The pandemic has accelerated business change, and marketing and technology evolution is creating new opportunities for entrepreneurs in businesses of all sizes.
Let’s start with new business formation: it has never been easier to start a business online (and also never been more competitive to do so!) You can form your business with your state licensing agency online, you can set up an e-commerce website, and you can form your social media and marketing channels all from your home office chair. You can network with potential clients in community groups online and build your business using tech planning and management tools.
One of the first steps in forming your business is doing customer discovery – finding, interviewing potential customers. ICD is a fairly formalized process but besides survey and social tools, there are even new AI tools that help you evaluate customers and what they need (so you can tailor your products to their needs.)
Even at a very simple level – connecting with others in online community groups and asking for feedback can help a newly fledged business gain awareness and key customer insight.
Once your business is formed, you can also use online business planning tools to set up strategic and tactical marketing plans. Tools like Trello and Canva make it easy to plan what you’re going to do and when. And tools like SWOT analyses and good online strategic planning tools that help you determine where you’re going.
Once you know WHERE you’re going and how you’re going to get there, it’s time to connect with customers.
You’re going to need a place to sell and connect with customers. It’s best if this is your OWN website (rather than just building a social media page). Whether you sell goods, services or ideas, you need a website and there are a lot of easy options, but also a lot of help (including Marketing Acuity) that can support you with training and advanced tech development as you do it. You don’t need an expensive site to start your business, you don’t necessarily need a developer but you DO need a plan to do it right, so it’s designed for your customer.
We have a ton of resources and evaluations of the popular website platforms listed here
Now that you’ve got your business running, you have your online store or website, it’s time to talk expansion. Because the pandemic accelerated everything on line, you can use both your website to reach new markets globally AND you can hire experts who live in other cities. Many clients use VA or virtual assistants to help run their businesses, and they use consultants, coaches, web developers and designers (like Ann!) to help them grow their businesses.
Use a CRM – customer relationship management software manages not only sales but customer service tickets too. Managing customers is one of the most important things you can do as a business, and a good system that is easy to use is key. If you’re mainly a commerce company, and sell from your website, your CRM might be your outbound email services connected to your site. If you sell custom or customized products, a CRM is crucial for managing custom orders, especially when it integrates with your commerce application. Intake custom orders into the CRM, manage customers there, send the orders out and manage tickets with the CRM system.
Use customer generated marketing content – or UGC (user generated content). Your customers are sharing your stuff! We work with clients in the marine industry, the sewing and craft industry, publishing, travel and these clients ALL share photos of their experiences and their successes using YOUR products and services – and their marketing for you, their endorsement of you to their friends online is CRUCIAL. UGC drives growth – other customers trust it far more than the things WE say, so anything you can do to encourage and endorse UGC is key. Tech allows us to monitor and harvest this through our use of social platforms for posting and listening.
Set up online review systems, create and monitor hashtags for customers to use, contests to encourage sharing. Just being a great brand to work with, your customers will naturally share their experience with others – but monitoring will help you know when this happens!
Marketing automation – the automatic things that go out when customers fill out forms or chat boxes – can help filter and direct them to the things they need, but be sure you are also monitoring these things so you can stay in the loop on customer needs.
All of this will generate DATA – from traffic and sales, to customer service, price and purchase data, customer information. This data is a gold mine of information, and you can mine the data for everything from new product ideas to better ways to serve your customers. You do not have to lose the humanity in business, the personal connection, you can use marketing technology to connect with others that you might never have seen before through the use of live video, collaboration Zoom calls and other two-way communication to connect with customers in a deeper way. All of this data, and tech will help make it EASIER to do business, not harder (if it’s set up and managed well.)
Run your business online. Tools like Trello help you stay organized and visually plan your day to day business activities. You can plan not only marketing activities but organize and attach materials for almost ANY part of your business. We used it to manage our PPP loan documents and a recent series of engagements with the state of California for business.
QuickBooks Online helps you manage finance. We take payments from PayPal and Square and these flow right into QBO. QuickBooks Online learns your business habits so tasks like importing and reconciling are easy ones.
In short, marketing and technology evolution advances help the smallest businesses grow into bigger businesses and bigger businesses scale faster. Employing marketing technology for every aspect of your business gives you that slight edge. Yes, all of this was possible with snail mail, Excel spreadsheets and printed calendars, but newer tools enable us to do more, easier. And that’s really music to a busy entrepreneur’s ears!