In April 2020, the world was preparing for the worst. Companies were still making statements and guidelines, small businesses were crossing their fingers, and everyone was anticipating an extended lockdown.
During these pressing times, I joined Bart for an hour-long discussion aimed at helping small businesses navigate these difficult times. In this guide, I’ll elaborate on some of the most pertinent points that we discussed, highlighting the things you can do and the changes you can make to survive and prosper in these uncertain times.
Thankfully, April 2020 is a distant memory right now, but these tips are designed with long-term success in mind and can help all businesses in all climates, not just during the uncertainty provided by the pandemic.
1. Don’t Follow The Crowd
In the words of Warren Buffet, “You should be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful.”
The early stages of the Coronavirus was a perfect example of this.
In those first few weeks, when “unprecedented” was the buzzword of the day and turning on the news was like watching the first few minutes of a horror film, companies reduced their advertising spend.
They pulled back, backed away from platforms like Facebook and Instagram, and reined it in on Google Ads. It seems preposterous with what we know now, but that’s what happened.
Uncertainty creates fear and fear leads to snap decisions.
The biggest companies shaved millions off their advertising budgets; startups and prospective entrepreneurs called it quits.
At the same time, a few intrepid entrepreneurs realized that fear created panic buying and that lockdowns created desperation, and so they went the other way.
They increased their marketing budgets, overloaded their resources, and went all out.
Not only did those companies see a big jump in revenue, but they also saw their ROI increase substantially.
In addition, Google and Facebook released free credits to small businesses as a way of helping them through these tough times.
As a result of all this, the companies that got greedy when everyone else was fearful, were able to prosper and generate huge profits, exposure, and growth for their business.
2. Managing CRM
CRM stands for “Customer Relationship Management” and refers to the ways that you manage all past, present, and future customers.
For many business owners, CRM is synonymous with email marketing, but while this plays a big role, it actually goes much further than that.
Here are some of the CRM points that your business should touch upon:
- Email Marketing: Every time a customer places an order, you collect their email and add it to your list. Emails can also be collected from newsletter sign-ups and promotions, and they all serve to build your list and allow for passive promotions and, potentially, high ROI. Use programs like Klaviyo to manage your email marketing campaigns and ensure that customers are opening, reading, and interacting with your emails.
- Facebook Messenger: Customers are increasingly using Facebook to correspond with companies about existing orders and product queries. With software like ManyChat, you can automate all queries sent through Facebook Messenger, directing customers through helpful avenues and giving them an option to speak with an advisor if needed. This reduces your workload and limits the requests that your company receives.
- Live Chat: Although Live Chat can be a very useful tool, it only works if you have agents who know what they’re doing. They need to be briefed on the most basic requests and should understand all aspects of your business, while also having access to the backend so they can check orders and process requests. This isn’t easy for small business owners, but it can be managed remotely through freelancers and content management systems like WordPress.
- SMS: Offer visitors to your site a coupon in exchange for their phone number. This allows you to send them occasional SMS messages. You’re a little more limited with these messages than you are with email, but customers are more likely to read SMS messages than emails, which means your success rates could be higher.
3. It’s Not All About Customer Acquisition
Brands get too caught up in their customer acquisition rates. They want to know how many site visitors are committing to a purchase the first time they click that link and visit the site.
But in making this your priority, you could be overlooking some metrics that have an even bigger influence on your business growth.
The metric that takes priority for me is the Bounce Rate, which is the percentage of people that visit your website and leave without clicking a single link.
If someone clicks a Facebook ad, visits a product page on your site, and leaves without buying or visiting any other pages, that’s classed as a “Bounce”. If 95 out of 100 customers do this, your Bounce Rate will be 95%.
Not only is Bounce Rate a consideration in determining search engine rankings, but it also shows you how valuable your content is and how expansive your site is.
If more people are clicking links and spending time browsing your site, it means they’re interested in what you have to say and sell. It means they want to know more about your brand and your brand is having a bigger impact on them.
On the flip side, if they visit and leave within a few seconds, none of your messages had an impact and your brand will promptly be forgotten about.
