2021 Trends and Opportunities

January 11, 2021

Even though last year was fraught with obstacles for most small businesses, with these challenges also came some interesting and potentially innovative changes you can make to your companies. Moreover, they can be viewed as opportunities. 

From a host of sources, our own experiences, and lessons from history, here are some trends and opportunities (with possible actions) to make your business more successful.

Agility. Pandemic restrictions will continue to affect businesses of all sizes. Small businesses have an advantage over the big corporations: quick shifts of focus can happen with less disruption, be they in service delivery, marketing or team structuring.

The quicker small businesses are able to pivot and adapt during these ongoing turbulent times, the higher their fitness and success will be.

Remote (and gig) work is the future of work. Studies have found that employees are more (and in most cases, much more) productive than your on-site workers.

This means that you may need to invest in additional technology and software solutions going forward to ensure that your employees can telework.

Consider using gig or freelance workers, you can hire temporarily without benefits and they can work remotely. There are several ways to keep the work environment professional while making your staff feel supported from afar: check in on your employees regularly using communication platforms such as Slack, Zoom or Google Meets; also take time to socialize virtually with your team, preserving your unique company culture and expressing your appreciation for their hard work.

Clarity is essential.  Be absolutely clear about whether a meeting or training is going to be vital. Almost everyone is tired of being on virtual meetings that waste our time, leaving us frustrated and overwhelmed.

Before the meeting, collaborate on a clear agenda, clear objectives and desired outcomes. Also, start and finish on time.

Mobile-first communication will become the standard. From communicating with your millennial workforce to reaching your at-home worker, communication is now centered around mobile technologies.

To adapt, your website must be responsive, which means that the size changes to fit the screen on which it is being viewed.

Also, many job applicants will apply directly from their smartphone.

Use text (not email) to communicate with your applicants (as well as customers). To boost employee communication, shift to using communication apps to strengthen productivity, lift engagement, reduce misunderstandings, and so much more.

E-commerce and storefront are the one-two punch to score additional revenue. Give your customers a reason to come to your store; and to shore up the storefront, it is a logical time to invest in e-commerce options.

Fine-tune your small business’ e-commerce presence in 2021; and get everyone e-commerce-facing. Create a seamless e-commerce experience for your customers by making your site mobile-friendly. 

Also, leverage social media to gain more sales, and use a cutting edge warehouse to ship orders more quickly.

One way to start an online store is with Wix; it has e-commerce tools to help you set up a variety of specialized services, and its advanced features include drop-shipping, managing orders and payments, using data-driven insights to monitor performance and more.

Go cashless. The economy is predicted to go cashless in the near future. Digital pay is convenient and secure, and companies like Google Pay, Apple Pay, and PayPal offer businesses a way to reap the benefits of selling products in a touchless environment.

While e-commerce obviously lends itself to the digital payment, at least having a cashless payment option beyond a credit card is a good for your business.

Being eco-friendly and socially responsible. Customers, especially younger ones, are demanding companies step up and address social and environmental issues such as climate change, species extinction, and more.

You should focus on going green whenever possible in your business; it will save energy, lower carbon dioxide. Publicize your efforts on social media and your website, and reap the benefits of more customers in 2021. Plus, in the U.S. there are tax credits and incentives on a state level for companies using solar and renewable energy.

Companies are embracing change and supporting multiple causes around the world.

Raise awareness and make a difference with strong nonprofit websites, petition and other forms of supporting causes, both online and off.

Virtual services will continue to be in high demand. The pandemic has led to increased demand for certain business types, particularly those related to technology and virtual health and fitness. These include cybersecurity, at-home fitness, food delivery, gaming, home improvement, and telemedicine businesses.

If you are considering starting a business, or are looking for ways to pivot or expand your business, look to these business categories for inspiration.

Focus on user reviews. Users have started to focus on a single aspect above all others, the reviews; they feel a lot more comfortable purchasing something that another individual has bought and tried, especially if it is from a smaller business that might lack the credibility of a big brand. There is data that shows 92% of potential customers will not purchase your products if there is not a review online.

Having a 4-star (or higher) rating by 100+ customers makes your offering that much easier and more appealing to customers. When real people advocate your brand online, your business and product become more trustworthy and can lead to increased sales.

Online reviews cost you nothing on sites like Yahoo!, Yelp, or Google My Business; plus the site traffic is high and it does a lot to help you build trust and your reputation without spending money on paid advertising.

Talent challenges. The war for talent was only paused during the early months of Covid-19, and it has already resumed in most industries; small businesses will continue to battle talent problems.

Organizations have a choice: they can build learning and people-development cultures to keep teams engaged long-term, or they can build recruiting empires to address the constant turnover of employees.

Employee happiness matters. Employees want to be happy at work and that means feeling like they matter. By keeping your employees happier through company culture and communication, can boost productivity 10-25%, and that contributes to the bottom line. What people believe, think, say and do as well as the collective output of their behaviors define their company culture.

Having open and responsive communication will result in better alignment to vision, values, goals and prosperity.

Non-monetary benefits and perks. Today’s employees want their daily work experience to include more effective motivators like telecommunication, flexible work hours, paternity leave and more.

While it appears like these perks are “just nice to have”, they are very important.

Companies need to recognize there is a strong correlation between engaged employees and key business results.

Listen to your customers.  The businesses that will survive and thrive are those that evolve with their customers.

Talk to your customers as much as you can, not because they can tell you what they want or need because they can tell you how they feel. Expect fear to be feeling number one for most and tune your strategic thinking to finding ways to be the light in the dark.

Empathy is the gold standard. Customers are looking for more than just quality products and services from businesses, they are looking for compassion and empathy. In fact, customers are four times more likely to buy from and recommend a business that has a strong, identifiable purpose. A business’ purpose includes its core values, business practices, customer service philosophy, and support for social causes. 

To build trust with customers and create brand loyalty, you have to connect with their minds and hearts. Forging that connection means demonstrating empathy, and demonstrating empathy comes down to addressing your customers’ needs and fears.

To do that, you may have to tailor your products or services, reexamine your customer service policies, or use a more compassionate voice in your marketing materials.

Customer personalization. Providing your customer with a personalized experience is what it is all about, after all, customers are individuals with their own tastes and wants. People today do not want to be bombarded with too many options and prefer a personal touch instead.

You should cut out the noise and show the options most relevant to your potential and existing customers. 

By taking a few simple steps, your business can offer personalized service, thus strengthening your customer engagement; fully engaged customers are 23% more likely than average customers to spend with your business, which may also help increase your long-term profit.

Start thinking like your customer. Develop a buyer persona to gather some invaluable data about who your clients are.

Explore web analytics tools such as Google Analytics for gathering insights about your visitors. Use the knowledge you have gathered, track strategic points as your customer navigates your site and tailor their personal experience using marketing automation and customization.

Smart personalization engines that recognize customer intent will also enable digital businesses to increase profits by up to 15%. Learn more about your customers’ past purchasing behavior, then make product and/or service recommendations.

