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Business owners must remain resilient and flexible

By Marc L. Goldberg

SCORE certified mentor

Question: What can we expect in the new year that we need to address to stay ahead of the wave?

Answer: For all small businesses, 2020 has been a year of one challenge after another. Business owners needed to be resilient, flexible and constantly reimagining their businesses by pivoting to modify their business model. With a new year, one that will offer a vaccine for COVID-19, additions to the CARES Act, one that will again see many changes in the business environment, small-business owners need to be in a position to take advantage of opportunities as they arise. In order to do that we need to be aware of the trends that will affect their ability to fulfill our value propositions.

Businesses will continue to prioritize e-commerce: While e-commerce is growing at a rapid pace, even before the pandemic, studies by IBM show that buying patterns will continue to shift away from the physical stores to digital shopping. This trend has accelerated over the past five years.

In Q2 of 2020, online sales represented 16.1% of retail sales, up from 11.0% in Q1 2020. If you are going to continue to achieve increased sales, you are going to have to fine-tune your e-commerce presence for 2021. The buying experience needs to be seamless and mobile friendly. You need to investigate omnichannel experiences. Evaluate BOPIS (buy online, pick-up in store).

Ace Hardware in South Yarmouth offered this all summer and fall. Buy it online, it is delivered to the store, you are called to pick it up in a brown bag with your name on the outside with a receipt. Now the bag is inside for pick-up. This small hardware store pivoted early and kept their customers coming back. Retailers that offer buy these services maintained their customer base by providing what buyers want – safe, secure, shopping.

Alternative payment options: The Federal Reserve reports that cash is no longer king (or queen) – 20% of consumers don’t even carry cash; 46% report rarely or never using cash for purchases. The annual State of Retail Payments study by the National Retail Federation found that no-touch payments (contactless credit and debit cards or mobile pay) for retailers have increased 69% since January 2020.

B2C customers prefer using debit cards, ACH (electronic bank transfer) and credit cards in that order according to Federal Reserve surveys. Mobile pay is accelerating in growth as demonstrated by the tremendous adoption of Apple Pay and Android Pay. Further studies by the National Retail Federation forecast that the 69% growth in contactless payments will only increase in the months ahead. In fact, 94% of the respondents say it will increase in the next 18 months. Exploring touchless options that fit your customer experience is a good use of time and resources.

Remote work will continue: Many small businesses over the past nine months have reverted to part-time or work from home (WFH) regimens. In an Intermedia study, 57% of small to medium-sized businesses reported they will continue to offer remote work options in the long term. If you are not already considering this option, it is worth the time and energy to keep your valued employees.

It may require an investment in technology and software to make the WFH solution work for your business. Part of the task is providing the technology to make WFH feasible, but another is to maintain and grow the company culture when employees are not engaged in daily

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exchanges with other team members and management.

Some thoughts on culture maintenance: Use tools that align and foster your culture. Tools such as Slack and Tethr provide collaborative work styles.

Acknowledge personal milestones such as birthdays and work anniversaries, just like you did in person. They are important.

Remember, the saying 'out of sight, out of mind' should not be allowed to occur in the WFH situation. Maintain regular face time, both personal and in groups.

Use games. Gamification provides for the insertion of gameplaying elements into non-game engagements. Using trivia, for example, achieves engagement and a little competition to keep the personal connections real.

Be human. When using remote telecommunications, it is sometimes hard to maintain personal contact. However, watching nonverbal communications during meetings opens the door to one-on-one conversations later to address what wasn’t said in the group gathering.

New businesses that offer virtual services will be in demand: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce reports that businesses that offer remote interaction will grow in 2021 as a result of the pandemic’s changes in buying behavior and customer preferences in how they receive their services. These type of businesses include cybersecurity, at-home fitness, food delivery, gaming, home improvement and telemedicine. If you are considering starting a business, or are looking for ways to pivot or expand your business, look to these business categories for inspiration. Contributed by Marc L. Goldberg, certified mentor. Sources: U.S. SBA Top Business Trends for 2021, December 3, 2020; Tethr Blog, Ashley Sava, March 31, 2020; Intermedia Cloud Communications, Owners Believe Working Remotely is Here to Stay, Darcy Mekis, May 12, 2020; How Customers Want to Pay, Bridget Weston, SCORE Assn., July 23, 2018. For FREE and confidential mentoring, contact SCORE Cape Cod & the Islands at capecod. score.org, capecodscore@verizon.net, 508-775-4884.

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