Sign-ups and subscriptions are also good metrics. If only 1 out of every 1,000 targeted visitors purchase a product, things are looking pretty bleak, but if an additional 50 of them sign up for your newsletter or SMS list, you have something to work with.
Your ultimate goal is to turn a visitor into a buyer, but this doesn’t need to happen with their first visit and if you’re selling an expensive product, it rarely does.
The lower your bounce rate and the higher your email/SMS acquisition rate, the more successful your site is. Once you get that right, conversion is easy.
4. Supply Chain Insurance Policy
COVID-19 pushed a lot of businesses to the brink, including the ones that profited from this pandemic. They saw a massive increase in demand, but at the same time, staff numbers were reduced, and lockdowns made it hard to get their stock.
Many of the world’s biggest companies were relying on suppliers in China and a large percentage of these were getting it from Wuhan in particular.
As you can imagine, this caused a few problems.
But it was a disaster waiting to happen. These companies were relying on cheap products that were shipped by freight, taking 6 to 8 weeks to arrive.
To get them on time, orders had to be arranged weeks and even months in advance, which means they were always one surge or one lockdown away from catastrophe.
You need to have a backup plan just in case something like this happens. Of course, the Coronavirus pandemic was unexpected and unprecedented, but it’s not the only thing that can go wrong.
Natural disasters, fires, strikes, and bankruptcies can shut down your suppliers, and if the news arrives just as you’re expecting a delivery, you could be out of action for days, weeks, and even months.
Prepare an insurance policy by researching manufacturers and/or suppliers that are a little closer to home. Check the costs, look at the logistics, and keep them on the back burner for when you need them.
Not only is it good to have a backup for when the worst-case scenario becomes a reality, but it’s also good to know how much it would cost to move your supply to the US.
That “USA Made” label is highly sought-after, and with increasing tariffs in China and other countries, it might be more reasonable than you think.
If you have a lot of buying power, you can even consider getting 10 to 20% of your products from a US supplier. You may pay more, but you’ll also have a fast and ready supply when you need it. If things turn sour abroad, they’ll be ready to scale-up.
5. Communicate With Your Customers
Generally, consumers don’t have a lot of patience.
If the products they like are out of stock, they’ll get frustrated. If their orders are late, they’ll get angry. We saw this during the early days of the lockdown, when e-commerce companies were placed under immense strain and the message hadn’t yet filtered through to consumers.
Eventually, however, consumers got the idea. They learned about increased demand, staff shortages, and delivery problems, and they were sympathetic.
But this only applied when companies were honest with them.
If a parcel is shipped three weeks late with no emails, no phone calls, and no website announcements, the customer has a right to be angry.
The more you communicate, the more transparent you are, the higher those customer acquisition rates will be and the more positivity your brand will spread, which means you’ll get more good reviews, recommendations, and referrals.
During my discussion with Bart, he mentioned that he had recently placed an order for office supplies and received an email from the CEO telling him that there would be a two-week delay due to a temporary halt in operations.
In any other situation, telling a customer that their order will be late by two weeks would instantly lead to a cancellation and an angry review. But when you’re transparent about the reason, customers tend to be forgiving.
Take a look at any user review site, narrow your searches to the first few months of lockdown, and you’ll see this in action for yourself.
Some companies have been flooded with good reviews from customers praising their speed and efficiency during these difficult times. Many note that their order took several weeks to arrive but commend the company for their honesty and their communication.
On the flip side, you have companies that got nothing but bad reviews, seemingly because there were no warnings, no updates, and nothing to suggest that the company was affected by the pandemic.
6. Adapt, Evolve, Pivot
It pays to have a little persistence in this industry.
I recently interviewed Instagram star Joe Yoon, who told me how he painstakingly built his brand on a shoestring budget.
It took him three years to get to the top, but with hard work and dedication, he got there eventually.
We’ve all heard stories like this, and they are very inspirational, but at the same time, they can also be harmful.
Countless small business owners have thrown money at failing businesses because they believe that if they keep it alive for one more day, they’ll eventually succeed.