Treat your loyal customers well. Learn from the airline industry. Make a special effort to cater to those customers who come back to you time-after-time.

For loyal customers, create a Members Area, site visitors can log into their personal account to manage their order status or appointments, chat with other members and access other types of gated, exclusive content and offers.

Grow an online community. Create an online community of like-minded individuals to foster valuable connections around your brand.

By sharing quality content about your field of expertise, from webinars to blogs, you will be able to establish yourself as an authority in your industry and gain the trust of your audience.  Other forms of video content you can create and share includes live streaming, a live Q&A, or an online course. A good way to support your community and keep it growing is by providing a forum where people can share and exchange ideas around your site. Create a blog to help solidify your voice in your field of business and continuously link you to your audience.

Sometimes your online community needs extra support.

Allow site visitors to reach you instantaneously by adding a live chat app to your site and help guide them through any queries they might have.

Think smaller and simpler. In addition to people’s desire for something that feels more personal, there is a trend for smaller and simpler.

That means less content, shorter videos, more intimate launches, mini-courses, 142-page books (instead of 284 pages).  Changes in design include larger headline fonts, muted color splashes of retro illustrations, and more white space on web pages. Also consider nostalgia and the emotional desire for simplicity.

Use mobile marketing. It means marketing your business to your mobile user audience by reaching them via their smartphones or tablets (an estimated 5 billion people carry mobile devices worldwide); it is likely the most direct channel to your audience.

Beyond crafting a great mobile website, there are a number of ways to take advantage of mobile marketing for your small business: you can keep your customers up-to-date by sending text messages of your latest promotion with consent; and use geo-targeting to reach out to potential clients who are in your area using Google ads, which allows advertisers to target mobile users in specific geographical locations.

Consider your own app. With more people using their mobile devices to conduct daily, it might be time to pair your small business website with a mobile app of your very own.

With a designated app, you can manage your business at fingers’ reach. Your customers can book services, purchase products and stay connected via chat, groups or a forum on the go. You can also up your marketing strategy by sending mobile push notifications from your app. Create a mobile community with your app and invite customers to become members to better engage with your business and stay up to date with your latest offerings.

Understand Generation Z.  Not only is Generation Z (86 million people) entering the workforce, they make up around 40% of consumers.

In order for you to fully take advantage of Generation Z employees coming of into the workforce, you need to understand how their needs and priorities (stable work-life balance, positive relationships, transparency, know what to expect, feedback, up-to-date technology, ability to lower stress levels, view failure as an opportunity to grow) differ from generations. This will allow you to better prepare your hiring process so you know what kind of candidates to look for and what questions to ask.

Video will continue to grow as a content medium. People prefer viewing and listening over reading. Think of video as asynchronous virtual content.

Create and use video to draw, engage people and perhaps they will pass it along to others.

Provide more personal 1 to 1 platforms for sales, technical support even as a form of commenting and collaborating. Consider using tools such as Loom and BombBomb. 

Stories are more important than a news feed. Stories, short video content that disappear after 24 hours, are “in the moment” content that makes a stronger connection to an audience.  

Your business needs to build an authentic voice and use it to connect with your audience. While stories are short in length and disappear, you are able to reach a larger audience and can quickly catch their attention. 

Unique online courses. Online courses are a great way to your pivot business during the pandemic.

If you have a unique knowledge base and a customer engagement model, pouring knowledge into do-it-yourself courses can independently save your business this year. It is not limiting, and it becomes passive income, as long as you use quality cameras while conveying your original course content.

Create an excellent digital footprint and visibility. As nearly everyone is spending significant time on the internet, having a great digital presence and branding will help when competing for new projects, contracts, partnerships and opportunities.

Digital presence is an excellent way to highlight your product or service, engage and build community.

Be active on social media. Understand that 84% of Americans are shopping for something at any given moment so ensure you are capitalizing on social channels to bring these consumers to your site to purchase your goods or services.

Use social media to be visible and promote critical business functions such as sales, marketing, and customer service. It will translate into more traffic, customers, and profit for your small business. It can help to bring aboard a Generation Z worker who is incredibly tech-savvy when it comes to social media marketing as this channel alone can open doors to better profit and more customers. Also consider hiring a social media influencer to bring your brand to their ready-made audience, and sales usually follow as a result.

UX and SEO are attached. Unless you provide a great mobile user experience (UX) your business is going to suffer in search engine optimization (SEO).  UX is navigation, content structure, site speed and security. With its mobile first point of view, Google is raising the SEO bar with core web vitals in May 2021.

Be prepared, Core Web Vitals are designed to measure how users experience the speed, responsiveness, and visual stability of a page. Specifically, these are defined as the Core Web Vitals: the time it takes for a page’s main content to load, an ideal LCP measurement is 2.5 seconds or faster; the time it takes for a page to become interactive, an ideal measurement is less than 100 ms; and the amount of unexpected layout shift of visual page content, an ideal measurement is less than 0.1.

Trend of supporting small, local businesses. The pandemic has driven many customers to support small businesses and local economic growth. Customers are recognizing their ability to shift their own local economies in states, counties, and cities. 

For business owners, capitalizing on this trend requires investing in local marketing and community growth. In addition to boosting your social media presence with local hashtags and campaigns, consider donating to a local cause or participating in a virtual community fundraiser or event. 

Local community networking. People buy from people, especially now that we are limited in where we are able to go. If small businesses want to compete with the big brands and online options, they will need to connect with their communities more than ever.

Nothing helps a small business more than locals spreading the word to their friends. So get “out there” on network sites like LinkedIn, Meetup, among others and watch your business thrive!

Consider joint ventures. While structuring and managing take time and effort, small businesses that seek out creative collaborations and joint ventures with others can be beneficial.

Explore diversifying the risk via another collaborator and entering markets not previously considered will increase your business’ chances of longer-term survivability.

5G helps. 5G networks can open avenues; it pushes download speeds of about 1 Gbps and with high download speeds, and changes how we interact on the internet.

Using 5G makes interactions far more instantaneous which benefits small businesses so much because they can communicate and get things done so much faster.

Leverage AI.  AI and predictive analytics will not replace the human when it comes to delivering the customer experience.

Think of AI as the co-worker who helps us become more efficient; use AI to augment your workforce, to give people better information, greater insight and the ability to perform their roles better so customers are better served.

Voice recognition is developing. Smart speakers being used for voice search because of its ease of use and speed. This will reshape search engine optimization, as search is shifts to conversation and long-tail queries.

Businesses need to create a “voice” presence on their online channels – it is a golden opportunity for small businesses to adapt while voice searching is so new. 

Technological disruption expands marketplace. Pandemic-fueled technological disruption will continue to shift the very nature of work, affecting how organizations maintain a sustainable competitive advantage in the marketplace.

Small businesses, which, in an increasingly interconnected virtual world, will be competing not only with bigger players in the market, but also with other small businesses from around the globe.

Promote data transparency. If you are handling personal information, from collecting your customers’ names and email addresses to their credit card details, it is important you implement and provide a privacy policy for your site; it is a statement that discloses some or all of the ways a website collects, uses and manages the data of its visitors and customers.

