The last couple of years have presented small business owners with a host of new challenges that few had prepared for. Small businesses have had to adapt to these challenges, and some have even completely revised their entire business model to survive.
While most people are hoping for a return to normality soon, the impact of the last two years will remain. Not only has the pandemic changed how businesses operate, but it has also changed how employees and customers interact with companies. By taking advantage of the latest small business trends, you can prepare your company to succeed and thrive in the near future.
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1. The Rise of E-Commerce
Brick-and-mortar stores bore the brunt of the 2020 slump, largely due to severe restrictions and increasing customer reluctance to congregate in close quarters. While the restrictions have eased and people are returning to their local stores, bars, and restaurants, the last year has highlighted the dominance of e-commerce.
Even small businesses can benefit from having an e-commerce platform. It lets you reach a much wider target market for your products while shielding you from potential future lockdowns. In some cases, moving all your stock to an online store can eliminate the cost of renting a physical space and hiring employees to work there.
Service-based industries can also leverage e-commerce platforms to their advantage. Consider selling branded merchandise or items adjacent to your primary service. If you’re not ready to start creating and dealing with physical products, affiliate marketing may be an attractive option. By selling other businesses’ products, you get a small percentage without having to handle the physical side of the transaction.
E-commerce sites are also a great marketing opportunity. They increase your online presence and can reinforce your branding for minimal investment. Many people will start their product or service search online, and seeing your shop as part of the search results will create a mental connection that subsequent searches will reinforce.
A hybrid approach of an e-commerce store and physical venue is also a solid option for most businesses. Customers have gotten used to the convenience of online ordering, but some will still appreciate the opportunity to leave the house and interact with real people.
The benefit of having a small business is that you can manually handle hybrid orders without dealing with third-party providers like Grubhub or Uber. You can train your staff to fulfil online orders and leave them by the designated pick-up spot and scale this accordingly as demand increases. At some point, you’ll need to automate the process to keep up with the orders, so start considering methods to do so as soon as possible. Make sure to advertise this online service clearly on your social media, website, and in store for maximum effect.
2. Increased Virtual Services
Traditional face-to-face meetings used to be the bedrock of most small business interactions. Lockdown and travel restrictions have shown that virtual services like Slack and Zoom can almost seamlessly replace these interactions with online communications.
This frees business owners to cast their net for potential suppliers and customers much wider than before. The trend also reduces the need for extended trips and cuts down on travel costs, allowing small business owners to invest this money elsewhere in their business.
3. Increase in Remote Working
Small and large businesses have already been working towards providing accommodating employee hours, with flexitime and part-time contractors slowly becoming the norm. The pandemic has accelerated this trend, and finally, businesses have accepted remote working as a viable option.
Work-from-home policies tend to increase work performance, resulting in a win-win situation for employees and small businesses alike. The challenge is finding methods to support and nurture staff that work from home and maintaining a strong workplace culture. Zoom meetings are a poor substitute for the general workplace engagement that helps many employees thrive.
Offering more communication opportunities can help mitigate this problem, but companies still struggle to find adequate solutions. Small businesses with a high concentration of baby boomers have also found that teaching the older generation new tricks can be another potential challenge.
Remote working has become commonplace, which has also shifted how employees interact with their employers. Many companies that haven’t made the switch to work-from-home options find it difficult to retain employees and keep morale high.
The increase in economic support from the government also means that workers exercise discretion in where they work. Providing tangible benefits such as health and dental insurance, flexible working options, and clear communication is more important than ever.
4. Higher Focus on Customer Retention
Customers are less likely to take bets on new products and services due to the current economic climate. Business owners need to focus on keeping existing clients and encouraging them to buy ongoing products and services.
Some common strategies to encourage customer retention include:
- Loyalty and rewards programs that incentivize buying your products.
- Subscription boxes showcasing your products or services.
- Ongoing services – instead of offering a once-off personal training session, offer ongoing sessions at an attractive price. Almost all services can offer something similar, including HVAC companies, groomers, landscapers, and snow removal companies.
- Exclusive membership sites that offer high-quality services and products.
The key customer retention strategy remains to provide excellent services and products. Customers have also started focusing on their customer journey, which includes everything from the first interaction with your site up to the quality of your customer service if something goes wrong. By developing a genuine relationship with your customers, you can increase your customer retention and brand reputation to attract new customers.