If you’re onto a good thing; if you’re doing something unique, getting good feedback, and just need a little luck, maybe it’s the right move to make.
More often than not, however, you’re just delaying the inevitable.
That doesn’t mean you need to give up, but you should adapt and change course.
Look at the trends, see what your customers are doing, and prepare to make a change, no matter how big or scary.
Just because something worked for you before and has worked for years, doesn’t mean that your time will come again. I’m sure that Blockbuster Video thought its time would come again and that this new-fangled “video on demand” trend would crash and burn.
The same can be said for countless brick-and-mortar stores that refused to move online, along with innumerable retailers of faded trends, forgotten gadgets, and outdated technology.
Facebook was initially limited to college students, and Zuckerberg received a lot of criticism when he opened its virtual doors to high school students and then to everyone else.
Apple initially made very niche computers, before focusing on creative consumer products; Netflix rented DVDs by mail.
Imagine how much poorer our lives would be if these companies stuck with what they knew and refused to pivot.
The key to success is hard work and persistence, but only when you’re doing the right thing and adapting your business as required.
What Is The Future Of Brick-And-Mortar Retail?
Toward the end of my discussion with Bart, he asked me what I thought about the future of the high street, and whether it even had a future.
As I told Bart, I think brick-and-mortar stores will be around for a long time, but they will look decidedly different 10 and even 5 years from now.
It’s true that many stores are empty and have been forced into bankruptcy, but at the same time, you have stores like Apple that are always full.
Apple doesn’t need to sell through its stores. Its products are available online and can also be bought through countless other retailers, and yet it continues to open and operate high-end stores around the world.
It does this because those stores are part of the Apple experience.
No one queues for days on a website, because even when they make it to the front of the queue, they still have to wait a couple of days for that product to be packed and shipped.
But as soon as the latest iPhone or iPad is available at the Apple store, they’ll be grabbing their tents and portable toilets and queuing around the block.
The difference with Apple is that these stores are part of a major brand and they have been fully digitized. You don’t walk in, point at a box behind the counter, and say, “I want that one”. You find the item you want, play around with it, look at the different specs and colors, and then walk out with your chosen device.
It’s a more tactile and virtual experience, and this is something that other brands are beginning to copy.
In the video, I used Rebecca Minkoff as an example. This fashion brand operates an NYC store that is fully integrated with the latest technology. It’s like stepping through your computer and entering a physical representation of an online store.
Like Apple, it’s all part of the experience, and while all customers won’t choose to buy through that store, it will improve the connection that they have with the brand and lead to higher acquisition rates further down the line.
We’ve seen something similar happen with bookstores.
After realizing that Amazon and eBooks have taken most of their business, many bookstores went back to basics. Instead of focusing only on selling books, they became part-libraries, part-coffee shops.
You can go for a drink and a bite to eat, and at the same time, you can leaf through a book. If you like it, you buy it in-store or make a purchase online. If not, it doesn’t matter, as the store has still generated value by you eating, drinking, and spending time there.
The future of the high street will rely on its ability to adapt and evolve; it’s dependent on how well it integrates e-commerce and the virtual experience.
Conclusion: In The Ring With Sumo Heavy
A lot has changed since I had this chat with Bart Mroz, but the lessons learned during these first few months will remain poignant as we advance deeper into this pandemic and (hopefully… eventually) make it out the other side.
For more information on succeeding in the world of e-commerce, watch my Manifestor Mindset interview with Matt Higgins and take a look at my discussions with SEO expert Neil Patel and personal branding expert Brittany Krystle.
About Bart Mroz & SUMO Heavy
Live ‘Office Hours’ with SUMO Heavy Co-founder and CEO Bart Mroz and Sabir Semerkant of GROWTH by Sabir. Bart and Sabir talk about how eCommerce merchants are faring and how they can stay relevant in the uncertain COVID-19 environment.
Also available in Podcast Audio on Anchor here at Live ‘Office Hours’ with SUMO Heavy Co-founder and CEO Bart Mroz and Sabir Semerkant of GROWTH by Sabir.