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Identifying new business pathways as the population deals with ongoing pandemic impacts

Avatar photo by Casey Woods, Executive Director | June 3, 2020
We do a lot of individual business consultations at Emporia Main Street. We prefer individual meetings for “deep dives” because we understand the unique nature of our member businesses. Recommendations that are so broad that they apply to everyone typically boarder on common sense. Specific recommendations for a singular business sometimes doesn’t cross apply to other business types. Through business consultations as entities are recovering from Covid restrictions, we are giving some specific information to individual members that may not apply well to other business types. However, we are also seeing a few common themes that we would like local businesses to consider as they move forward:

1. Treat your reopening like a new business startup.- Remember when you were approaching your grand opening? You probably held a soft opening to test out products/services/procedures. You reached out to local media (and Emporia Main Street) with hours of operation, photos, videos, press releases, etc. You showed some excitement to welcome people to your business. You took customer suggestions and were open minded about basic change requests. You were a sponge that absorbed outside information and converted it into actionable products and services to boost sales. Regardless of how long you’ve been in business, the psychological shock of the pandemic has placed you directly into the “new business” mindset.

2. Good businesses invest in their customers, and it is time to call in some of that good will.- Businesses that have great service, unique product offerings, and focus on experiences have a customer base that loves them. When you “soft open”, reach out to your established customers first. Let them know how important they are to your future success. Impress upon them that you NEED them as customers, brand advocates, and emotional support. The relationship between a small business and their consumer base is symbiotic. Customers WANT their favorite businesses to succeed, but they aren’t always sure how to help. You need to invite your customers into your process to encourage continued support. Now is not the time to shut yourself off. Use polls to drive certain product decisions, ask your customers to help magnify your message, and encourage their support for you through the sales of your products/services.

3. Entrepreneurial skill sets will be rewarded if implemented properly.- Good entrepreneurs stay on the balls of their feet. They can pivot to take advantage of opportunities or mitigate threats. Think how the market is different right now. Do consumers want different products? Have their spending habits changed? Are they bored and looking for things to do (or just a human connection)? Figuring out how to monetize the changes in the market to support your business operations is critical for your future, but adapting to market realities is important for your customers too. You have to change to meet the changing needs of your clients. Go beyond “we are open” to explain how your business has adapted to meet the needs of your valued customers. Don’t be a business that simply puts out another generic “we care” message, but show why you are necessary in the lives of your consumers through innovative products and services that meet your clients needs within the context of the time we are in.

4. Your consumer isn’t a single individual with a single mind set, so you must stratify your marketing approach.- The single business marketing mistake we see from businesses is the assumption that all consumers act the same and have the same basic wants/needs. Even worse, many entrepreneurs assume that everyone thinks and acts like them. Your consuming public is diverse. In last week’s e-news concerning consumer preferences, information was all over the spectrum. You have to understand that your customers may have wants/needs/expectations that vary wildly. Take some time to sit down and categorize each of your basic consumer groups. You will need standardized “overall” messaging to maintain your brand, but you will undoubtedly need to form specific marketing strategies to effectively reach out to each of your separate customer groups. If a business has an owner that thinks the pandemic is “no big deal” and opens without any changes, they will probably lose business. If a business has an owner that is completely freaked out and paralyzed by the pandemic to the point that they refuse to move forward, they will probably lose business. There are ways that you can adapt for the whole, but communicate differently to the unique slices of your overall customer mix.

5. Look to industry associations and similar businesses (outside of the region) for R & D.- There are uniform approaches that businesses can take through a collaborative local approach (mask usage for employees, the availability of hand sanitizer, easy to find product/hours information online, etc.), but there are a lot of really industry specific national resources that allow you to research how a business just like yours is handling the pandemic in another state (or several other states). If you want to stand out, copying people within driving distance isn’t the way to go. But, you can ripoff and duplicate business practices outside of the immediate area by searching for professional groups that represent your narrow business field and adopting the ideas that appeal to you.

6. Reciprocal partnerships are critical right now.- When cash is tight, some businesses look immediately inward and try to take 100% of all opportunities for themselves. As a person in a small office with a tiny employment base, that strategy isn’t sustainable. Look for ways that you can partner in mutually beneficial scenarios with other businesses. These partnerships should share risks and rewards as you work collaboratively to encourage individual customer bases to engage your business and your partners.

7. Your best decisions will be supported by data and emotion, but if you have to choose one decision making foundation, choose data.- Throughout this pandemic, information has changed. The nature of peer reviewed science means that information changes as better science generates better data. Dismissing data because it doesn’t fit your narrative isn’t helpful. Looking backwards to generate decisions as opposed to registering changes in information to promote better decisions isn’t helpful. Trying to prognosticate several months into the future, when we’ve seen how wrong some past predictions were, isn’t helpful. Making decisions based on what you think will be the best public relations move, versus what the data tells us, isn’t helpful. In a time where emotions run high, logic and pragmatic data driven approaches must serve as the foundation for decision making.

8. Your goal shouldn’t be to regain the past, it should be to grow to the future.- Most of the businesses we council immediately point to past losses, or “where we were”. While that may be emotionally satisfying, dwelling on the past doesn’t help you prepare for the future. Obviously, business is different now. You must adapt. Remember that when scientists describe evolution, they point to species that died out and note that they were resistant to change.

9. This is an opportunity to implement your “I always wanted to do” list.-7 The bright spot in the business reinvention discussion is that most of you have a list of “stuff” that you wanted to do for your business, but you never got around to. Find the silver lining in your business reboot: you can test out some of the strategies you’ve always wanted to implement.

10. Your brand is not confined to your building.- When most businesses talk about their mission, vision, or brand, their specific building address is nowhere in the conversation. Why is that? Your brand goes beyond your own four walls, and you need to extend your selling platforms, activities, and products/services outside of your physical space. Look at your brand. How can you take what is important to your business and replicate it outside of your building? How can you engage your customers where they are? How can your business extend what your are about (more than just your products/services- your actual core values) to your market trade area?]

I know this pandemic is rough on everyone. We all have to make adjustments to compensate for differences in regulations, consumer preferences, and safety expectations. Working the problem can make you feel more in control of your situation and can get you back on the path to business productivity. Try to change your perspective to a new beginning for your business, and stretch your innovation talents. If you need help, Emporia Main Street has counseled several area businesses, and we will do our best to help yours.

#Business Enhancement #COVID19

About the Author

Casey Woods, Executive Director

Before accepting the director position in March of 2009, Casey worked in both retail and agricultural jobs in the family businesses. A lifelong resident of the Emporia Area, Casey was a ten year volunteer for Emporia Main Street prior to his appointment as director. During that time he served as the board president and chair of the Economic Vitality Committee.

Casey also serves as a partner in PlaceMakers, LLC, a consulting firm that routinely works with both large and small communities, and their businesses, to promote sustainable economic growth through community and economic development practices. Casey consults with businesses, organizations and communities to understand their market capacity and fill vacant spaces. He has been involved in two projects that included crowdfunding as a part of their overall business funding strategies, Radius Brewing and Twin Rivers Winery & Gourmet Shoppe.