By creating a privacy policy, you are fulfilling a legal requirement to protect your client’s privacy, while also following a good business practice. Make sure to be clear with your customers about the type of information you collect and how you use it. Also mention your site’s use of cookies, which are small pieces of data stored on a site visitor’s browser. Being as transparent as possible with your customers builds trust and reinforces your credibility.

Data-driven digital strategies. Small companies need to work intensively on digital strategies to adapt to new forms of consumption and other consequences of the pandemic.

It is important to carry out market studies that allow small businesses to know the new demands firsthand. Additionally, small businesses should work on the flexibility of structures and costs to make them viable and competitive.

Virtual efficiency. During the pandemic, every business has faced being forced to digitize, virtualize and dematerialize.

There are huge opportunities to help businesses recover from lost revenue and use new technology more effectively with virtual teams. Efficiency and productivity experts that specialize in virtual teams can help.

Investments in infrastructure. Next year will pay dividends to small businesses who invest wisely now in themselves and their customers. The small businesses that are operating out of fear right now will face even more fear and losses to competitors who are investing in their infrastructure (basic facilities, structures, services, and software upon which the rest of a business is built) to stay relevant now.

Do not let fear drive you. Find the opportunities and capitalize. Your investments now will pay dividends.

Small business funding. Whether your goal is to move your business, add staff, increase marketing spend, or invest in e-commerce, small business lending will continue to be a go-to resource for companies in all industries.

Alternative cash resources like 401(k) funding are just as important to companies as traditional small business funding. The current low interest rates coupled with the cash infusion from the Paycheck Protection Program this year will help many small businesses get through a difficult time.

Focus on profitability. Companies are focusing on their operations and taking stock of where they can optimize processes to save money. 

To stay nimble and profitable, you may have to pare down your offerings and focus only on the services or products generating the most revenue. 

Financial transformation projects, can help reduce costs and keep cash flow steady; think: automating administrative tasks, consolidating software systems, renegotiating vendor contracts, or outsourcing tedious services. 

In summary, paying attention to the latest small business news and trends, plus re-engaging with customers, and taking up ecological and societal responsibilities puts you ahead of your competition. It is easier to grow company sales, offer better customer service, and operate more effectively. And do not be afraid to ask for help along the way.

December 2020 – Year End Tax Planning

December 13, 2020

In the year of the pandemic, tax planning is even more essential.

Especially as Congress has given the IRS more tools to enable business owners added deductions.  Be aware of the tax implications of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act for small business owners, as well as the possibility that additional changes may emerge in coming months.

Along with these goodies, the IRS can add more ways of trapping business owners into costly mistakes.

On the whole, however, there are some changes that need to be done to save dollars in April.

Tax planning is essential to maximizing the results of your business.  Especially this year, it is always best to consult your tax advisor. 

As we say every year and sometimes get ignored resulting in lost savings, here are some tax planning considerations for your small business. 

  • Determine whether your business may qualify for different tax treatment:  many small business owners can deduct 20% of qualified business income in calculating their federal taxes, but it is not automatic.  The deduction generally applies to income from “pass-throughs” (when owners pay taxes on business income themselves, rather than the business itself paying tax).  However, the law limits the deduction for certain service businesses.
  • Create a smart plan for paying taxes:  as soon as you have an idea of your business’s general outlook for the tax year, the better prepared you are to prevent cash flow disruptions—either by putting money aside or arranging for a line of credit to pay the IRS.  Consider whether you would be better off paying quarterly estimated taxes next year or finding the cash for a large tax payment in April.  (You may need to pay estimated taxes throughout the year to avoid interest and possibly penalties levied by the IRS.)
  • Set up—or add to—a retirement savings plan:  beyond personal IRA contributions, small business owners have several options for employer-sponsored retirement savings plans, including SIMPLE IRA, SEP IRA, 401(k), and profit-sharing plans.  They differ in the amount the employer and employee can contribute, the investment options available, plus the ease, timing and expense of setting them up, among other factors.
  • Take advantage of larger deductions for equipment:  if you buy new or used equipment for your company and place it in service before the end of the year, you could be entitled to a federal tax deduction of up to $1.04 million, and reduces for higher amounts spent on equipment.  The deduction applies to purchases of certain used as well as new equipment.
  • Defer expenses and accelerate income, or vice versa:  if your company operates on a cash basis for tax purposes and your profits seem likely to be lower in 2020, and you expect your business to be more profitable in 2021, consider accelerating cash collection before Dec. 31 and delaying deductible expenses until after the new year.  Income you realize in 2020 may be taxed at a lower rate, and deductions will be more valuable when your income recovers.

To bring in more income, try to invoice customers early and encourage them to pay early.  To delay deductions, you could pay staff bonuses in January instead of December.

Alternatively, if you expect your profits to be high in 2020, you may want to defer revenue during the last part of the year as a way of reducing your 2020 taxable income, and move up deductions by paying some 2021 costs in advance.

  • Contribute to charity:  in addition to helping to fulfill your goals as a socially responsible business and engage your employees in a meaningful activity, it can also provide your business with a tax deduction, usually equal to the fair market value of the property donated.  However, if you own a pass-through business, be aware that your ability to deduct charitable gifts made by the business could be limited (capped or nil) in 2020.
  • Understand how PPP loans will be taxed:  the CARES Act created the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which authorized small businesses loans to cover employee salaries and certain other expenses. Assuming certain conditions are met, businesses can apply to have those loans forgiven.  Consult with your tax advisor about this and other important tax issues raised by PPP loans. 
  • Consider when to pay back payroll taxes:  the CARES Act allows businesses to defer paying their 6.2% share of Social Security payroll taxes incurred between March 27, 2020 and the end of 2020.  However, half of the deferred funds will have to be paid by December 31, 2021, and the other half of the deferred funds by December 31, 2022.  This provides a great liquidity benefit, but taxpayers should consider the impact on deductions before the end of the year.  Businesses generally cannot deduct their share of payroll taxes until paid.
  • Make the most of this year’s losses:  2020 was a tough year for many small (and larger businesses), but you may be able to find a silver lining.  Under the CARES Act, certain small businesses can apply a net operating loss generated in 2018, 2019 or 2020 to income from the past five years for a potential immediate refund.  This rule change could even be an incentive to take steps to increase your losses in 2020 by incurring more expenses.  You’ll have the option to amend past returns or carry losses forward for future tax years, which is yet another reason to talk to your tax advisor about this issue.

If your losses will be in 2020, start preparing to file early because you cannot claim an NOL carryback refund until you file your tax return for the year.

