Last updated on February 1st, 2023
The coronavirus pandemic continues to haunt businesses as people are still hesitant to visit crowded places. With no-one predicting how long the crisis will last, small companies are restructuring their marketing strategies to survive and drive some growth. In this new normal, businesses with restricted resources need guidance. This panel discussion has experts offering their useful tips to the businesses on how to survive and re-start the growth by adopting this new normal.
The chances of the present pandemic lasting in a few months seem to be rare. Therefore, businesses are now planning differently. They want to take customers in confidence in terms of their safety and security. People also are trying hard to adapt to their indoor lifestyle and work-from-home culture. For businesses and people alike, this has become a virtual world.
Designhill, the leading creative marketplace, thought of inviting experts of marketing and other business fields to discuss the future course for businesses. The marketplace held a panel discussion on 15th July 2020 on the topic – How to Re-start Business Operations and Drive Growth in the New Normal. The panelists were Barry Moltz, Ivana Taylor, Laurie McCabe, and Rieva Lesonsky. These are renowned experts in marketing.
The experts shared their views on what small businesses can face when they reopen if the crisis subsides. They offered valuable advice to create the safest environment for customers and how to generate cash flow. You will also have tips on how to increase sales again and handle the supply chain.
Here Is The Video Of The Panel Discussion With THe Experts
Here Is What The Experts Said During The Panel Discussion On Business Operations and Driving Growth
Designhill: Now that businesses are reopening post lockdown, what steps should brands take to restart their business operation and how can they jumpstart sales again?
Create Work From Home Environment
Laurie: Well, that is a complicated question, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. After all, retailers, professional services, manufacturing, etc., all are a lot different. But there are a couple of big trends that we see framing up where all businesses need to think about. So, the first advice is to work from home. Companies have to learn how to create a flexible and secure work-from-home environment where people can be truly productive. I think all of us rush to get that going. But now you can fine-tune it and make it strong.
Follow The Virtual
The second thing is this whole trend towards the virtual, whether it’s telemedicine or online learning. But most businesses need to learn how to accommodate doing a lot more of what they do in a virtual way.
Ensure Touch-Free Transactions
Then, the third thing is touch-free or no-touch transactions. No one wants to touch anything now. So, if you are, in any kind of business, whether it’s a restaurant, think about a lot of solutions. You don’t have to provide, let’s say, physical menus anymore. Or, if you use a kiosk or something, you have to find a way for people to use your mobile phone. This is maybe to check-in and do things that they might have done with something that everybody was touching.
Use Cloud Applications
Then, the last one is the cloud. We have found that small and medium businesses have gotten a ton of value. You should be able to use cloud applications. It is a lot easier to mess around with a VPN and all that kind of stuff. So, I think what applications you have that are not in the cloud, and maybe moving them there would be the fourth thing.
Make Your Business Safe For Customers
Barry Moltz: I think small business owners need to picture a world where people rarely leave their homes. Or, when they do leave their homes, the most significant thing on their mind is safety. You have to reimagine your business to answer that question. What does your company look like when people leave their homes or are afraid of their safety? The best way to start is to ask that question. Then to reimagine what your company might look like, by taking stock of the complete inventory of what you bring to the table.
Do you need to ask what the skills are? What are the assets? What partners do you have that you can use in the market to use and adapt to what customers need today? I believe that we can put our heads in the sand and wait for this to be over. Now it’s a time to burn the boats and realize that the world that was in January and February of this year has forever changed. So just like cockroaches, we have to adapt, or we will die small business owners.
Designhill: Businesses have started opening up. How can they start the recovery process, and what steps should they take to recover from it?
Ivana Taylor: I will start with some basics. One of the things that small business owners have notoriously ignored is Google My Business section. Recently, when I looked up businesses on my phone to see what their hours were and what they were doing, none of that had been updated.
You should update customers weekly because things are changing fast. Make sure to update people on what is happening; otherwise, they may not call. But one of the biggest mistakes I see small business owners make is they get freaked out, and they jump into action. So, this is a good time to take a step back and identify your customers.
