A Practical Guide to Growing Your Business During the Pandemic

Problem-solving skills

A Practical Guide to Growing Your Business During the Pandemic

The title may startle you into asking Grow? YES! Grow. Read on to find out!

The COVID-19 pandemic has possibly been the most significant variable for the global economy in a very long time, with its widespread impact on all economic sectors and businesses. Considering the uncertainty and the never-before challenges it has brought, businesses need to change the way they work to serve their customers. A strategic shift can help pandemic-era businesses take better care of employees, satisfy customer needs, and enhance their own financial health. 

Black Swan

Mostly, we make our plans and budgets on the basis of our knowledge of the past. But right now, this knowledge can’t be as helpful as you think because we are witness to a so-called “Black Swan” event, as Nasim Taleb puts it in his eponymous classic. The current pandemic is a black swan event i.e. an unpredictable event beyond what we normally expect in a situation, which has potentially severe consequences. It has brought about huge unpredictability in our current and future lives.

You don’t need a business coach to tell you – thanks to this unpredictable event with widespread ramifications, the rules of business have changed. For example: the fact that you grew consistently @ 10-15% in the past few years CANNOT predict your business growth this year, or the next year. At a juncture when many companies are in the remote working mode, are operating at limited capacities or are shut down completely, there may seem to be very few opportunities for business growth. But not all is lost!

Here are some business strategies that can not only keep your business afloat, but also help it move ahead:

Relevance of Product/Service

As any business coach would tell you, the COVID-19 pandemic crisis has changed consumer needs and preferences in a big way. Therefore, while building customer relationships and sales channels, you need to ensure that your product/ service remains relevant. A relevant product that delivers customer value is going to generate demand and contribute to business growth. Make efforts to understand customer expectations and aspirations to tweak your offering so that they can survive these tough times and look to a future.

A good business coach can ask you to look at your brand from the vantage point of the consumer- Are you different? Affordable, Convenient? Do you deliver value? Does the market really need you? There is always an opportunity for unique and compelling products regardless of the state of the economy, but during these exceptional times, you need to have a carefully-crafted approach.

 Understanding Customers

Problem-solving skills

My corporate counselling experience suggests that most organizations aren’t good at understanding their customers, while it should be the first important step while formulating any marketing strategy. An in-depth understanding of your customers will help you boost your sales and business. However, this lean period caused by factors like the global pandemic can also be occasioned by changing consumer behaviour. Therefore, it is important to have a clear picture of the type of customer who buys your products and what prompts their buy decisions. You cannot adopt a one-size-fits-all shotgun approach that “everyone is a customer” – to know which kind of customer you deal with most often, and which type earns you the most revenue and focus on that customer type and the demographic. Collecting this kind of background information can help you identify ways of delivering customer value.

The pandemic has made it even more essential for businesses to acquire and maintain core customers. Your customers are spending more time online, working remotely, taking virtual classes and even hosting family events over Google Meets and Zoom. Against this background, the companies obviously need to be savvier with respect to social media and email marketing. If you ever had any doubts about your company’s online searchability, the navigability of your website or your social media presence, this is the time to act. Let your customers know you are there and that you value them, and offer them incentives to spread the word about how much they love your offerings.

Revisit Marketing Plans

A restricted access to brick and mortar businesses, the pandemic in public places, and increased prices of products and services and supply chain disruptions have reduced your ability to reach potential customers. COVID-19 has affected household incomes and consumer spending across the board in all the countries globally. The proportion of the households affected so is staggering in India, which has led to lower FMCG sales and reduced profits for most businesses except those working in pharma, healthcare and nutraceutical sectors. Therefore, the pandemic crisis and the period thereafter warrants that you revisit your marketing plans and efforts periodically.

The social media has emerged as a great force to reckon with in practically all spheres of activity. With geography becoming history now, you may want to leverage social media to drive customer engagement, sell your products, build brand awareness and deliver services. You can consider offering greater customer convenience by ensuring delivery of products to your customers.

Besides, during economic downturns, every rupee matters. Therefore, all marketing decisions need to be precisely targeted and data-driven to ensure you get the best bang for your buck. Use marketing technology and platforms that integrate with all your channels to track which posts are performing and how your customers are responding to and acting on the information. You may also consider hiring domain consultants with marketing expertise in your industry to boost your profile and drive customer interaction across social media platforms.

KYC (Know Your Competitors)

Being forewarned is being forearmed!

I often suggest all those, who seek corporate counseling, to conduct a KYC (Know Your Competitors) operation in terms of their competition. As Any business that aspires for growth needs to identify standards against which it measures its progress. Before fighting your enemy, it’s essential to know him, his arsenal, his strategies etc. before you can think of a gamelan to counter him. Thus, it’s imperative to know your competitors in terms of their business growth and use this information to find how well you are performing. It can also let you learn the strategies other businesses are using to achieve growth.

Team Matters

No business or for that matter, no organization can ever hope to run without talented manpower. As more people are doing remote work now, having experienced professionals who can work with minimal supervision can benefit you in many ways. Besides, you could get business advice from experts to get the edge you need over your competitors.

Invest your resources in your team as it is your greatest asset, which deserves to be protected during downturns. Well, doing so means reducing the salaries or bonuses of the CEO or the board to reduce/ minimize the need for layoffs. And it may also mean providing the employees the resources to do their work successfully from a remote location e.g. project management tools and flexible work schedules for better work-life balance.

Your team needs leadership in a time of crisis. You can use this time to build a stronger sense of community among your team. It can give your employees a better sense of their worth to the company and make them motivated and productive, which ultimately leads to business growth.