  • Accelerate AMT refunds:  when the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) repealed the corporate alternative minimum tax (AMT), it allowed corporations to claim all their unused AMT credits in the tax years beginning in 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021.  The CARES Act accelerates this timeline, allowing corporations to claim all remaining credits in either 2018 or 2019.  This gives companies several different options to file for quick refunds.  The fastest method for many companies will be filing a tentative refund claim on Form 1139, but corporations must file by Dec. 31, 2020 to claim an AMT credit this way.
  • Retroactive refund for bonus depreciation:  the CARES Act legislation expands bonus depreciation to apply to a generous category of qualified improvement property (QIP).  QIP is commonly thought of as a retail and restaurant issue, but it is much broader and applies to almost any improvement to the interior of a building that is either owned or leased.  The fix is retroactive, so you can fully deduct qualified improvements dating back to Jan. 1, 2018, which may offer relatively quick refunds.  Taxpayers who filed 2018 and 2019 returns before the law changed can choose whether to reflect the additional retroactive deduction entirely in the 2020 year with an accounting method change, or amend both the 2018 and 2019 returns to apply bonus depreciation for QIP in each of those years.
  • Claim quick disaster loss refunds:  tax rules allow businesses to claim certain losses attributable to a disaster on a prior year tax return; this is meant to provide quicker refunds.  President Donald Trump’s COVID-19 designated disaster area includes all 50 states, the District of Columbia and five territories.  Your U.S. business may be eligible for refunds from certain types of losses.  Under this provision, a business could claim a COVID-19 related disaster loss occurring in 2020 on a 2019 amended return for a quicker refund.  The provision may potentially affect losses arising in a variety of circumstances, including the loss of inventory or supplies or the closure of offices, stores or plants.  To qualify, the loss must actually be attributable to or caused by COVID-19 and satisfy several other requirements.
  • Examine your tax function: any business inefficiencies such basic number crunching and repetitive processes may be weighing down you or your lean tax people. Inefficiencies make it hard to meet deadlines, present audit and tax risks, and cost businesses money — especially during unprecedented times like the COVID-19 pandemic.  Data analytics and automation can help mitigate these problems and enable your tax function to focus more on strategic, value-added solutions — shifting away from a compliance-only role.

If these suggested end-of-year strategies are a little different this year, it’s because the year itself was different.  Consult your tax advisor; plan and do what is best for your business. 

Wishing you and your business a healthy and successful 2021.

Holidays 2020

November 2, 2020

No one said this holiday season can’t still bring some happiness to business owners.
And that can happen if you focus on your customers.
The holidays are a time to recoup some of the year’s losses, even if this year has been a year like no other.  

But you need to start RIGHT NOW. 

It doesn’t matter if your business is already 100% online, strictly brick and mortar, or a combination, more customers than ever before are going to need to shop online.
So for holiday gift shopping, your ecommerce campaigns are going to be even more important than ever.

Here are some advertising and ecommerce fundamentals you need to make sure you’re covering in order to give your current and potential customers the best holiday shopping experience possible.

1. Focus on your ad copy

Smart advertisers need to revisit their ad copy before launching their campaigns for the holidays.  By writing unique ad copy to launch your holiday sales, you’re putting yourself ahead of many advertisers who don’t have the time or inclination to do so.  Even if you don’t specifically mention holiday promotions in your ad copy, including seasonal messaging tells your prospects that whatever you are offering is current, providing further incentive to click on your ads.

2. Maintain your online product feeds or catalogues

Make sure you’re only advertising products that are in stock.  And, the offerings are accurate; only make promises your business or ecommerce website can deliver on.

3. Use ad scheduling to promote holiday sales

There are several platforms that allow for some form of ad scheduling, to ensure your ads with sale messages are live and paused when they need to be.  Platforms include: Google Ads, Microsoft Ads, Facebook/Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, among others.

Depending on the platform(s) you’re using, be sure to check out their ad scheduling capabilities and adjust accordingly.  Know your options and make sure your customers are seeing an accurate message.

4. Provide realistic shipping expectations

Your website needs to set proper expectations, especially the closer you get to the holidays, and warn people if you don’t believe that item will be there on time.  You might lose a sale in the moment, but it’s better than receiving a bad review after the fact.

5. Improve your site speed

With an increase in online shopping this 2020 holiday season, there is bound to be a drain on network bandwidth.  Remove site speed hindrances from your online store and speed things up for your customers; you have your choice of tools to use for this, including Google Developer PageSpeed Insight, GTmetrix, PageSpeed Insight, Pingdom, Webpage Test, among others.  Do not remove your ad pixels; you need them to have insights into performance and optimize your campaigns.

6. Make your site mobile-friendly

With many customers shopping online this holiday season, it’s really important to make sure your site is mobile friendly this holiday season.

7. Optimize product titles and descriptions

Make sure product titles include as much information as possible within the 150-character limit.  This includes the name of the product, brand, gender, size, color, and target age group (if needed).

A similar principle applies to product descriptions.  Make sure that they contain all the relevant keywords and specific information within the 500-character limit.  Write descriptions that highlight the key features of the product.  For inspiration, consider using keyword research tools such as Ahrefs or SEMrush.

8. Make the most of ad extensions

Features like sitelinks, call extensions, and review extensions can make your ads stand out and help holiday shoppers convert.  Even if you’re already using extensions (such as yourstorename Christmas Gifts) in some of your ad campaigns, it is worth revisiting them and checking that you are getting the most out of the many different ad formats that are available, especially before the holiday rush.

9. Do your keyword research

It is vital to capitalize (and bid) on seasonal searches and other timely trends.  One way to do this is by using Google Trends and other similar online marketing tools (Act-On, SpyFu, Moz Pro, among others) to identify new keywords that can breathe life into your holiday campaigns.

10. Make sure your campaigns are tightly organized

Maintaining tight campaign organization and account structure is something you should always stay on top of, but this becomes even more important during the holidays.  If you’re selling seasonal products, these should (obviously) be contained within their own unique ad groups.  Keywords should be relevant and tightly themed.

11. Own organic search by creating gift-specific pages

Search queries “gifts for mom” and “gifts for dad” peak in the middle of December.  “Gifts for her” and “gifts for him” also spike around this time.  Holiday shoppers don’t always do an online search with a specific product or brand in mind; often, they’re hunting for gifts for specific people in their lives.

By creating new, dedicated pages on your site that are optimized for keywords like “gifts for mom” and “gifts for dad,” you improve your chances of ranking highly in the organic search results and getting your products in front of eager shoppers.

12. Invest in paid social

If you haven’t already started advertising online, the holidays are the ideal time to start.  Why, you ask?  Holiday shoppers often vent their frustrations on social media, providing you with the perfect opportunity to offer up some well-timed relief from their holiday shopping woes.

13. Push favorable product ratings

Favorable product ratings provide positive reinforcement on the buyer’s decision making, help your ads stand out against the competitor products without seller ratings, and contribute to driving your Quality Score which means higher visibility and lower CPC (cost per click).

14. Share customer reviews

People often checkout what other people say in online reviews, especially what they think about your products, so make it a priority to get and showcase your online review.  Companies like Trustpilot, Bazaarvoice, Yotpo,

Reviews.io, Feefo, Birdeye, and others have lots of preset tools that allow you to easily integrate reviews into your website.  This social proof can go a long way when users are trying to decide between two different products or solutions.