Reevaluate Your Online Presence
Take a new look at your online presence, and see the connection between your online presence and your offline presence. So you may need to update your designs, logos, materials because people are engaging with your business differently. And you are going to have to set up some structures because you’ve got new habits.
From a marketing perspective, you should put a structure in place that you can share with your customers on your website and your materials. It gives customers peace of mind. That not only makes you prepare and make sure you have everything ready; it helps make your customers feel comfortable.
Rieva Laosansky: I live in California, where we’re on semi lockdown again. And we’re probably going to be safe and stay at home safer and home policies are probably going to be imposed because right now, in our state things are a little out of control. So, here’s what I’m going to do for the next couple of weeks. It’s time to think where your pivot is. What are you going to do if this crisis lasts for nine months or two years? Or, what you need to come up with your plan B of what to do. Let’s say you are a retailer; then, you will have limited people coming in your store.
And I saw today, the National Retail Federation has called for a national mascot for all week. They just want your pillars covered. You have to think about how you are going to fit in with that to make your customers comfortable. But it’s not just online selling but also other outlets. How else can you sell through your social channels, Amazon, Walmart, or any other online marketplaces? Therefore, you need to come up with your continuity plans. You have to do that as you don’t have the luxury of time right now.
Designhill: Small businesses have faced a lot of financial constraints because of this pandemic. Can you share some tips for sustainable financing, and what is the best way to obtain funding?
Focus On Cash Flow
Barry Moltz: Today, it’s challenging to get funding from anybody, except in the United States. Again, the ways of funding vary by different countries. Also, at this time, you should not focus much on growth, sales, and even profit. Instead, focus on your cash flow position because every small company during the recession goes out of business because it runs out of cash.
Make sure how to read the cash flow statement and know how much money you have from month to month. Hopefully, you can apply to your government for more resources to make up for some of the losses you have. You should also have enough cash flow to get through this crisis time, which I believe is going to last for at least another nine or 12 months. Therefore, knowing where you are at from a cash flow standpoint is pretty critical.
Use Accounting Solutions Software
Laurie McCabe: And I think there are a few things to think of here. First of all, many even basic accounting solutions like zero or into QuickBooks are there to help you manage cash flow better. But a lot of businesses just don’t use them. There are also some tactical things that you can do for better cash flow.
You can offer customers discounts if they pay, let’s say, net 15 days instead of, net 30 or 60. So take a little mini mitt, maybe off the top, but, get to cash in more quickly, you can look at any assets in your business that you don’t use. And I think a lot of businesses can now look and say, I may never use some of this stuff again, and try to sell some of that.
Know What Customers Want
The third step you can take for cash inflow is to look at what you sell. Think about how you can reposition and restructure some of those offerings in terms of packaging and pricing. You should talk to your customers to find out what they need and why and how they buy. It doesn’t have to be some Gallup survey. You can do it if you are small one-on-one, where you can use a survey tool and MailChimp. But you should test things so that you can jumpstart stuff a little more quickly.
Designhill: What are the ways for businesses to reconnect with your customers, suppliers, and employees through digital channels and establish the same old relationship with them?
Build Facebook Community
Ivana Tylor: I’m just going to go through a series of tips. First, things that may be to build online communities such as different Facebook communities have popped. In my town, we now have a Facebook community about restaurant carryout where restaurants are keeping folks updated and answering questions. So take a look at local Facebook communities, your Facebook page, and re-engage with them.
Use Your Customer Email List
Another step to take is to start using your customer email list. Some of the best things I’ve seen are that our local businesses are emailing their customers and telling them some things. For instance, lifestyle site like Shopping Thoughts is telling customers that many shops or businesses are now open or offering discounts. Email is the perfect way to give people relevant information.
Text Message To Customers
And again, if you are in professional services like a lawyer, dentist, chiropractor, etc., you can text message your customers. I just had an appointment the other day, and the rule was that you had to text them when you are in the parking lot, they’ll come and get you and let you be in. There are lots of different ways that you can keep in touch with your customers. That way, about making a collection of commonly asked questions and answering them and making sure it is posted somewhere and sharing it with your customers.
