The past year has been a rollercoaster for small businesses. When the pandemic hit, every single person was affected. We've all had to pivot in some way either personally, professionally, or both.
As public relations and marketing professionals who specialize in working with small businesses, we've spent the last 10 months in the trenches with our clients, advising and helping business owners and entrepreneurs navigate these uncertain times. While small business revenue is down since January 2020, it's not all doom and gloom out there – we've seen many other businesses experience unexpected success and growth, and according to economists, we are entering the greatest entrepreneurial economy of our time.
And as we start this new year, there is no better time to invest in business growth and planning. Below are five tips to help you get started.
1. Get smart on your PR
Whether you know a little or a lot about public relations, marketing, and social media, take some time to get caught up on the current landscape. It is constantly changing, and having a better understanding of how traditional media, social media, paid marketing, owned content and all other components can benefit your business will inform decisions about where to allocate your time and resources.
First, assess what stage of business you are in as well as your business goals to determine what PR and marketing tools could be most beneficial to your growth at this time. Not all small businesses are prepared, financially or otherwise, to invest in PR, and there are fundamental steps you can do on your own to get your business positioned to succeed.With online education booming, there are many free resources and tools at your disposal. We created All You Need Method to simplify PR and marketing for small business owners. You can download our Free PR Roadmap on our website to assess what level of PR support is right for your business. We also created The PR Starter Kit online course to give small business owners the fundamental tools they need to use PR, marketing, and social media to support business growth and build a lasting brand – and it only takes a few hours to complete.
2. Revisit your target audience
The world has changed significantly over the past year and so have the wants, needs, habits, and interests of consumers. As a small business, it's imperative to understand your target audience's current problems in order to relate to them, build trust, and deliver a product or service that is meeting their needs.
Before investing time and financial resources creating and executing a 2021 business plan, take a step back and consider your ideal customer. Outline how the past year has created opportunities or challenges in their life, problems they are facing, new shopping habits, lifestyle shifts, communication preferences, concerns, etc. If you have more than one ideal customer, work through this exercise for each.
With this new perspective, you will be equipped to make business decisions through the lens of how you can better serve your customers, rather than how to increase revenue.
3. Stand for something
Brands that are succeeding today are the brands that are authentic, vulnerable, and that stand for something. According to a global study by Zeno Group in July 2020, consumers are 4 to 6 times more likely to purchase and champion purpose-driven companies.
Having a purpose doesn't require a brand to have a philanthropy component or an outspoken political stance – it's about identifying your specific values and making them apparent through your messaging and leadership within your industry. Values could include committing to sustainable production methods, outstanding customer service, commitment to diversity, or supporting a specific cause. What is most important is that your values are authentic and that you can stand behind them long-term.
As the founder/owner of a small business, you have an opportunity to put a face and values behind the brand so that your company is about more than selling something.
4. Clarify your message
After revisiting your target audience and carefully considering your brand values, incorporate those findings into your messaging. Conduct an audit of your website, social media channels, and all external facing materials, and update your messaging to ensure that if your ideal customer had a 30 second encounter with your brand, they would walk away with your most important messaging points. Important points to consider as you craft new messaging include:
- How your product or service solves a problem for or benefits your target audience
- Brand values
- Points of differentiation
5. Be authentic and communicative
Before the days of social media, a brand had to rely on third parties, including editorials and ads in magazines and newspapers, to spread the word about their brand. Social media and all "owned channels," including a brand's website, blog, and newsletter, have leveled the playing field and allow small business owners to have control over their communication with customers. Through your owned channels, a brand can decide what to post and when, which is incredibly valuable.
While securing press and advertising opportunities is valuable to growth and brand awareness, it's largely outside of one's control. Focus your time and financial resources on communicating with your audience by creating content for your owned channels. Creating content and posting consistently can seem overwhelming to a solopreneur or small team, but there are ways to make it manageable:
- Pick only a few owned channels to focus on, prioritizing platforms you are most familiar with using and where your audience is most active
- Quality and consistency are more important than quantity. If you're only posting once a week due to bandwidth, commit to that frequency and increase frequency as you are able
- To inspire and inform content creation, think about how you can serve your customers through your areas of expertise and what is relevant to both your brand and audience (events, holidays, partnerships, new product launches, etc.)
- Create a content calendar so that you can plan out posts a month in advance to avoid last minute scrambling to decide what to post
Once you've worked through these five tips, make a plan to support your business goals - and start thinking in two phases.
- Phase 1: Pandemic Home Stretch - Although there is hope with a COVID-19 vaccine, we know we will likely be dealing with the effects indefinitely. Use this time of uncertainty to get your business in the best shape possible.
- Phase 2: Post Pandemic - How do you want your business or brand to show up when the world opens back up? It feels far off, but it is closer than you think and there is a huge opportunity for those who are willing to put in the work now.
Remember, these challenging times will pass. There is massive opportunity for the businesses and brands who are willing to reflect, pivot, and plan for a brighter future.
Kathryn Worsham Humphries and Carla M. Nikitaidis are the co-creators of Houston-based All You Need Method, a PR and marketing resource for small business owners and entrepreneurs.