For local businesses, getting Google reviews, will be crucial for your marketing success.  The quantity and quality of reviews on your Google Business Profile directly impacts your ranking in local results.

15. Use real-life photos

Similar to customer reviews, being able to see products will help online sales.  The tactile experience of being in the store is something you can’t overcome online.  But the next best thing is to provide your customers with plenty of photos of your products.

High-quality and relevant product images will have a positive impact on your products’ visibility and click-through rates.  For clothing items, be sure to use quality 250 x 250px images and 100 x 100px for non-clothing items.  Use contextual product imagery that shows the item in situ and/or show the product from different angles.  This helps your product stand out in competitive branded item results.

16. Cross-sell like crazy with relevant pop-ups

Use the power of pop-ups to cross-sell your site visitors.  Pop-ups don’t need to be annoying!  In fact, when they’re used thoughtfully and with the experience of the user in mind, they can actually be helpful.  Use pop-ups to advertise related products to your site visitors.

17. Drive easy sales by targeting past customers

A great way to score some (relatively) easy wins is to target users who bought products from your store during last year’s holiday season.  Offer them an incentive to buy again.

18. Capture familiar audiences with remarketing lists

Much like search ads, you can adopt remarketing lists for your shopping campaigns too.  This is great technique that’ll allow you to customize bids to previous visitor audiences.  This would include shopping cart abandoners, returning visitors, and previous buyers.

With the flexibility to bid more aggressively on specific audiences that are familiar with your brand and products, remarketing lists for shopping ads have the potential to do wonders for your shopping campaigns. This includes higher click throughs and conversion rates, as well as contributing to lowering your CPA (cost per action) too with generally lower CPC.

19. Encourage immediate action

When it comes to closing seasonal sales, customer hesitation is your biggest enemy.  Therefore, it is important to know how to encourage your holiday shoppers to take the desired action immediately through:

  • limited-time offers and deals, such as extras for early purchasing or offer two-for-one sales
  • a seasonal sale with an attractive discount offer
  • last-minute gift ideas for late shoppers
  • a giveaway or contest
  • free shipping and/or gift wrapping
  • putting emotional triggers (warm, joy, belonging, instant gratification, time, fear) into your messages to evoke feelings
  • short-lived daily content
  • a sense of urgency on your landing pages (count down timers, banners promoting specific offers)

20. Save last-minute shoppers with local inventory ads

Some people don’t start looking until after your shipping cut-off, the last day people can buy from your online store and get their orders in time for the holidays.

Your business can save the day for these last-minute holiday shoppers.  

With a local inventory ad (LIA) and local storefront, potential buyers will learn when your store is open, how much you have in stock, how much they’ll have to spend, and more.

21. Save last-minute shoppers with electronic gift cards

Even if you don’t have a brick-and-mortar presence, you can still save the day for your procrastination-prone prospects.  Once your shipping cut-off has passed, we recommend ramping up your offers for electronic gift cards.  True—most people (for the sake of showing their loved ones how thoughtful and punctual they are) would prefer to buy a tangible product.  Nonetheless, when the clock is ticking and placing a traditional order is out of the question, shoppers will be grateful for the option of buying a gift card.

22. Give users a few ways to pay

Make it easy for your customers to pay; let them pay with PayPal, bitcoin, VISA Checkout, Apple Pay, AMEX Express Checkout, ALIPAY, Google Pay, masterpass, amazon pay, and/or some other platform rather than needing to use a credit card at your store.

Whether you do one, some, or all of the above, the key is to start today and don’t let up until the New Year.

Covid: Business Model Assessment Time

October 4, 2020

Some businesses are seizing the opportunities for change presented by the Covid-19 epidemic while, a portion are waiting and seeing, and a few are withering away.

Procrastinating might be a good strategy for some, a majority of businesses can’t delay adapting to face the changed economics posed by the pandemic.

As Eleanor Roosevelt said “it takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan, and I add do.

To give you an idea of how others are dealing with Covid-19, let’s look at stories we researched of companies in these perilous times.

First an example of a large enterprise we all know, and then there is a look at three smaller businesses and what they have done.

When the pandemic hit, most Uber riders stopped using the service, revenues plunged.  Uber focused on building its food delivery business (Uber Eats) and its app that helps carriers make hassle-free bookings and shippers tender shipments easily (Uber Freight); both are growing well in fact Uber Eats revenues are currently greater than it rider service, although that business is slowly rebuilding.  Also the company focused on retaining its presence in overseas markets; it recently won the right to continue operating in London — one of the ride-sharing company’s largest markets.

In the realm of small businesses, the pandemic has caused many to decide it is time of looking at the core business model and what they bring to their customers.  Some are making the decision to morph or perhaps close.  Here are some examples.

First we share the example of Jane who operates a chain of Texas printing shops. Covid slashed her business’s monthly revenues, especially from print for trade shows which no longer were happening.  Plus her local restaurant and church business printing went to zero.  Jane did not panic, as a business women she assessed the situation, largely unknown, and made a plan to move forward.  First, she took care of her employees, making sure they and their families were okay and safe; appreciating their commitment and their key role in moving forward. 

Then, she identified opportunities to make money along with necessary changes to her business.  Jane realized sales were going to be more online and self-service; she changed her staffing and ordering accordingly.  She also saw an opportunity in supplying products for Covid.  She began printing signs for social distancing, sanitizing, etc. as well as making face shields.  As a result, she was able to rebuild revenues through new customers and former customers buying other offerings; and her business is once again growing.

In a smaller suburban township, Charlie has a candy, sweet shop serving his the local market.  People come for their daily piece of sweetness and local news (gossip).  Covid hit hard, shuttering the store.  When the sweet shop was allowed to re-open after eight weeks, customers dribbled in hungry for its offerings but fearful of its confined space.  Charlie being aware of this started his first website with advertisements of daily sweet specials and headlines of news. 

Customers could opt for delivery of the sweets; which he employed local youths.  But they needed to come to the shop for the local news. 

Charlie put in social distancing measures as well as published sanitizing measures to ensure the safety of his employees and customers.  Plus on his website and in his store he created message boards where locals could leave messages for each other, recreating that community feeling, which he realized was the essence of his business. 

Charlie’s sweet shop picked up a few new customers, plus those who moved away from the area got back in touch as they were in need of the local offerings; his business is slowly rebuilding based on building on the sense of community (and wonderful sweet offerings) his candy shop offers that was/is needed during this pandemic.

Julio inherited his family business from his abeula.  His grandmother was the best cook; family and friends tell stories about her cooking and this led to her opening a local restaurant.  ‘Abeula’s’ was a hit in its urban location; nightly locals would come to celebrate special occasions nd would bring their out of town family and friends to taste the amazing food.  Abeula passed and the restaurant was given to her grandson, Julio and his seemingly tireless wife, Consuela, to run.  Pre-pandemic, by using the same recipes as his abeula and many of the same cooks, Julio was able to keep the restaurant going. 