Money Matters

Finance is the blood of a business and any obstruction to its flow can cause the heart to collapse. Thus, the finances require proper management during the pandemic to realize business growth. Of course, you may have to slash certain expenditures and invest more in growth areas to earn more profits. Analyze your balance sheet, profit and loss account and cash flow statements to ensure that the expenses are under control.

Digital Transformation in Business

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Technology can empower you to compete successfully with the more established brands. Advanced technologies can facilitate communication with employees working remotely and give you new ways to engage with your customers. As a businesses, you need to understand the importance of digital transformation and automation. Adoption of technology will contribute to more efficiency besides saving valuable time and money.

Go Virtual

The chances of your growing your business during the pandemic are contingent on your business type, competitive positioning, strategy and the ability to use digital technologies and marketing automation.

Here’s a digital marketing strategy to grow your business and ensure that your business is on a safe, secure path to exit the pandemic successfully:

  1. Functional website

First and foremost, a functional website, providing a customer journey that delivers growth in visits and generates leads, is a must.  You should be active on at least 2-3 social media and must implement a revised content strategy for the pandemic to deliver growth. 

Add more functionality/content to your website to increase its growth and leads. Make your website more valuable with downloadable offers for users, improve your its usability and better articulate your value proposition.

  1. Email marketing

Try to monetize your subscriber base by a list-building campaign to connect with new subscribers. Email marketing delivers one of the best ROI’s on each marketing rupee you spend. Once the economy begins to recover and the demand begins to normalize, this subscriber base can help you capture those dormant sales rapidly.

  1. Social Media

Add a new platform that you had overlooked in the past. Social media is now a constant in our lives, more so in the current pandemic. It’s a great time to add another relevant platform to your media mix.

Use the Google Pay Per Click method and online advertising on social platforms to find new leads and sales. During such downturns, you can find more affordable ads, lower ad click costs and more impressions than during better economic times.

Your prospects are unlikely to remember you unless you actively work to ensure recall. And the more you can do to help them get through the pandemic, the more “reciprocity” you will find when they are ready to make a purchase. If they save your recent tip or coupon on their mobile phone, they can easily reach you at the right time.

  1. Affiliates

Think of using affiliate marketing to tap new markets for your products and services.

  1. Regular,  SEO- optimized content in the form of blogs needs to be added to your website monthly.
  2. A revised search engine optimization (SEO) strategy for the pandemic needs to be put in place.
  3. Virtual sales calls aren’t considered any less professional these days; they are as good as in-person meetings. The staff just needs to ensure that they are dressed professionally with an optimized background and the audio and video are clear to ensure seamless communication.
  4. During such virtual sales, the seller needs to be proactive by offering relevant tools and guides to the prospects. It will ensure that you enjoy a top of the mind recall for your target customers, even if you aren’t able to close the deal right away. There is always an opportunity for unique and compelling products but in these exceptional times, you need a carefully executed approach while engaging with your customers.
  5. Hosting relevant virtual events for customers is a great way to provide value but you’ll have to find ways to make your webinars stand out. Try to have an interactive experience and close the event with a clear call to action that leaves the audience feeling connected with your brand and willing to continue the relationship later.
  6. The pandemic has put a stop to in-person events, networking functions and conferences, but virtual events can draw and accommodate larger, more diverse audiences. Besides the product content can be recalibrated for social media and websites to engage additional customers.

Webinars on topics relevant to your business can draw interest, especially if they are addressed by high-profile speakers in an interactive way. Think of adding giveaways and other incentives to draw interest and promote it across social media channels.

Try New Things

It’s time to broaden your digital marketing channels. Let’s say your marketing efforts includes regular emailing to your subscribers, and marketing via Facebook and Instagram. But maintaining them wouldn’t be enough as the business environment has got tougher. New leads can be harder to find and may take longer to close. During such a downturn, adding more marketing activities to build a sales pipeline has to be a priority in the face of current limitations in marketing.

Live on a budget or Invest?

Do you pare down and carefully manage the marketing budget or invest to achieve sales growth? For some businesses, this is clearly the time to invest – if you are in a highly competitive industry, or you have been slow to join the digital transformation bandwagon, it can be your defining moment in business. Here are some basics for a decent online presence in this pandemic:

Authentic, transparent communication

Try talking to a business coach and they will tell you that the COVID-19 pandemic has made transparent communication even more important. As customers want to engage with brands online, this is the time to send clear, direct messaging to reassure them that the business is open and provides easy ways to interact and purchase.

You can make friendly appeals on social media about the pandemic directly and the ways you are adjusting and moving forward. More importantly, remind your customers how much you value them, provide incentives for their continued commitment and tell them that you will get through these difficult times together.

And do not forget your team. Remember to listen to your staff by asking about their circumstances and checking in on them frequently to shows you value them. This, too, shall pass, but a little bit of empathy goes a long way.

With almost all countries going ahead with vaccination at a feverish pitch and the introduction of COVID drugs, the road to a post-pandemic world is hopefully being carved out, and this is the time to make the changes to survive the rest of the storm.

Brace for recovery

Hopefully, the pandemic would be brought under complete control, though nobody know when. Most experts echo that the latest virus variant i.e. Omicron seems to be signaling the end of COVID-19, but we are clueless about how long it will take. Therefore, growth-oriented businesses have to focus on the future and be ready for a recovery by staying ahead – purchasing materials, receiving new shipments, improving work environment and forging a strong business culture. Business leaders need to adopt effective leadership practices to encourage employees to realize the desired business growth.

Though there are plenty of growth strategies to ensure the survival and growth of your business during the pandemic and thereafter, but you will have to look for measures relevant to your specific needs.

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