Another thing you can do is take your customers backstage to your social media channels to share what’s going on at the back end. Post the pictures of it if your employees are going through a wipe down the process and cleaning things up. So, I see a lot of small business owners. They’re so focused on selling and serving customers that they don’t let these communications have sort of gone off on the back burner, and now is the time to bring some of that back.
Let Customers Check Your Store Standing Outside
Rieva Lesonsky: I think it depends again on what kind of business you have and where you are located. One of the best tips I have heard is setting up a table out there with some of your most popular items. Put an employee out there with a tablet, so people don’t have to go to the store, and they can stand outside, check, and see what you’ve got. Your employee can check the tablet on inventory and make the sale right there on the spot. So nobody has to walk in the store if they are not coming.
Your job right now as a business owner is to make your customers comfortable. It’s not about having necessarily the best prices or the best merchandise or the best whatever. No one is going to come to your office, store or restaurant if they don’t feel comfortable being there. And unfortunately, we are so polarized in this country over stupid things.
For instance, wearing a mask should not be debatable, and if you want to send me to hate tweets, feel free. Wearing a mask should not be a debatable issue. And like I said, the NRF the National Retail Foundation says we need an all-in mass policy in going into retail stores. Make sure that you are offering a clean and healthy environment for people to come to shop or do business.
Designhill: How should businesses overcoming these arrays can build resilient supply chains for themselves?
Berry Moltz: First, do you know your supply chain and what it looks like? If you have vendors that are dependent on how they are doing, reach out to them. At present, people are so isolated because of all the shutdowns all over the world. They’re going to fit in if you give them a call or do some kind of video marketing. Just say, hey, how are you doing? How are you found fairing because most people are struggling, form that bond, and figure out where your dependencies are.
Make risk management assessment and ensure that you can deliver it to your customer. So I think at this point, understanding what the deficiencies in your supply chains are, you got to think about it. I mean, who would have ever thought that Amazon couldn’t deliver what you wanted in two days. That was unheard of, but that is because of the supply chain problems we are having all over the world.
Listen To Your Customers
Ivana: One of the things you do want to keep in mind, I’m going to harken back to your customers. Now is a great time to double down on your values. You should always understand that customers want their products, but they’re also savvy consumers. So choose your supply chain wisely.
Ensure A Diversified Supply Chain
Rieva Lesonsky: The one key now about how to handle the supply chain is to make sure your supply chain is diversified. Before all this crisis happened, I think many businesses found that they concentrated their supply chain in either a few companies or in a certain country. All of a sudden, my friends, who are small manufacturers, did all their manufacturing in China, were in trouble. In January, they had very seasonal sales of chlorotic sunglasses. So they have ordered early in China in January because of Chinese New Year.
But, it was pretty obvious that they weren’t going to be able to get stuff after that New Year’s period ended. They were scrambling because that was the only place that they had as supplies, and they found some local places here in the US so they could get stuff quickly.
If you have not yet, then right now, it is the perfect time to expand your liking throughout where several places don’t put all your eggs in one basket. You can get stuff from all over the world besides making sure you have a local source here in the US. Look all over the world for places.
Ali Baba just launched something where it’s easier to connect people within China and other Asian countries. Now, they’re doing it where they’re lifting us, suppliers, as well. Go on a resource like that to see where you can build yourself with diversified, and you are not ever stuck again.
Laurie McCabe: I would like to add something to that. When we saw a lot of inner surveys of SMBs that are in a physical product business, some industries and bicycles are a great example of this nicest bicycle. You can’t get a bike anymore unless you want to spend at least a few thousand dollars, and 86% of all bikes are made in China.
It’s not just the fact that more people want to ride bikes, but all kinds of trade restrictions in China are coming in. Bike shops are very strapped, and I’m saying things are going on with a lot of products, things you put on your gutter you wouldn’t believe all the things that they’re just so heavily made in China and heavily in demand and suppliers cannot get these. They are mean retailers.
So, I would flip the whole thing and encourage you to take a look at some of these things. I know it’s not to retool manufacturing, but they are going to be good long term areas to start. Actually, manufacturing and again in this country and I think there’s a real opportunity there and doing a little research it may be that you are in a potential industry and the retooling for you would not be, so far out and you might be able to do it and take advantage of it.
