Cox Business researched 2019 consumer trends in its annual survey. Here’s what are Americans have to say about their expectations towards small business.
The “New Normal”: What’s Changing Business Forever And How to Adapt
We’ve been carrying a lot of weight and hope on our shoulders for the past months. Feeling overwhelmed by COVID-19, we can’t wait to get our families, our life, our businesses back. We can’t wait to get “normal”. But even in this period of uncertainty, we know it’s going to be a different world we get back to, which for want of a better word we call “the new normal”.
This “new normal” is what countless small businesses are adapting to in hectic tempo in order to keep their families well and provide for those of us who must stay home. Among entrepreneurs, some are relieved to have implemented life-saver digital tools before thunder struck, while others “snoozed the alarm” a tad too long and had a frightening wake-up call.
Today, we’re at a place where we can’t look back. We can’t keep talking about things businesses and employees could’ve done to prepare. Now isn’t the time to blame ourselves, our employees, our circumstances. Because the challenge we face isn’t about adapting to the current period of limitations. Our task is to fearlessly look into the future and get ready for the permanent business changes ahead of us.
Here are just some of those seeds of change which, small business experts agree, we can’t afford to overlook today to thrive tomorrow.
It’s not just businesses: audiences are going remote too
Just a few months ago, remote work and virtual client interactions still merited a ton of speculation among companies of all sizes. As we see now, lucky are those who didn’t jump in the last wagon. Yet looking ahead, we’ve got to understand — the future isn’t just about the convenience of remote work for employees. Remote environments will impact clients no less, experts argue. Long after the pandemic, they will remain the new normal of customer interaction.
Tracey Shappro, CEO and President, VISION Production Group
Over the past months, “content” has evolved into such a key feature of business interactions, that we may soon relinquish the psychological notion of “lead” as the preliminary step to “client”.As the current crisis has shown, every business has to build a digital environment that already treats users as clients, and does so on multiple levels. Even for brick and mortar stores, physical presence alone is nowhere near enough to attract audiences from now on.
For this reason, Tracey Shappro recommends focusing on “content [that] can be made available 24/7 in a variety of forms to extended audiences around the world”. An approach like that will instantly shift the entrepreneurial focus from “lead” to “customer” and will be more relevant with each year.
The future is in the cloud, the security is in our hands
Whatever business challenge we’ve got to solve, we can solve it with cloud technology. Cloud technology is reliable, budget-friendly, and extremely mobile. Most importantly, it’s our life-saver in times like these. Cloud tools aren’t just the mobile apps we’re all used to or the cloud storage that saves your phone from overdrive. Today, we use everything from cloud medicine to cloud banking to cloud telephony.
Most experts agree that cloud technologies are generally safer than keeping sensitive data on company servers. “Cloud computing is often far more secure than traditional computing because companies like Google and Amazon can attract and retain cyber-security personnel of a higher quality than many governmental agencies,” says Vivek Kundra, Executive Vice President at Salesforce.
That statement goes with a few sidenotes, however. First up, with the advance of mobile technologies and home-based IoT devices, we often see a lack of protection on the business end. Employees don’t protect their mobile devices like they do their PCs, and when you have a team using cloud tools via mobile apps, you must ensure that data remains confidential. VPN is an absolute must to protect mobile devices across Wi-Fi connections when working from home and in public places.
Another aspect is checking client data agreements against the terms & conditions of the cloud tool since some services disclose uploaded data to third parties. 99% of us don’t read those “terms&conditions” before hitting “register”, but as a business user, you have that responsibility before your clients. Meet these two simple conditions, and you’ve got a business infrastructure that’s mobile, safe, and future-oriented.
Business communication is transforming into participation
From the first-ever “word of mouth” to Shakespearean drama to the present “participation age,” as Scott McNealy called it, communication has never stopped evolving since humans existed. Neither has the necessity of communicating ideas. What is changing though, is the symbiosis of many conversational channels into a highly personalized and, let’s not be afraid of the word — emotional — experience. In times like the present, we understand that it’s the human, warm connection — not just a “convenient” channel like chatbots and AI — that’s making a huge difference for our business.