Covid shut down the restaurant for more than six months.  During this time Julio and his family and their employees had no income.  Julio didn’t have his heart in reopening to an uncertain future and many of his employees had to find other jobs to support their families; so Julio looked for alternatives to keep his abeula’s memory alive.  He contacted a large food conglomerate who agreed to license the recipes, and sell via supermarkets to the fast growing Latina sector and those who also crave the flavors.  The conglomerate is planning to produce the offerings for the frozen food section of the supermarkets and agreed to use “Abeula” as the brand despite the recent push-back on names of ethnic offerings. 

Julio, came up with a viable and potentially lucrative alternative to share his abeula’s recipes while providing for his family.

Covid has hit all of us hard, many have lost family, friends and customers.  But, the pandemic does not have to end your business as well.  Take this time to assess your business model along with your customer needs. Consider what you want to do with your business plus consider its essence. 

Morphing with purpose seems to be the answer for many, others will decide to shut-down and move on to their next adventure.

May you have a successful outcome like Jane, Charlie and Julio, as well as stay healthy.

IPO – Some Steps and Alternatives

September 7, 2020

During the Pandemic many SMB leaders are taking stock of their businesses and even their entire legacy. Perhaps it is also time to consider an IPO.

In the past year, the Securities and Exchange Commission enacted new rules to make the process easier; however, only one in four companies follow through and complete the arduous process.

IPO pros include a liquidity event for shareholders, access to financial markets, added prestige, and ability to attract top talent makes it all worthwhile.

On the flip side, an IPO also means additional financial reporting and shareholder scrutiny. 

With these possible obstacles, the question any SMB leader needs to ask him or herself is the added expense and requirements worth the effort for the advantages.

If you do decide to move ahead, here are some things to consider while navigating the IPO path.

For an IPO, a company goes through a series of steps that can last several months to years. You probably will need accountants, lawyers and investment bankers to help you through the process.  Here are some steps as well as benefits and drawbacks to an IPO:

Have your company valued by a reputable third party. Accountancies and others specialize in this field.

But first do your own valuation of assets, intellectual property, and other things of value.  And, consider outstanding liabilities.  By going through this activity, you will one have a ballpark number in your mind; and two pull together many of the requisite documents the evaluator is going to ask for.

Engage your own lawyers to check all documents for intent, compliance and completeness.

Select an investment bank to guide you through the process; they receive a fee of 4-7% of money raised.  They help your company prepare an S-1 (a prospectus required by the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) that provides a deep dive into the company’s financials, future plans, and its team) and line up a one- to two-month-long roadshow to pitch investors on the company. Those investor meetings gauge investor demand and help bankers determine an offering share price; also helps to decide the number of shares to be offered.

Usually there is a “lockup” period of 90 to 180 days, depending on the agreement with investment bankers. That lockup period prevents employees and early investors from selling their shares before that time, giving confidence to new investors that this is indeed a good place to put their money.  It is important that employees and investors stay mute during this period.

The initial public offering is expected to take place after the SEC completes its review process, subject to market and other conditions.

Benefits

An IPO lets you raise capital by reaching a large number of investors. The money is available right away via your investment bank.  Plus, there is the benefit of added publicity and attention from Wall Street analysts, which can generate demand for your company’s shares.

Drawbacks

IPOs are expensive and time consuming: on average, companies spend $750,000 and 18 months preparing for an IPO.  And there have long been complaints from companies pricing to high or too low on opening day: coming out under your IPO price can tank your company’s valuation; and too low will lead to a stock price ‘pop’ but less money raised for the company.

Shareholders need to consider and advised on tax consequences of cashed in shares.

But, let’s say you want to take your company public without the fan fair, time and money involved in an IPO.  Three ways to do so are direct listing, Dutch auction, and reverse merger.  Let’s briefly explore theses IPO alternatives.

Direct Listing

The direct listing is the current IPO favored alternative. It lets you avoid many of the headaches of an IPO and go public without issuing new shares. Instead, you sell a small amount of existing shares direct to the public once listed on an exchange; it is an efficient way for early investors to sell some of their stakes. 

With a direct listing, you still file the S-1 prospectus for investors like you do in an IPO, although you don’t necessarily need an investment bank to do underwriting or a traditional roadshow.  Instead consider having an “investor day” to educate prospective investors.

Unlike an IPO, the share price isn’t set in advance and existing investors can sell shares directly to the public without the traditional lockup period.

Benefits

You pay financial advisory fees, which are usually a lot less than the fees you would pay to investment bankers for the IPO.  Also, there is no lockup period means early employees and investors can sell shares right away.

Drawbacks

Unless your company is already well known, it may be difficult to drum up investor interest without the help of the investment banks, who become your cheerleaders when you pay them IPO fees.  You may also deal with additional scrutiny from the SEC, not yet accustomed to this nontraditional approach.

Dutch Auction

In a Dutch auction, the seller specifies the number of shares for sale and then sets a minimum bid price. Bidders, then in turn, state how many shares they’ll buy and the price they’ll pay.  The winning bidders pay the same price per share, or the clearing price. In IPO terms, what that means is that instead of having investment bankers determine what investors might be willing to pay for a stock, the investors themselves decide what your company is worth.  Despite big companies like Google utilizing, only a handful of companies have used them to go public.  These days, Dutch auctions are primarily used when a public company buys back some of its shares.

Benefits

A Dutch auction lets the company get the going market rate for its shares, without worrying about an investment bank underpricing shares to get an opening day IPO “pop” that rewards their best customers.

Drawbacks

Some experts deem such auctions as risky, because the seller has no way of knowing how many people will buy shares, and there is more uncertainty about the stock price.

As Wall Street’s ibankers does not make as much money on a Dutch auction, your company’s debut on the public markets might not be well received.  Plus, a Dutch auction takes away much of the ibank’s ability to determine pricing.

Reverse Merger

A quiet way to become a public company is by your private company taking control and merging with a public company, often a dormant shell corporation that doesn’t have assets or real operations, but does have a stock ticker symbol.

While the SEC has cracked down on the Reverse mergers, after several reverse-merger companies – including some foreign firms that used the practice to enter U.S. markets – to scam investors; there are legitimate companies, such as Dell, which reentered the public markets this way.

Benefits

A reverse merger has long been considered one of the most cost-effective and fastest (1-4 months) ways to go public.  Original or early investors can gain liquidity, plus the company can raise new capital through a secondary offering.

Drawbacks

The reverse merger has gotten harder to pull off successfully. Unless the company meets stringent requirements, the NYSE and NASDAQ will not list surviving reverse merger companies for one or more years after the merger.  Also, without analyst attention and the publicity of an IPO, the stock may suffer.

Finally if you are not careful, your company may inherit problems, such as litigation liability, from the shell company.

As you consider taking your company public, carefully weigh the financial, time and other commitments before moving forward.

A successful IPO, or taking your company public company through one of the alternatives, is worth the headaches for many business owners.

Beware: Hackers and Scammers Are Flourishing In Today’s Pandemic

August 3, 2020

In times of crisis, bad people find new ways of hurting companies through financial or other malfeasance.

Today’s pandemic is one of those times.

