Career Online Marketing: Your Life Preserver in Hard Times

by Melinda F. Emerson | December 23, 2020

If the current business climate has taught us anything, it’s that entrepreneurs can’t afford to rely on old ways of doing business.

According to a July report by eMarketer, brick-and-mortar businesses are expected to see a 3.2% sales decline by the end of 2020 as compared to a 1.5% increase in 2019. For small business owners this could signal that it’s time to find other ways to connect with customers, especially in the digital sphere.

The need for the occasional pivot shouldn’t catch owners entirely off-guard, though: It takes resourcefulness, ingenuity and a certain DIY spirit to embark as an entrepreneur or small business owner in the first place.

If looking for tips — and inspiration — to boost your venture, here are four success stories of entrepreneurs who have found a way to shift their business model and thrive.

Engage your audience virtually

One of the most prominent magicians in California’s Silicon Valley is Dan Chan. The often in-demand Master Magician performed up to six shows in one day – before his business was effectively shut down earlier this year by the onset of the pandemic. He had to put the brakes on performing in person, losing $8,000 in contracts in one week.

That didn’t stop him. Instead, he found the right technology solutions for his business and leveraged video platforms to hold his magic shows. He offers several performance packages that range in cost, and now 90% of his events are corporate events. His crew checks people in with a list for ticketed events, and for corporate events, there is a unique link and password to prevent uninvited guests.

Since the beginning of March, he has performed over 100 virtual shows, with audiences in the UK, South Africa, Virgin Islands, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore and Mexico City.

In addition to expanding his business globally, Chan took the shift as a chance to re-envision what it means to be a magician.

“While there are so many challenges to taking [a live] act online, those challenges have presented many opportunities,” says Chan. “With virtual shows, I can amaze audiences without having to fly or drive hours to an event. Everyone now has a front row seat to the highly technical close-up tricks the audience appreciates, and [the show] also plays to hundreds of people at once.” 

Not only did Chan have to find a new way to engage an audience virtually, he also seized on the opportunity to find fresh ways to promote his business through online marketing.

Chan says small business owners must find the unique angle for their companies to connect with the media. His own press relations efforts have gotten him buzz due to interviews on technology and business websites, which provided him with invaluable corporate connections.

“When it all boils down, it’s all about making meaningful connections with everyone you encounter; the only difference now is that it’s in front of a screen.”

Influence vlogging while self-isolating

Create community deliberately

Dawn Fitch, President of Pooka Pure and Simple, says when she had to close her Kearney, NJ-based showroom this year and move all business online, she found an opportunity to grow an online community for her company through social media.

Her brand’s social media group, The Best Life Tribe, focuses on health and wellness, and membership doubled during the pandemic.

“During the pandemic we realized that our numbers for women joining the group were growing quickly,” Fitch says. “People were trying to find ways to be healthier and try alternative ways to exercise, relax and just stay calm. We found that they were finding comfort and community in our Tribe.”

Fitch says she began to reach out to other small business owners and invited them to collaborate by providing live exercise, meditation and interviews on topics from how to stay positive to how to start a home garden. This was a way to not only grow her own business, but to help create opportunity for other small business owners.

She also leveraged this community to workshop and get feedback on a new line of sea moss wellness products for skin, hair and overall diet health. Fitch shared her own experiences with the benefits of sea moss, which is rich in essential nutrients and can help the body create collagen, and her community began requesting products, too.

Fitch says, “I quickly gathered my team and we started curating sea moss kits. We also had a sea moss beauty bar created. Sea moss sales tripled our weekly revenue and helped us to keep the business thriving through these times!”

And, she found that her loyal customers were also a great source for word-of-mouth organic promotion. They were happy to support her small businesses by posting about their favorite products in her line.

Dawn Fitch

Photo courtesy of Dawn Fitch

Meet customers where they are

Cybil Solyn, owner of Your Skin Fitness Expert, refused to give up when she was forced to shut down her spa in Burbank, CA. She knew she needed to pivot to accommodate the newly emerging virtual, do-it-for-yourself economy. So she started the Skin Fitness Club, a monthly facial club that helps people get clear, glowing skin from the comfort of their homes.

“I’ve leveraged technology by going all in with video,” Solyn explains. She says she chats with Skin Fitness Club members via video conference each day. But what really gave her business a boost, she notes, is an enhanced email program: “It adds video to any email and previews it in the email as an animated gif,” she explains. “This is invaluable to getting my message across fast to customers and [in] having them open my emails.”

In addition to enhanced email messaging, Solyn also made an investment in promotion. Instead of tackling it all on her own, she hired someone to help her with her social marketing efforts.

No matter the business climate, Solyn says small businesses shouldn’t hold off on finding ways to connect online with customers. “Start serving your customers from their homes now. The new economy has shown people a new way to live – and that’s self-sufficient and at home. Meet their needs … and you’ll rise to the top.”

Don’t hold back on digital marketing

It can be instinctual to pull back on marketing spend when times are tough, but that’s the opposite of what you should do, according to Samantha Anderson, co-founder and president of Origin 63.

Anderson ran a successful events marketing business with her husband, but when the events industry ground to a halt, the business lost the entirety of its revenue by April 2020, she says. Within weeks, the Andersons had dissolved the business they had spent more than six years building; this included letting go of an office space and 15 employees.

And although they closed one business, what remained was their strong client contacts. So, after talking to clients about their needs, they put plans into place to launch Origin 63, a B2B sales and marketing technology solution provider.

Three months in, Anderson says they have three full-time employees and are hitting $450,000 in revenue in 2020 — getting to where they were previously after four years in business.

Marketing, even with the uncertainty in the world, has been the company’s saving grace, says Anderson. To leverage the new digital reality, the brand has created virtual events with strategic partners that focused on providing value to prospects, such as free round-tables or workshops.

“It is tough, especially in this environment, to spend money on ‘extras,’ but now is exactly the time to dedicate a bit more budget to marketing. We continued to invest into our marketing automation and CRM platform so that we could run highly personalized email marketing campaigns to past prospects, customers and partners. This enabled us to jump start our business out the gate with sales opportunities,” she says.

Since April, she says Origin 63 has achieved a consistent 10% increase in revenue month over month, and since then, the brand’s monthly recurring revenue has increased a total of 87%.

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Marketing, even with the uncertainty in the world, has been the company’s saving grace.
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It might be a stretch, but Anderson says to make the leap to invest in your business — even in lean times. “Don't be afraid to spend money, but whatever you do spend on, make sure you can measure the outcome. Test and iterate rapidly. And, don't forget your current/past customer base. That's how you use today's environment to your advantage and win.”

When business slows and foot traffic is down — or shifts entirely — it can take a little creativity and innovation to figure out how to reach more customers.

But, as these small business owners have shown, by turning attention to online and utilizing tech-based resources, entrepreneurs can not only pivot in tough times, but expand their business in ways they never imagined.

Melinda F. Emerson

— a.k.a. the SmallBizLady — is an internationally renowned keynote speaker on small business development, social media and content marketing. Melinda is the president of the Quintessence Group, an award-winning marketing consulting firm based in Philadelphia, PA. She is also the host of The SmallBizChat podcast, a bestselling author and her latest book is Fix Your Business, a 90 Day Plan to Get Back Your Life and Reduce Chaos in Your Business.