5. Local Is Better
Many Canadians have adopted ethical shopping practices that influence their purchasing decisions. The COVID-19 pandemic revealed the importance of sustaining local communities and the flaws in international supply chains.
Keeping your business local is an excellent choice for small business owners. Whenever possible, use locally made products and let customers know about your dedication to serving local communities. Using local suppliers has the added advantage of reducing shipping costs and times, thus cutting down on your emissions.
Another benefit of targeting local communities is that it can reduce your marketing costs. Business owners can do a lot of search engine optimization by simply using free products like Google’s My Business. The smaller target market also means less competition from global and regional companies that are targeting other areas.
6. Using Alternative Financing Options
Many small businesses have suffered cash flow problems, which have led to some creative solutions. The Canadian government has several financial support initiatives in place for businesses, including loan guarantees and co-lending programs for small to medium enterprises. These initiatives are valid until 31 December 2021 and are available to all Canadian businesses. Various territories have also offered other support options for businesses opening in their provinces.
Some companies have turned to online crowdfunding sources like Kickstarter and GoFundMe to supplement their income. Crowdfunding is a good option for businesses looking to fund new projects or services they otherwise couldn’t afford. However, while crowdfunding is an appealing option, be sure that you can deliver on your promises. While failing to deliver on Kickstarter targets may not incur financial penalties, it can do irreparable damage to your company’s reputation.
Banks still offer microloans of under $50,000 or less to businesses. These can help with cash flow issues or address any other business purpose. These loans are typically low-interest loans, making them a good choice for emergencies, as long as you have a good credit history.
If you’re having cash flow problems, it may be time to shake up your accounts payable. Instead of waiting for the end of the month for one bulk payment from clients, you can collect payments on invoices immediately.
You may also want to consider reducing costs in addition to securing funding. One potential savings source is to change your current small business group insurance plan to something more affordable. Many insurance companies are offering innovative products that listen to what their customers want. By exploring your options further, you can save money and provide employees with competitive and attractive benefits.
7. Adapting and Expanding
Most sectors and industries are getting hit with constant, rapid changes that disrupt current business models. While some businesses may get away with offering the same products and services and operating as before, doing so will let new opportunities go by.
One way to increase sales and attract new customers is to expand your service or product offerings. Expanding into e-commerce is a solid option, but brick-and-mortar shops can also benefit from taking advantage of the latest small business trends.
Many businesses can offer additional services that complement their existing portfolio. For instance, if your business sells make-up, consider expanding into skincare and hair care products. Spas or salons can offer new treatments and revive old ones that may be coming back in fashion. Landscapers can offer specialized services that target markets, such as pest control or continuous lawn maintenance.
A good way to decide the future direction of your business is to speak to your customers. Ask them what they’d want to see from your business in the future and what problems they have with your current services or products. Being ready to adapt and take risks can mean the difference between survival and thriving in today’s competitive market.
While the pandemic has held the public’s attention for the past two years, a return to normality will mean sustainability will come back into the spotlight. Having sustainable, eco-friendly solutions is a great selling point with many customers, especially if you’re targeting local markets.
Working on making your operations more sustainable will also reap benefits in the long term. Many experts predict legislation that will regulate every business’s carbon and water usage, and being ahead of the curve offers a massive competitive advantage. Not only will you have the benefit of being one of the first compliant companies, but you won’t have to spend additional resources and suspend your business operations in a mad dash to meet new regulations.
Don’t miss Group Enroll’s article on the 8 great tax benefits of being a small business owner in Canada.
Get Ready for the Future
If the past couple of years are any indicator, predicting the future is almost impossible. Leveraging the latest small business trends ensures that you’re not falling behind and may make the difference between success and failure for your business.
However, another important component of business success is having a strong core. This core includes having happy, motivated employees while keeping costs low. Group Enroll is an online insurance broker that lets you evaluate multiple insurance options from the largest companies in the country.
Our streamlined process starts with an online form that outlines your needs, after which Group Enroll will send you multiple proposals from several providers. We help you choose the most competitive proposal that meets your needs.
You can also contact Group Enroll via their email at [email protected] or in person at 10 Great Gulf Drive, Unit 5, Vaughan, ON, L4K 0K7.