By Cliff Ennico
Two weeks ago in this column, I wrote about several megatrends that I think will define the new normal for small business during the next couple of years.
Of course, the most logical response to a column like that is “great information, but what should we do about it?”
Hence this week’s column.
Make no mistake about it: You likely won’t be able to continue doing business as usual. The pandemic is causing profound — and, I think, long-lasting — changes not only in how we’re doing stuff but who we are as people.
Even in the dullest and best of times, small businesses need to be alert to changes in the marketplace. To survive what’s going on now, you will probably need to reinvent your business, and change your attitude — 180 degrees.
Here my observations from last time, with suggestions for your action plan:
We Will All Be Hypochondriacs. The pandemic has made us all more sensitive to (and less tolerant of) other people and their personal hygiene.
Let your customers and clients know you are as concerned about their safety as they are. Post photos on your website both with and without a face mask (I am not kidding), and send emails explaining what you are doing to protect people from infection. If your business is brick-and-mortar, you should make it physically impossible for customers to touch or get uncomfortably close to one another.
We Will All Be Homebodies. No longer just a place to sleep, home is once again becoming the center of our lives: our school, our workplace, our gym, our play place. Make home delivery an essential part of your business and think about complementary products and services you can add to that delivery. If you are a restaurant, now is the time to become a ghost kitchen (look it up). If you run a bar that normally offers live music, get local musicians to loan you their CDs and offer them as background-music rentals with each food or liquor order (duly sanitized, of course) with an option to buy.
Brick-and-Mortar Are Yielding to Silicon. Most retail, service and other businesses will be conducted 100 percent online.Cancel your lease (especially if there’s more than a year left to go), and spend your entire marketing budget on building your websites (note the plural); social media pages; Amazon, eBay and Etsy seller accounts; and YouTube and Vimeo channels.
Consider reaching out to immigrants and overseas customers via websites in foreign languages (keep them on U.S. servers, though, to avoid Europe’s draconian privacy laws). Learn more about international shipping and customs forms.
Your refunds, exchanges and rebates policy should be a simple “yes.” No one can tell from a web photo if shoes will fit.
Technology Holds It All Together. Your personal computer and smartphone have become your everything things and are now indispensable.
Older generations are now embracing the digital world but have little patience with tech stuff. Help them buy more and buy more often by making your web buttons bigger and your shopping cart easier to navigate. Since even short-lived power outages (such as those that crashed the northeastern United States recently following Hurricane Isaias) can shut your business down, buy a whole-house generator. It’s deductible.
Escape From New York (and Chicago and Los Angeles). People will rethink living in large cities. When you can do anything anywhere, you don’t have to be anywhere in particular.
Whatever your thoughts about flyover country, get over them. Move your business to a place where land, labor and taxes are as cheap as possible. Make state and local governments compete for your business and the jobs you create. If your business is brick-and-mortar, many small downtowns in rural parts of the country have astonishingly beautiful historic buildings you can buy or rent for a pittance.
If you absolutely must have a New York City address, open a UPS private mailbox there and have your mail and packages forwarded to wherever you actually are.
“We Can’t Go on Together With Suspicious Minds” (apologies to Elvis Presley). One really negative consequence of social distancing is that it will likely lead to an increase in tribalism. People are becoming more focused on their silos, echo chambers and identity groups, and less inclined to trust those people who do not share the same thoughts, beliefs and culture.
Like any good politician, your business will need to identify with as many different groups and points of view as possible, or at least not send a message that you identify with a hostile tribe.
Whatever your political affiliation, change your voting registration to independent today, and never — ever — discuss politics with customers or clients.
Great actors and actresses strive to avoid looking like a specific type so they can be considered for the widest possible variety of roles. Your website and social media should not make you appear too old, too young, too weird, too radical, too conservative, too scary, too judgmental, too opinionated, too ... different. And you should look as attractive as possible, because we attribute positive things to people we like to look at.
In conversations with potential customers or clients, accentuate the things you have in common, whatever they may be. Empathizing with as many of your customers as possible (whether you like them or not), and humanizing yourself so people feel comfortable talking to you — whoever they are — will go a long way toward keeping your business on life support during the tough months ahead.
Cliff Ennico (email@example.com) is a syndicated columnist, author and former host of the PBS television series “Money Hunt.”
COPYRIGHT 2020 CLIFFORD R. ENNICO
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