Barry Moltz: Laurie, I don’t know if you’ve seen this thing where we are supposed to make sure that you don’t touch a door. It is a metal object, or you can hook on a door, open it up, and all people are doing is just retooling their, they have to make a different little metal thing.
Laurie: I do like neighborhood bike or kayak is more complicated, but I think that we’re going to incur a lot of reasons, not just COVID for more manufacturing to come back to the US. It is an opportunity for manufacturers.
Designhill: In a situation like this, what steps companies should take to ensure the well being and safety of their employees and their customers?
Ivana: Well, you have to satisfy three people, three constituencies. The first ones are your customers because they pay the bills. Second, of course, is your employees because they do the work. And the third one is you as you have to do it yourself.
So one of the things you have to do is put structures in place to make sure you do research and understand what is required of you. And then, the second thing is to understand where your customers are in that. I’m in a region of the country where mask-wearing right now is like 50-50, whereas every business employee has to wear a mask.
Make Mask Available To People
People who come into the business may or may not choose to wear a mask. Therefore, you need to make sure that if you are running the kind of business where you want everyone to wear a mask, then have a mask available. You can have a little logo or something designed on Designhill and make some masks and have more for your customers, that is a promotional item. You have to have procedures in place. If you have special rules or things that you want from your customers, make sure you communicate that on social media on an email, etc.
If you think you are tired of listening or saying the same thing repeatedly, you need to say just like one more time on every channel. That is because it’s new to those people who are just seeing that message today.
So, sit down with your team, and engage with some customers. Take this as a market research opportunity and get feedback to say these are the rules. We are doing this. What would make you feel comfortable? Now, in this way, you’ve got enrollment and involvement.
Rieva Lesonsky: It is about the lowest common denominator and making people feel comfortable if they’re going out. But think also of the people who aren’t going out there. Then, how are you going to serve customers? How are you going to serve customers online? What is your alternative? What’s another way to make money?
So, in our every week, we do something called the trend cast. It’s a free newsletter. You can sign up at small biz daily calm, and then when I did this week a big research company reported. Backing was just up tremendously because Americans tend to eat when they’re stressed, and we’re very stressed.
Therefore, sales of salty snacks and frozen food snacks are skyrocketing. Most people would say, okay, that is big food manufacturers. People are going to the grocery store, buying cookies and crackers and pretzels and whatever.
But if you are a restaurant owner right now and you are thinking, Okay, I have fewer people coming into my restaurant, what am I going to do about that? You see, stacks are up and packs some snacks for the delivery because delivery is hot right now people are getting or curbside pickup. You have to be able to read the trends, see what people are doing, and find out how you can quickly pivot your business.
There’s a company called Alignable Calm. They have just launched a movement called my money stays local. It’s about encouraging people to do business with local business owners, but don’t quote it, not before you like, hit send on Amazon See, can I sell that product locally, and can I find that locally? And one of the things he said is there was a restaurant owner who had read that there was this run on flour. Now, because everybody was baking at the beginning of the lockdowns and nobody could get flour, but they could because they got them in vast commercial size packages.
So, she just took that and repackaged that commercial flour. She thought of smaller packages and was selling it to consumers. Suppose you are planning with a great source of income for them. Think about what you can do to change whether it’s a repackage product or thrown into a new market or a new way, how you can train your customer and product.
I think I interviewed a lawyer in the US on my radio show last week. They said that COVID-19 lawsuits are just skyrocketing. Unless the federal government protects, businesses are going to have a problem with COVID-19 lawsuits. So, there is nothing you can do to prevent someone from that.
But what you can do is document everything you are doing to keep your employees safe and make sure that we have a choice. So, whatever you are doing as far as taking employees temperatures or customers temperatures or having people be aware of the risks I’m dangerous, we must document everything we’re doing to assist people in not getting COVID-19. We have to take all precautions possible.
Designhill: What opportunities do you see coming for small businesses?
