If there's a constant in the small business world, it's change.
New competitors stealing market share, a global crisis, a product's dwindling relevance — change can make or break a small business. For owners, it's all how you handle change that determines whether you sink or swim.
Here, the stories of how five entrepreneurs adapted to uncertainty and navigated obstacles that offer valuable lessons to those facing pivotal moments of their own.
Somto Ugwueze is founder and CEO of Destination Forward, LLC. Until recently, she focused on her website, Somto Seeks, which shows solo female travelers how to travel affordably and build a location-independent lifestyle.
But when the travel industry saw a dramatic slowdown this year, she lost 80% of her web traffic, causing ad revenue and affiliate income to drop to almost zero.
She says she learned that it's important not to panic when things go wrong. She suggests taking a deep breath and asking yourself these three questions:
Not only did Ugwueze pinpoint the right questions to ask herself about her business, but she already was thinking of ways to diversify her business before outside circumstances forced the issue. "To adapt to this unprecedented situation, I sped up the launch of two new business offerings that were already in the works," Ugwueze says.
"First, I launched a high-ticket blog coaching program. Within a few weeks, I closed three high-ticket clients, helping offset the revenue losses. Next, I launched a new website about online business called Fight the Cubicle, in response to requests from my audience. The website is quickly gaining traffic and already bringing in some affiliate income."
While marketing is essential for every small business, sometimes the "same old" approach no longer works, whether that's because of increased competition or customers becoming immune to the same types of messaging.
Autumn Grant is the owner and founder of The Kind Poppy, a bath products retail brand located in Franklin, TN. After nearby Nashville was hit by a tornado earlier this year, and then her physical business had to close in accordance with public health measures, she decided to get more creative and seek opportunities to become more innovative in her marketing strategy.
"I reached out to large brands and small businesses to offer social media giveaways," Grant says. "We were able to help each other gain new sales while growing our community — a win, win! Our staff immersed ourselves in online marketing resources and took advantage of online classes."
After reopening her business's brick and mortar location in August, Grant says, she and her team have continued to consider ways to adapt, including offering pop-up shops to local vendors and selling tickets for DIY classes to make soaps and bath bombs.
Grant now recognizes that a company shouldn't wait for a crisis to change its strategy.
"It's truly been such a unique year that no business plan was prepared for. My advice for another business is to continue finding ways to be innovative. Your business, all businesses, are in a tough spot."
Not every business has the luxury of face-to-face communication with customers, especially these days. But for many, not adapting to how their customers want to interact can be a roadblock to fostering those relationships.
That may necessitate experimenting with different communication tools, even if they seem a bit unconventional.
Kevin Miller, founder and CEO of The Word Counter, a dynamic online tool used for counting words, characters, sentences, paragraphs and pages in real-time, says that this year, he's seen business owners revamp how they communicate with customers remotely. He says, particularly for businesses that are dependent on personal customer interactions, there is no reason for businesses to sacrifice quality customer experiences simply because they aren't communicating in person.
His own style of communicating in his business has changed, as more clients rely more and more on technology.
"We communicate with our clients through [online] messaging and video calls and it is working well for us," he says.
Not all clients will want to communicate in the same way, so be open to a few different channels to ensure everyone's comfortable with how they interact with your brand.
Challenges don't always come in the form of unexpected turns in the market, but from personal or business connections, too.
When Dee Tutt, founder of DTRS Enterprises and creator of Savîle Tropical Rum Cocktail, decided to relaunch her brand, she encountered negativity and discouragement from many in the industry. Her aim was to create an alcoholic beverage using all-natural ingredients, but the naysayers encouraged her to use artificial ingredients so she could realize more profit.
"Each time I encountered these types of roadblocks, I didn't quit. I kept moving. I surrounded myself with people both in and outside of the industry that shared my mindset and offered encouragement, support, and advice to keep me going. By doing this, I successfully launched my initial brand as well as came back to market, stronger than ever, with my new product, Savîle Tropical Rum Cocktail," she says, "I didn't back down, and I didn't cut corners."
She says you must know your brand inside and out and not allow for any deviation from it because of industry pressures. "Advice is just that: Advice. You don't have to take it. If it doesn't feel right for you or your business, you have the choice to do what you feel is best."
No matter what the challenge is, it's the businesses that find ways to roll with the changes it brings that will come out on top.
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