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How to Grow Your Brand in the Midst of Crisis: 8 Success Stories
At this moment, small business is facing immense disruptions and most business owners can’t wait to “get back to normal” and grow their brand. However, business and economic experts agree that the post-COVID-19 economy will be a very different place than ever before. For one, this crisis has forced digital adoption to swing several years into the future overnight, hastily building a future where terms like “virtual legislation” may be the new norm.
Meanwhile, small businesses that aren’t part of the digital revolution are afraid to fall into the “nonessentials” pile. From your favorite bakery next door to an event planner you hired for your kid’s graduation party, to niche lifestyle brands, the present crisis leaves countless small business owners gasping for opportunity in a future equally hazy in the short and long term.
What can down-the-block entrepreneurs in non-digital industries do to keep their brand alive and growing during the COVID-19 pandemic and in its aftermath? And most importantly, how can these changes become part of a permanent growth strategy instead of being a short-term drain on resources? We posed the question to small business owners nationwide and were overwhelmed with the creativity of these entrepreneurs and the positive changes they’ve already seen as a result of their tweaked business model.
Here’s how entrepreneurs from some of the hardest-hit industries are confronting the economic impacts of COVID-19 and taking their business to new heights as we speak — and how you can follow their example from home.
1. Search and deliver
You may think growing a brand in the event industry is the stuff of dreams right now, especially if you’re living in the epicenter of COVID-19 like Michelle McKenna Shuey, Founder at The Effortless Affair. But this NJ – based mompreneur thinks differently. For Michelle, growing her brand after having all events postponed or cancelled through the summer didn’t mean giving up. Instead, she’s come up with quite a few permanent additions to her business model.
“I have pivoted to a party delivery business… I drop party boxes to your door containing a local bakery cake, on theme paper plates and napkins, candles, banner, balloon, craft for birthday child as well as a birthday crown. I also include a Spotify playlist for the party and a list or virtual entertainment with pricing.”
Success tip: Visit lots of groups/forums where your target audience gathers to feel their pain points and find your Eureka moment. If you’re having trouble implementing a new experience, team up with entrepreneurs from complementing industries. For example, when Michelle had to tackle inventory for the first time, she partnered up with “local, female-owned businesses” and found it “very rewarding…trying to make the best of a terrible situation and doing it together.”
2. Go the extra mile with customer care
When challenge hits, it’s OK for people on both ends to be stressed out and in the dark about the future. But as a business, it’s also your job to provide an island of safety and certainty to your clients so they can count on your product/service.
Justin Hill, Owner of Hill Law Firm is used to dealing with client stress but has doubled down on customer care in recent times. “Often, when our clients come to us, they are already in a stressful situation. The current pandemic has only exacerbated the anxiety and uncertainty that they feel. We’ve learned that our quick responses to clients and meeting options have really helped to alleviate some of the stress that they feel.”
Success tip: Nothing stresses a customer out like uncertainty, especially in the current global crisis. On the other hand, customer stress is readily relieved by fast information and communication. For Justin, that meant implementing “a texting option for our clients which has been helpful during the pandemic.” Constant communication with the team is equally important for Justin who thanks his team daily “for their persistence and willingness to continue to serve.”
3. Go international
For non-digital companies, taking your brand to international level is often a risky step. How do you know if the investment of time and costs will pay off and that you’re on the right track? Entrepreneurs like Kimberly Crisostomo Bavington, Founder of Art Classes for Kids, prove that small businesses shouldn’t be afraid to grow their brand in the international arena.
“We’ve had an interesting transition moving the business from 100% in-person group classes and private lessons to 100% virtual classes and FaceTime private lessons. It hasn’t been easy…for us to digitize all of our lessons and think outside of the box to try and give kids a similar experience on the computer as they do in our studio.” Though she calls the process “extremely time-consuming”, Kimberly notes parallel “extreme success” in online classes and plans to keep them a permanent feature of her brand.
Success tip: If you’re starting to cater to online and international audiences, your website and social media must reflect all changes, Kimberly notes. “We’ve revamped our website, redesigned our YouTube channel, and even re-edited some of our videos to make sure we’re continuing to engage students and get them excited about coming to us to learn about fine art.”
4.Recruit and train non-local talent
Some sectors are more tied to locale than others. Insurance and insurance development agencies are one such example. This often means that hiring and growth are limited to one geography. At least, until the business has no choice but to literally widen their horizons.
Tony Caldwell, CEO of One Agents Alliance (OAA), explains how a geographically constrained small business can move recruiting, training, mentoring and support services online, and while others are closing shop, go on to open new doors. “The communications methodologies and virtual teamwork tools we’ve embraced allow us to hire employees wherever we find them. This is already opening up our talent searches and we hired a new employee from 1,500 miles away in early April…At the same time we are expanding our geographic reach for the planting of agencies [and] expect to put three new agencies in California in May.”
