The playing field has never been level for the millions of small businesses that compete with bigger companies. This isn’t news, and the coronavirus crisis hasn’t changed that reality. If anything, the big box stores and digital marketplaces of the business world have made life harder on small businesses during the pandemic by making shopping online so easy for customers.
It can feel a bit like David versus Goliath: How can small, local businesses compete with massive budgets, robust sales and marketing teams, and the ability to have products shipped in one day? This challenge is more achievable than you might think. Small businesses can close the competition gap by making responsible investments in the right technology and activating the consumer instinct to shop small.
COVID has helped shop small blossom. People want to help their neighborhood small businesses survive, which opens up great opportunities to build brand loyalty and deepen customer engagement.
Online and In Control
How do you keep pace with corporations and establish a competitive edge? You have to understand how your customers want to do business with you and think creatively about how you can meet their needs. There’s an adorable kids’ clothing store that I frequented before coronavirus, but the owner was steadfast in her refusal to build an online store. She believed in the power of personal connection and didn’t want to lose the tactile experience of in-person shopping.
Months into the pandemic, she relented out of necessity. She sent an email to her followers alerting us to the new website, and I was thrilled—because I’m able to support her and buy cute outfits for my toddler, sure, but also because she utilized the right technologies (website creation and CRM) to stay both afloat and relevant in these difficult times.
The list of technologies available to help small businesses improve efficiencies and productivity so they can realistically compete with larger corporations is long. At the top is something absolutely necessary to be relevant in 2021 and beyond: an online presence.
You need to be where your customers are, and that’s increasingly online. I’m constantly amazed at how well some small local businesses find me through Instagram and spark a connection. Getting started on building such a presence—e-commerce platform, interactive website, social media outreach, etc.—can be a daunting task and seem like a financial impossibility, but some technologies out there are incredibly affordable (or even free!). When you have all your customer data working together, you’ll have a unique advantage because of the hyper-personalized experiences you create.
A World of Difference
Utilize technology tools to help level the playing field to find, win and keep your small business customers. Consider these five steps when you square up against big business:
1. Create a single view of your customer.
Technology really brings the perspective of a customer into focus—their purchasing histories, communication preferences, and so much more—that you can’t see with just a spreadsheet or handheld ledger. Understanding who your customer is and having all of the data in a single spot (such as a CRM) needs to be a top priority. I can’t underscore this point enough.
When you have all your customer data working together, you’ll have a unique advantage because of the hyper-personalized experiences you create.
Being able to identify trends through reports, see the health of your sales pipeline through easy-to-read dashboards, and including notes on customer-specific preferences can help business owners make the right decisions for each customer. Lean into the information that you have on your customers to make data-based decisions. Having the customer at the center of everything you do is one thing that technology can help you keep track of in an organized, efficient way.
2. Market intelligently.
It’s not just about sending an email. Technology can help you be a better marketer, find new customers and get your dedicated customers to return. There is an abundance of marketing automation tools to meet any and all business needs. This is where crafting an authentic presence on social media can help generate organic leads with minimal costs involved. Being responsive and engaging with customers can help them feel like they know you.
3. Automate the mundane chores.
Be open to how technology can help you focus on your core business functions. A huge number of small-business owners are not actively seeking out simple ways to increase revenue and decrease costs. This could mean outsourcing some of your accounting, for example, either to an accountant or technologies like Xero or QuickBooks. Free up valuable time by identifying these tasks and delegating them to the machines, then devote your time to focusing on your customers.
4. Use predictive capabilities.
A lot of great technology is predictive. Reports and analytics are great tools that inform you how the business is doing, and they can warn you about upcoming shortfalls because they track sales revenue and trends down to a molecular level. Technology gives you insights that maybe you wouldn’t have known or foreseen otherwise.
5. Tap into resources and communities.
There are so many online public forums to join that are custom-built for small businesses. These supportive communities have resources galore and allow you to share what you’re doing, what’s not working and what the next industry trends might be. In the age of coronavirus, online communities have effectively replaced going to trade shows and granted SMBs an opportunity to keep networking. There is power in partnerships, especially when companies need to get creative to alleviate the sharp pain points brought on by the pandemic.
In the end, these technologies exist to help small-business owners grow their business and create economic security in chaotic times. At their best, these digital tools enable SMBs to thrive in any circumstance and be the best businesses they can be. The playing field may always be tilted in favor of big companies, but the right tech at the right time can still make a world of difference.
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