Retool What You Are Doing
Laurie: Well, I think a lot of it hinges on. There are a lot of good ideas about the local kind of retail businesses. But, aside from the retailers, we have talked a little bit about manufacturers. The question is, how do you retool what you are doing? This is because what people want to buy is changing. There is a huge demand for certain things right now, unlimited supply. So, that equals an opportunity for manufacturers.
I think it is going to differ in terms of service kind of businesses. The lawyers are going to have a different set of opportunities that they can maybe take advantage of.This is also true for people like hairstylists or massage therapists. Some of these personal service businesses are challenged right now. They are in a business where physical contact is a prerequisite.
But we are ready to see people. They started packing up before new use for all their clients. I know when the nail salons opened here in Massachusetts, I looked for one where they have Plexiglas out there everywhere. And so I think some people in some industries have a lot more flexibility. In other industries, it is face to face business. And so doing it more safely is probably the biggest opportunity you have.
Do Good and Help Others
The other thing is doing good. I think the good you can do right now will make you feel better. Second of all, it will help people in your community and leave a lasting impression. I know many restaurants have started doing things like patch packaging up food and meals for disadvantaged children, adults, etc. It is an investment and a gamble on the future, but if you can make it, then it is a good investment. People will be thinking about your restaurant first.
Conventional Ways Are Back
Barry: I have just been blown away by the creativity of entrepreneurs during this time. It is just amazing where people are coming up with what’s popular now. I’ve seen drive-ins coming back. For those who don’t remember driving in, you watch a movie in your car on a screen. There is pop-up driving down happening all over Chicago. Recreational vehicles are making a comeback because people can control your environment by renting a mobile home and traveling somewhere.
Focus on Experiences
Restaurants are now focusing on experiences while welcoming people into the restaurants. They are providing music or record or experiences around a certain cultural event. I’ve also seen that individual travel is making a comeback where you have a single guide and a single-family going out on the road together and touring. So, don’t be afraid to get creative during these times.
I am so happy to see that cycling has made a huge comeback. It is impossible to get a bicycle these days. You will also see all these pop-up industries. I was so amazed by our partnerships being performed in the United States. I’ve seen hurt. You can rent a car without signing anything and by just looking into a clear biometric of your eyes. And you just go, and you rent that way. It’s all touchless now.
Designhill: For instance, how can a 17-year-old start a business during this time, and what resources can be exploited if he or she has a passive income stream already working?
Rieva Lesonsky: If you are 17, and you have started a business, you probably have no legal paperwork. If you are serious about starting a real business, you need to get a parent or an adult to help you make it legal. And by legal, I mean, get your business licenses, incorporate. I’m a big believer in; I don’t care how small you are. Some kind of Corporation and LLC is probably the one you would choose. You cannot do that until you are 18 yourself.
But you want to make sure you do that because you don’t want to sell anything or do anything. Once you get all your legal stuff done, this is a great time to do business. I started many businesses in recessions in the past. Look at the opportunity and find out where the gaps in the market are? Know how can you fill that gap in terms of resources for any business owner, whether you are, 17 or 70? Get free advice from your local club is the Development Center. Also, get free mentorship online from score.org. Right now, they’re not doing in-person meetings.
So you can go and get a mentor anywhere in the country. It’s you are not restricted to where you live, that is going to help you to be an expert who can help you do what you need to do. So you can just go to score.org and find out a map from help, and there’s a lot of information on the store site.
Designhill: I would love to see a bunch of Amazon Baba, what are how sales can be made as simple as ordering Amazon online?
Berry: I think we should go and look at all the other marketplaces that are out there like Ali Baba and eBay, and even Walmart, There’s a zillion marketplace out there, just like, Designhill. You can find jobs or work right, or you can sell things on Etsy, sign up for all of these kinds of things, and find business. All electronic marketplaces are matching purchasers. They’re matching buyers and suppliers all over there. We’ll find somewhere in the world that wants to buy whatever you are selling is amazing.
Laurie: That goes for services like Upwork too. If you are a creative person such as a writer, editor, or coder, you can put yourself out and get your jobs and opportunities. I think, just like in the great recession of 2008, we will have a lot of what I call accidental entrepreneurs, people that maybe never saw themselves starting their own business.