Success tip: If you’re finding your staff cut short due to crisis circumstances, reevaluate your recruiting and widen your talent pool. “Technologies… mean that the traditional geographical boundary limitations that local insurance agencies have lived with for 100 years no longer matter.” As Tony notes, virtual team communication tools like Microsoft Teams, Slack, and others are a great way to find and interview potential candidates across the nation or even the world.
5.Become an authority to your audience
The demand for information from home is currently skyrocketing and smart businesses are already finding ways to meet that demand. Being useful to your customers through not merely sales but informative content is extremely important at the moment, notes Jasmine Young, Founder & Chief Executive Officer of Southern Tax Preparation & Services, LLC.
“Refocusing has allowed us to establish ourselves as an authority in the accounting/finance industry,” Jasmine says. “The amount of participation in our live videos, the overwhelming amount of direct messages to our social media accounts, the client referrals from our audience, and the increase in revenue is an obvious indication that our decision… was a step in the right direction.”
Success tip: To grow your brand, prioritize educational and informative content that can transform your brand into a trusted authority for clients. “Southern Tax developed and launched a 100% online format called Financial Literacy University (FLU). [It] develops and presents courses targeted at each facet of financial literacy to ensure that its students master the concepts of each facet and make real-life applications using the education provided.”
6.Create your own digital media platform
When 80% of your business caters to brick and mortar shops that are indefinitely closed due to COVID-19, the math is simple: you either live on the 20% or you get creative. This is exactly what happened to Leslie Scott, owner of Walton Wood Farm. “I took Seth Godin’s advice and built my own platform, a podcast titled, Rewriting Dad, based on my family history. My personal care company, Waltonwoodfarm, is the mid-roll sponsor.”
So what does a family podcast have in common with growing the brand of a beauty company? The magic lies in connecting to your target audiences through a network of multiple channels and linking those back to your product. The result is your very own brand infrastructure.
Success tip: If you have a large audience but engagement has dropped, engaging viewers through various channels can be similar to a tree growing branches and widening outreach. Why podcasts? They are entertaining, don’t demand undivided attention, and can tackle various topics for one and the same target audience. Leslie, for one, is making them a permanent part of her brand. “I will build out two more podcasts on other themes and keep branching my free PR opportunities out into other segments of the market.”
7. Build rapport through transparency
As a marketer for your brand, should you lighten up the mood and avoid the topic of COVID-19 or confidently approach the subject? When tackling this delicate topic, Vivien Adrian, PR at UNDONE, a global personalized watch brand, says transparent engagement with your audience is a fantastic way to grow your brand.
“In light of the current situation, we have implemented more messaging to highlight what UNDONE is doing to keep its employees, community, and courier services safe,” Vivien says. “We are [also] working on multiple campaigns that touch base with our community being stuck at home, highlighting ‘staying safe, staying positive, and staying individual.’
Success tip: Engage with your audience a lot more than usual, through informative posts as well as “short entertaining videos, Instagram Story Quizzes [and] increase in Customer Service.” If you deal with handling, shipping or manufacturing products, tell (and show) your customers what you’re doing to take care of their safety. When customers are stressed out, they need to be confident that you’re increasing their safety, not cutting back on it.
8.Lead your team with example
Right now is a difficult time for teams of all sizes. But businesses that grow their brand through crisis are the ones that don’t leave their own. Extending a hand to your employees, paying salaries, and not firing those who’re in dire situation themselves can be a tough decision. Whether you believe in karma or not, in business everything that goes round comes round.
A moment of calm and peace is what Raquel Tavares, Founder of Fourth & Heart has her heart on doing during a crisis like COVID-19. “Moving with a “people first” movement, I publicly vowed to not fire any employees as well and to find any cash runway through other cuts. Additionally, I wrote a note [to] my team and my group of investors on the plan to be put in place as a response to COVID. “
Success tip: Check up on your team to make sure that they’re coping and are OK. As Raquel says, “I personally call each employee to check on them as well as offer free call therapy. Some of us work well under pressure, but many do not, so let’s give people a break and show up for them. If we show up for them, they’ll return the favor.”
Growing your brand during the unprecedented time of a pandemic is a heroic effort for small business. But as the above entrepreneurs prove, it’s not only possible to survive this challenge, but now is the time to lay the foundation of the “new normal” that lies in store for all of us.
As actress and author Fannie Flagg once worded it:
“Don’t give up before the miracle happens”!
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