Paige Arnof-Fenn, Founder & CEO of Mavens & Moguls
As we move into the “new normal”, what Paige Arnof-Fenn calls the power of “empathetic communication with transparency, truthfulness and timeliness”will permanently influence business success. Think of the current “home-based” time as a transition period to create meaningful conversations across all platforms — phone, social media, web, email.
If you need help minimizing stress in managing those platforms, powerful and budget-friendly technology can always help. For example, MightyCall is a platform for business conversations. It’s not just a business phone system, but comes with its own CRM, integrates with social media, calling widgets, and email forms. So your team has a no-hassle environment for conversations with clients, from any place including home.
But no matter what tool you use, the crucial part is to stay authentic in your conversations with clients. As Paige says, “Maybe the silver lining is that this crisis reminds us that we have always needed each other and we have learned that everyone is struggling right now to find a new normal so the key is to show our humanity and compassion while we look out for one another.”
Digital transformation is not a luxury
Digital transformation feels like a big word. And that’s precisely part of the problem why smaller businesses find it a bad fit — and have been avoiding it until being hit with the concept of the “new normal”. In reality, digital transformation has been around for a considerable time, but often hasn’t been “the norm” for small business.
Many smaller teams feel they don’t have the resources, personnel, and time for digital transformation. As we’ve seen due to COVID19, however, a lack of resources is not enough of an excuse when the only alternative is closing shop.
If any tech aspects of the digital world feel strange to navigate (and it’s absolutely normal, they do so for all of us), the answer can be as simple as filling in the gaps with outsourcing.
Eric D. Dickmann, Founder, The Five Echelon Group
For a small business, it’s vital to outsource your “Achilles’ heel”, or any part of your business structure that’s weaker than others. The person who helps you with this doesn’t have to be a full-time employee, but rather an on-demand professional. You can pop into a freelance job marketplace like Upwork to research, find, and hire a part-time digital business advisor, digital marketing professional, virtual assistant, and even virtual CMO.
This doesn’t mean that a business has to overlook other channels and opt for all-around digitalization. As Eric adds, “Networking and word of mouth have always been an important source of new business but we need to be digital in everything we do.”The main point is to fortify your business fortress from all sides.
Automation as a productivity tool
While the world embraces minimalism as a trend, the web is buzzing with productivity hacks and tools. Ironically though, all of these tools are just other apps that we clutter our phones with, further nourishing the app market that caters to decluttering our digital life.
The tool that impacts small business productivity is smart automation. Automation means setting repetitive tasks on repeat and treating your PC and phone as a Marie Kondo home: minimalistic and down to the essentials. All your apps should create an information flow similar to a waterfall flowing into a single clear source.
Like every other solution, automation isn’t a one-size-fits-all deal. You have to be picky about the tasks you perform in a live manner (e.g. customer support, personalized marketing, feedback channels, etc.) and tasks you automate (e.g. repetitive information, information flowing into multiple channels instead of one). As Slack and Flickr co-founder Stewart Butterfield puts it, “There’s a lot of automation that can happen that isn’t a replacement of humans but of mind-numbing behavior.” Use the latter as a yardstick for your selection.
When researching productivity apps, focus on those that actually cut back on your “app time”, like Zapier. We love Zapier because it integrates with literally thousands of apps, allowing you to create an information flow from one app to another. For example, use Gmail with Google Drive to automatically save email attachments to Drive whenever a new attachment arrives. (You can do the same with Dropbox, OneDrive, etc.) Another great option is integrating MightyCall’s business phone system with Zapier to get your call history and contacts automatically sent to Google Sheets, Slack, or CRM.
We’re living in a time that’s setting new criteria for living, socializing, doing business. In the realm of technologies and business practices, the trends that will stay are those that are safe, mobile, and allow us to do more than business, but to extend a helping hand — whether to a friend or stranger, with warmth and gratitude — even a thousand miles apart. The good news is that we can start doing so right now, without waiting for tomorrow.