challenges and opportunities that we have not seen in the last 20 years. Likely the biggest question facing all businesses is – what does the “new normal” mean for immediate and long-term growth?
Even though we are coming off of 2020 where nearly 58,000 active businesses closed in Canada, I believe the future is bright for small businesses. My opinion comes from experience from starting a business in the aftermath of the Great Recession to currently empowering over 2,900 businesses to succeed online.
In every industry there is no going back to the old world of not having a customer-centric, engaging presence online. In the past year, it has seemed at times like there is a light coming at the end of the tunnel, and then a city can be hit with an unexpected lockdown. This instability can sink a business if it does not have the right digital plan in place.
Our experience has given us a unique perspective on a few foundational areas to help small businesses succeed online now and in the future no matter what the “new normal” looks like.
Step 1: Adapt Your Offering
It is crucial to ensure your business can utilize an online sales model. It could be that you can digitize services like courses, fitness classes, events, or consulting. Zoom, YouTube, Vimeo, and other video technologies have made this transition easier than it was in the past. If you have a retail store selling physical goods, you should make sure that you have processes in place to reliably process and deliver products purchased online.
Your long-term strategy should be adaptable to deal with potential disruptions and risks to your success whether it is competitive pressure or uncontrollable external factors like COVID.
At Wishpond, we see this alot with restaurants who are unable to have dine in guests due to COVID restrictions. We’ve routinely helped strategize how restaurants can start accepting orders through online ordering platforms like Uber Eats, Doordash and other meal delivery platforms, as well as taking orders directly from their website and over the phone. This enables restaurants to retain their staff, maintain cash flow, and continue delivering the great products to their customers in these changing times.
Step 2: Stay Nimble
Small businesses often juggle more tasks with less staff and financial resources than larger businesses. In these times, you can maximize your productivity and budgets by leveraging platforms like Upwork or Fiverr for cost-effective support for short-term tasks such as design, content/copywriting, and virtual assistant and support services.
Additionally, here are a few of my personal recommendations for boosting sales and improving customer experiences:
- Calendly: for accepting appointments online
- Shopify: for building an e-commerce site
- FreshBooks: for sending invoices online
- DocuSign or SignEasy or PandaDoc: for online signatures
- Intercom or LiveChat: for providing customers with online chat support
- com: to set up a professional 1-800 number
- Google G-Suite: for business communication, storage, and collaboration
- Asana or Trello: for online project management
- Pipedrive: for CRM
Step 3: Create a Memorable Customer Experience
There have been many studies done that show that a website has milliseconds to seconds to capture customer attention regarding why they should buy their products or services.
With this in mind, you should garner honest feedback from customers, partners, and investors about your website. You should ask them about the site design along with the experience of interacting with your business from consideration to sales and service delivery.
If a customer cannot immediately tell what you are selling and what differentiates your business from similar providers when they hit your homepage, they may not return. This is also true for the press, analysts, investors, and potential partners that do their homework first on your site.
Your site should be concise with customer testimonials about the value of what you are offering. It should make the purchasing process simple without requesting too much information. To boost sales and to simplify your online experience, consider integrating tools like buy buttons, live chat, discount pop-ups, and other tactics to prompt customer engagement. Remember, the easier you make it for your customers to engage with you, the more likely they will be too.
Do not forget that you can still have a physical human touch while selling online. If you have a customer’s mailing address you can send free gifts, offers, and thank you cards that will keep you top of mind. Pay attention to your customer experience, ensuring products are shipped with care and delivered on time is paramount. Particularly when people are turning online to determine the value of a brand, things like customer reviews and testimonials go a long way in building trust and earning your next sale.
These steps are best practices that I applied in starting my company in an uncertain economic environment to currently thriving amidst the challenges impacting businesses as a result of COVID. It is not enough to have a nicely designed website and think that your business will grow. You must be adaptable, be willing to invest in delivering memorable customer experiences, and always be on the lookout for new apps and processes that can be used to improve your business’s efficiency and reduce costs. To me, that’s been the common denominator in all the businesses we’ve seen thrive in these challenging economic times.
Ali Tajskandar is CEO and Founder of Wishpond. Over the past 20 years, Ali has had a distinguished career as a software engineer, entrepreneur, and technologist. In 2009, Ali founded Wishpond with the goal of simplifying marketing for business owners. Under Ali’s leadership, Wishpond has expanded its technology suite to include a lead generation platform, award winning email marketing platform, and an advanced marketing automation system. Ali has been instrumental in building out Wishpond’s sales teams responsible for the largest portion of Wishpond’s new monthly recurring revenue, and pioneering the shift towards managed solutions positioning Wishpond as a market leader and first in it’s category. Day-to-day, Ali is responsible for overall company direction, product development, and continuing to secure Wishpond’s place as a highgrowth company.
Prior to Wishpond, Ali worked as a software engineer in a number of high-tech startups including SoundLogic (acquired by Lucent), Seance Software, and Bitspan Network. He served on the advisory board of Modern Advisors, a financial technology company acquired by Guardian Capital. Ali holds a B.ASc. in Computer Science from Simon Fraser University and an MBA from the University of British Columbia.