Sometimes, these criminals can simply dress old scams with new twists resulting in the losses that can mean the death or long-term damage to small businesses.

As the pandemic has deepened, smaller companies are facing significantly greater attacks on their bank accounts, personal records, reputations, and even their ownership of real properties.  Today, it is important for small business leaders to be especially vigilant.

What is particularly scary is one fact, there is a consensus among cyber security experts that one of four American businesses will be successfully hacked or scammed by 2022.  Please note they are talking about the success ratio, imagine how many more unsuccessful attempts need to occur in order to have this kind of success.  By comparison, Cheetahs considered among the most efficient hunters in the wild are estimated to gather a meal only once in 10 hunts.

There are many checklists for protecting your small business.  Outlined are some of most important elements to defending your company.

  • Trust no one you do not know.  Whether it is an unfamiliar email, notice from a financial institution or a voice on the phone, always initiate any interaction asking for or demanding identification information from the caller.
  • Constantly review with staff security procedures.  Make security uppermost in their minds when dealing with the public and interfacing with your systems.  Also remember in today’s world sometimes the threat comes from snail mail.  In fact, direct mail is still being used to trick companies with phony database listings, advertising media, and even fake invoices.
  • Passwords should not be easy-to-remember.  Passwords have with upper-case and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols are safer and better protection for your confidential data.  Also, remember to change your passwords periodically.
  • At the first sign of breach, infection, or ransom demand call in the professionals.  Better yet, retain a professional cybersecurity firm today.  Regardless, have cyber insurance, legal counsel, and IT professionals solve the problem, don’t do it alone.
  • Sometimes the threat comes from within the staff.  Review all procedures for disbursing monies, approving invoices, and adding new users to the system.  Make sure discharged or furloughed employees can’t assess your systems.  Infecting an internal web is very easy nowadays.
  • Eternal vigilance, even with all the pandemic distractions, must be a key focus small business leaders need to continue.

Stay safe.  Protect yourself and your business.  It is easier and less costly to be proactive than remediate an attack.

Unsettled Times Lead To New Criminal Scams

July 7, 2020

In times like this pandemic, criminals thrive.

With many safeguards lowered, new scams are being perpetrated on SMBs as well as consumers.

Small business leaders need to be especially vigilant now more than ever.

To prove the point, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has been particularly busy weeding out individuals and companies scamming SMBs. The most egregious involve offering to help them navigate new funding opportunities through the Cares Act.

Using an easily obtainable database, they send out thousands of official looking letters seemingly from organizations associated with the Small Business Association.

These letters highlight claims by the companies that could lead recipients to believe the companies are affiliated with the SBA, or that recipients can apply on their websites for loans through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) or other programs authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Sadly, the FTC reports many SMBs have fallen into this snare involving million of dollars in lost funds.

Offering bogus help with CARES loans are not the only dangers.

As companies reopen they are being approached by “Inspectors” claiming the right to inspect measures taken against the Corvid 19.  Seemingly shocked by “inadequate preventive measures” they levy “warning scripts” and demand a payment or bond for an appearance later at City Hall.

This scam is appearing throughout the country as are “advisors” who claim expertise in cleaning and prevention.

With normal business practices disrupted, cyber criminals are having as field day and ransom attacks are reported to be surging.  Take extra care in opening emails and check sources.

Price gouging is also appearing as spot shortages created by some distributors can mean momentary profit cuts.  Have a second source ready for critical items in your supply chain should you decide to switch vendors and/or for comparison pricing.

Perhaps the most legally challenging for SMBs are employees who continue to take unemployment checks after returning to work.  With the backlog created when workers were furloughed, many states are four, five, even six weeks behind in matching records. If double-dipping is found, the employer as well as the employee is held responsible.

Being extra vigilant isn’t just smart, but necessary to survive these troubling times and your business a chance to thrive in the future.

Passing Your Family Business To The Next Generation

June 9, 2020

You have toiled years building your business.  Sometimes at the expense of spending time with family and friends. 

You have seen your business grow through trials and tribulations; it has become a part of you.

You have even survived the corona virus pandemic, so far.

Now, because of your age or poor health, your offspring needs a job/career, you want to keep the family name on the business, you want to cash out, changing market dynamics, or you fill in the blank, you are thinking of passing the business to a family member – the next generation to run your business.

Increasingly survey respondents of Information Strategies and guests of Small Business Digest podcast are indicating that the next generation does not want to take over the business.  Top reasons include:

  • No interest in the business.
  • Have another career in mind/started.
  • Resentment of the business that absorbed so much of their parent(s)’ time and attention.
  • Insufficient financing available to take over, especially given student loan debt.
  • Do not have the skills to manage the business.
  • Do not want to work with and then take over from the parent(s).

Surveys show that a mere 27% of offspring are willing to take over the family business.  If your family is the exception and you have the opportunity to pass the family business along to the next generation, here are a few things to consider to make the change over successful.

Be clear on why you are handing over your business to the next generation.  Knowing the reason for your action, and writing it down, up front will help with the transition.

Know what you are going to do post hand over.  While your business may have been all consuming and the transition busy in a different way, after it is all over your life will be very different.  You most likely will find an abundance of time on your hands and feel a lost identity and/or lack of focus.  Plan ahead for what you are going to do next, perhaps a second career, studying, travel, hobbies and/or enjoying your well-earned retirement.

Have an independent evaluation of the business done.  Find out what the company is worth.  As you hand over the business, a financial arrangement is needed to compensate you.  It might be paid all up front or over time, maybe you will retain a minority interest in the business.

Create and stick to a transition plan.  Put your plan in writing, include:

  • Time frames, including a set transition finalization date where the next generation fully takes over.
  • Roles and responsibilities during the transition; these will change as the next generation gains greater control.
  • Communication plans with regular check-ins.
  • Highlight challenges as well as potential opportunities.

Have an advisory board with majority being independents.  Always good to have third party input on the business.  Select individuals who are not related, who can readily add-value to the business with industry and/or functional expertise.

Post-Pandemic Optimism

May 11, 2020

Should a small business leader be preparing for a post-pandemic boom or bust?

While many experts are predicting months if not years of recession when the nation returns to a semblance of economic activity, we are expecting a robust rebound.

There are several reasons to think prosperity will return.

Not the least is the pent up demand created by these recent months of stalled activity.

Let’s list just a few changes in the Pandemic fostered. Consumers stayed home in late winter and early spring. They spent more on comfort foods; board games; and other home centered products.  Billions of dollars in Spring, Summer fashions are left unbought.  Easter, Passover, Mothers’ Day celebrations not tendered as usual, with upcoming graduations, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Fathers’ Day, Fourth of July celebrations expected to be altered.  Many spring fix-up, gardening, and vacation trips were put off or abandoned.

Add to these factors the $1,200 credit sent by the U.S. government to most eligible individuals along with hefty unemployment checks and it is possible to see an avalanche of dollars opening up during the remainder of the year.

However, this view is tempered by experts concerned many small businesses will not reopen as restrictions are eased.

That well may be the case, but for those enterprises able to survive the Pandemic, opportunities abound.  Their problem will be finding the materials to supply the demand.