We started in the Great Recession. My co-founder and I were laid off from another analyst firm and said, hey, nobody’s hiring. We’re going to start our own business. And we did it with our twist of focusing on SMB, which at the time, there weren’t any LS firms focused on SMB.
So, it’s kind of the best and the worst of times, and it’s not easy. No, we can’t underestimate how difficult it is for people to shift gears. But, think about what you are good at and what you love to do. And I think it’s very sad. There are probably many marketplaces out there that you can start, at least testing the waters with your services or products.
Rieva Lesonsky: I think the good idea is to join your fellow small business owners in your community. Let’s say you are a small restaurant. A lot of small restaurants and afford the delivery fees of working with the big restaurant delivery places. So, if you get together with companies in your community, can you start your delivery service?
You want to make sure everybody’s bonded and insured. Can you start when teaming up with local business owners? Why is delivery just confined to food? It doesn’t need to be what if you are, a retail store and you, especially if it’s a local delivery and somebody goes on and buys a shirt, why can’t they? Why can’t you have that shirt delivered to them within 24 to 48 hours? Think about how you can launch locally, adapt big national or international practices, and adapt them to your local community.
Laurie: You have other people in your community. I like our community, small business experts, influencers, advisors, etc. So, you should partner with them and amplify them. They’ll amplify you if there are joint projects that you can do together and bring a lot more value to the client. I think that is another important thing. You don’t even if you are solo, you don’t always have to go it like completely on your own.
Designhill: How can businesses motivate their customers or clients to pay faster and become loyal?
Ivana: Take a fresh look at what you are offering. You may need to tweak your offer a little bit. Maybe, you need to break your offer up into smaller pieces that are more affordable to start with. Here is a trick for doing that. You have the core offer where you make most of your money.
Now think about the first step. So, let’s say, for example, you are selling, I don’t know DIY candles or something. You’ve got all those things, but what’s something that they might want, maybe it’s a wick. Therefore, break your core offer up into little pieces, and that is going to make it easier for customers to try to become more loyal.
Make Sure Customers Pay
Berry: First of all, I want to emphasize that a customer is not a customer unless they pay you. If they don’t pay you, they are just somebody who has to be chased to get the money. I rather not do the work than not get paid. Remember giving someone credit is a privilege, not a right. So, I think you have to think about how people are paying you. Offer a lot of value, and people pay you.
And also, in the end, make sure people have the resources to pay you before you do the work for them, especially if you are doing some kind of service-oriented business. So remember, in whatever business you are in, you are not a bank. People that don’t pay are not customers. I’m a little passionate about it.
Designhill: Anything else that you would like to share and say to the audience?
Rieva: This is a stressful time for all of us. And it’s easy to get depressed or sort of retreat into a cocoon or say, I am going to give up. There’s no way my business can survive. But it can just have to be a little bit more creative and flexible. That is what small business owners are good at. We’re supposed to be able to pivot on a dime.
So, figure that out, when your creativity goes back into gear and say, How and What can I do? What changes can I make incrementally or permanently, like one of the big things is go home? Maybe you don’t need office space. How can you be a permanent virtual company, there are pivots you can make to save you money. Just try to figure them out.
Flip The Crisis Upside Down
Berry: This is my fourth recession or whatever we’re calling this now. We have been here before, and we’re new to the world’s surviving entrepreneurs. We are creative, and we are what I encourage you to do is reach out and ask for help, connect with people. There’s a lot of 911 resources on this call, reach out and ask for help. Now is the time to do it. You’ll be better off because you did.
Ivana: I will flip this crisis upside down. Things happen to you. You start thinking about it. Like, what if this happened for me, what would I do differently? So focus on that.
That was the panel discussion on the major issue of business operations and driving growth during the present crisis. You should consider implementing these tips from the experts when giving a direction to your business for the future.
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Small businesses are taking a renewed look at how they have been marketing so far during the pandemic crisis. Now that the uncertainty over how long the crisis will last continues, experts advise a new course of business growth and operations. They emphasize on keeping a diversified supply chain and winning the trust of customers.