Interestingly, there is a precedent for this optimism.  In the aftermath of the 1918-1920 Spanish Flu crisis there was also a surge in economic activity.  As the nation returned to what President Warren G. Harding said was “normalcy” America entered into the Jazz Age marked by higher stock markets; vast material lifestyle improvement; and economic growth.  True, a fierce depression followed but the number of small businesses quadrupled in the next eight years during the roaring 20’s.

There are many reasons to believe, such a major expansion could also occur after this latest health crisis.

Not the least is the innate optimism of American small business leaders.  This is a factor not to be ignored in the days ahead.

Perhaps it is better to plan for growth rather than live in fear.  Also, plan now how to get needed supplies for business continuance.

Planning For Post Coronavirus

April 1, 2020

Even in the depths of these dark times, planning for a positive tomorrow is important.

While the coronavirus pandemic spreads, it is affecting us individually, our families, our small businesses and our employees, plus our customers, suppliers and partners.

As we see every day, many things are happening to help us weather these tribulations.  Not the least is the CARES Act provides some relief.

Perhaps most importantly, as a small business leader, it is a priority for you to try to stay safe and healthy.  There are people depending on you to lead them forward after this pandemic is contain.

While focusing on today, it is also a time to start planning and positioning for what you as a small business Owner/President/Manager will be doing Post Coronavirus.

Consider your business, is it a viable on-going entity that needs to be repositioned and/or galvanized?  Or, should it be shuttered, sold, merged, or something else.

If you are going to soldier forward, craft a vision to focus and unify your business.  Importantly, share it with your employees, customers, suppliers and partners. 

Note: your resources (capital and personnel) might be limited so prioritize those projects that will give you the highest return.

Some things to consider:

Will you be a physical, online or combination business?

Answering that question, leads to a whole series of decisions about physical space, where workers will reside, enablement technology, etc.

If you decide to maintain a physical presence, your Local Community will play a role in your business not only surviving, but thriving. 

  • Letting your community know that you are open for business and your hours.
  • People will be hyper aware of cleanliness standards, so post measures taken to clean and keep your business clean are critical.
  • Donate to and support local causes.
  • Thank your local first-line-of-support people.

Your Staff is a critical success factor of your business. 

  • Acknowledge any personnel losses and have a plan for recognizing those who have passed either with a single donation or some other memorial.
  • Look at necessary roles going forward and determine who to keep, move to another position, let go, and hire.  Having the right people in each position is important to achieving your vision.
  • Thank those staying with you; ensure they have the tools and training needed to fulfill the job and your vision for the business.
  • Provide a reference for those being separated.
  • Put together an enticing company pitch and employment package for new hires.
  • Consider which staff you need on premises and those you want to work remotely.
  • Provide the remote workers with the support they need to succeed; set standards for measurement.
  • Consider a making portion of employee compensation based on the success of the business.
  • Decide whether staff be employees or via a PEO (see All About Small Business blog from May, 2018).
  • Being able to engage the team is essential; find ways to motivate people and make your unifying vision something that will engage your team and get them on board.
  • Be relentless at pursuing the task of building an unstoppable team (you cannot do everything on your own); having one will enable your business will thrive and the unifying vision will come to fruition.

In addition, Suppliers and Partners can help you fulfill your business vision.  Find collaborative ways to work together to meet the needs of your customers and business in today’s changing world. 

  • If you contract for a length of time and/or volume amount with your suppliers; ask for longer payment terms, volume discount, and/or additional services/products.
  • Should you get a partner or add partner(s) to help you fulfill non-core activities such as delivery, technology, marketing, staffing, among others.
  • Consider whether you should partner up to expand your offerings, reach a wider audience/customer base, and add capabilities.

Some Marketing and Sales activities might help rev your business.

  • Conduct customer and employee online surveys to learn strengths, weaknesses and areas of opportunities.
  • Your messaging should reflect your vision; consider adding data in messaging.
  • Consider having a Back-To-Business special.
  • If your had customers during the coronavirus outbreak, contact them to thank and offer them something special such as a free item/service.
  • During the pandemic, communicate with current and past customers on a regular basis.
    • Keep asking them how they are doing and is there anything you can do for them.  Remember, help in a time of crisis is most remembered.
    • Keep customers informed of your company’s plans and when they can expect a return of your business to ‘normal’.
  • If your business was completely shuttered during the pandemic, consider sending out a “we’re back” message along with notice of your hours, cleaning activities and any specials.
  • For past customers, reach out to re-engage through am email, snail mail, or personal visit as well as through attaching a communication to your services/products. Start by asking how they are doing and what your company can do for them.
  • For new customers, consider what is going to give you the highest level of engagement across all of your digital channels and how to avoid them second-guessing your messaging.

Examine your business’ use of Technology.

  • Should you be realigning, increasing your in house tech staff or outsourcing much of it?
  • Consider your user experience; assure ease of use and performance when using applications/systems and accessing business critical data.
  • Look at how well you are protecting your customers’ and your own proprietary data; make sure you are in compliance with GDPR, CCPA and other protection requirements that are applicable.
  • Do a benefits analysis of Cloud versus Traditional VPN.
  • Review your disaster recovery program; evaluate existing systems and determine if anything needs to be changed.
  • Check your security measures and consider (re)training staff.  Protect your documents and applications; guarding against COVID-related Phishing attacks and Ransomware.
  • Enhance communications with your workforce, which may be increasingly distributed: standardize collaboration platforms; set BYOD (bring your own device) policies, if you don’t already have; and establish Telework Best Practices.
  • Explore advanced technologies such as chatbots, virtual reality, robots, etc. to supplement your staff and provide a competitive advantage to your business.

Think about how you run and manage your Operations.

  • Should you be handling it all yourself, or should you bring on a partner to share the workload.
  • Select key performance measures (KPIs) to measure your business effectiveness.
  • Look at your schedule of operations and customer service.  Adjust to your new vision of business.

Look at your Property, Plant and Equipment; those are your long-term assets that typically have a life of more than a year.  Do they align with your go-forward business?

  • Examine what are your future needs for vehicles, furniture, machinery, etc.
  • If you own your business property, consider whether you should refinance (mortgage rates are lower), sell, or rent out part of it. 

Another possible long-term obligation is rent.  Think about if this is the location you want to be and how much space you will require; perhaps you can get a discount on rent and/or a new lease.

Your business’ Finances are the fuel to move your business forward.

  • Do you have the free cash flow to move forward with your plans?  Otherwise consider taking out a loan or getting a grant to help you.
  • Again, the CARES Act may help your business; let this Guide inform you.
  • Keep careful records of all expenditures, not only for repayment but also for filing 2020 taxes.
  • Be diligent on collecting receivables, but remember your customers are in recovery mode as well.
  • Ask suppliers for extended term for the remainder of the year.

It may seem dark now, but there is a light at the end of this pandemic tunnel.  Strive for it by preparing now, while staying healthy.  Your business, customers and employees, as well as suppliers and partners are depending on you.