By Tim Russell
As I observed in my last post, 2020 was, for most businesses, a tough year. Many businesses went to the wall as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. And many of those that survived are downsizing, furloughing staff, or simply keeping their fingers crossed that we make 2021 a better year. It can’t be any worse, surely?
But whilst the pandemic and the accompanying economic crisis are largely beyond our control, there are a few things that we can do to help maximise our chances of not only surviving 2021, but getting through it in good or better shape. Here are a few ideas to help you make 2021 a better year with a positive frame of mind and to put your business in a good position to survive and succeed!
Firstly, and most importantly, if we want to make 2021 a better year, we all need to be realistic. A change of date is not a magical panacea for all the problems we encountered in 2020. And we’re not going to wake up on January 1st and find that the virus has miraculously disappeared. Though of course it would be nice if we did!
This McKinsey survey shows that, whilst businesses are increasingly optimistic about the outlook for the next six months, almost half of respondents don’t think things are going to get any better any time soon:
So for the first couple of quarters of 2021 at least, you may need to stay hunkered down. Hustling for whatever business you can, and using the downtime to do all those jobs you’ve been meaning to do for so long. If you’ve often found yourself saying you can’t implement new technology or processes because you’re too busy with actual customers, now is the time. You may never have a better opportunity!
Sometimes you just have to hold your hands up and admit that your current business model or business type just isn’t working. So perhaps to make 2021 a better year, it’s time to change things up a bit. Maybe you need to change your product or service range. Maybe you need to change your message. Perhaps you need to target a different demographic. Or maybe you simply need to go back to square one and start with a whole new idea.
There are lots of good examples of businesses that found creative ways to pivot in 2020. Hotels, for example, have had to rethink their entire business model in a year when international tourism has pretty much ground to a halt. In my home city of Bangkok, many 5* properties are now offering great value ‘staycations’ for as little as $70. Allowing city dwellers to pamper themselves for a night and enjoy a sumptuous breakfast the next morning before going home. Some hotels are even offering ‘room service’ in your own home.
Another good example is video conferencing solution Zoom. Pre-pandemic, whilst Zoom was already popular with businesses for its efficient and generally gremlin-free video calling, it was little known outside the corporate world. But by positioning itself as the perfect solution for family and friend group calls, it is now globally renowned and its value has increased sevenfold.
There are no doubt dozens of ways your company can pivot to deal with the ongoing challenge of COVID-19. To get you started, here’s a great article from Forbes with ideas from 36 leading entrepreneurs.
Change Your Marketing
Related to the pivot, is taking a fresh approach to marketing to help make 2021 a better year. It may be that your usual marketing methods, particularly if they involve face to face or storefront, are simply impossible in the current climate. It may be that you need to dramatically increase your reach. Or it may be that you need to change the message that you’re putting out to potential customers. Either way, you need to get creative and try new channels and approaches. Have you tried using TikTok for example? Have you tried podcasts or webinars?
I work in the travel technology space. And traditionally we get most of our good leads from travel industry trade shows. However, these just aren’t happening at the moment, and with face-to-face product demos also being impossible, we’ve had to get creative. We’ve used a mix of monthly webinars on travel tech-related topics (usually tied to post-COVID recovery), product demos via Zoom’s screen sharing function. And a simple registration process so prospects can set up an account and trial the software for themselves. Factor in the content marketing strategy and web redesign that I launched a few months ago, and our web traffic more than doubled in 2020. As did our number of leads. And we are even signing up new clients despite the travel industry being pretty much mothballed this year!
Freshen Up Your Website
The first thing I did when I was laid off in March this year was to redesign my photography website. I’d been meaning to do it for a couple of years but could never find the time. Now, time was all I had. So I seized the moment and gave my site a nice new look and feel along with optimising the content.
You don’t have to do a complete redesign of course. What you should be doing is a website audit (have a look at Hubspot’s user-friendly Website Grader tool) to get an idea of where your website is letting you down, and take corrective action.
You’ll almost certainly want to look at speeding up page loading times. Along with updating your plugins, tidying up broken links, optimising your content, and maybe making a few cosmetic improvements. Whatever you do, make sure you read our guide to giving your website a spring clean.
I recently wrote about ways to come up with new business ideas. And the first of those was to spot new trends. You need to be a little obsessive when it comes to reading industry news, looking at Google Trends, chatting to industry peers, and generally keeping your ear to the ground. Try and predict what is going to be the next big trend in your industry, and jump on it before anyone else does.
A quick Google search for ‘2021 business trends’ will give you some initial ideas for trends that you might be able to apply to your own business. Look at trends such as working from home, contactless delivery, telemedicine, online learning, micromobility and so on. Then think about how your company can adopt any of them. For example, most companies can incorporate online learning into their product range. You really only need a smartphone, a tripod and a Youtube/Facebook Live account.
In my sector, domestic travel is likely to continue booming in 2021. With international travel not likely to recover until later in the year. So our focus for the first couple of quarters is going to be on helping travel businesses use our tech to sell more domestic trips. That’s our trend – what’s yours?
Depending on where you’re based, networking may be difficult in the coming weeks. With many countries still on lockdown or limiting gatherings to small numbers. But you can of course network online at webinars or virtual meetings. Or simply catch up with industry colleagues or potential clients you’ve not spoken to for ages via an email or a LinkedIn message. Just the simple gesture of sending someone a quick note asking how 2020 has been for them and to make 2021 a better year is a great way to rekindle relationships and maybe even generate a bit of business.
If you are living in a city or country that has reopened, then start attending as many networking events as you can. Not only is this a great way to meet new clients and partners, but it’s also a very useful way to hear about new trends and what’s happening in your industry.
One other great tip comes from writer Daniel Priestley. In his book Entrepreneur Revolution, he advises business owners to do one very simple thing: take a different person out for lunch every week. This could be an employee, a supplier, a client/prospect, or simply someone else in your industry. Spending an hour over lunch with someone can give you new ideas and insights. As well as expanding your circle of connections and also simply giving you the warm buzz of having done something nice. And of course raising your stock with the recipients! Which brings us onto…
Of course, you should always be kind. But in the current climate, being kind is even more important. Everyone you interact with – employees, job applicants, clients, suppliers etc – is going through their own struggles this year. And everyone needs an arm round the shoulder, a nice gesture, or some good news. During the four months I was out of work earlier this year, I haven’t forgotten those people who helped me out. Either by recommending me to employers, giving me freelance work, or simply sending the occasional supportive messages. Just as I won’t forget those who didn’t reply to lengthy job applications, expected me to work for nothing, or generally wasted my time!
Also, the pandemic has helped people focus on sustainability and environmental issues. For example many cities are experiencing much cleaner air as a result of less tourism or commuting. And consumers are putting sustainability first when it comes to making purchasing decisions, as this survey from GlobalWebIndex indicates:
CSR is never a bad idea, but it’s becoming more and more important. It is attractive both to customers and also to employees and applicants alike. In 2020 we’ve seen some great CSR initiatives. Such as online learning companies giving away courses for free. Supermarkets and food delivery companies donating to food banks. And here in Bangkok, companies delivering food parcels to hard-hit poor communities in the city. So think about how your business can give something back to your local community. You’ll do good and feel good, and your business will get to polish its halo.
Finally, the fact you’ve survived 2020 and are reading this means you’ve already shown some resilience! Many of us have been tested like never before this year. And so resilience and strength have been essential qualities for entrepreneurs. Resilience involves staying mentally and physically healthy, nurturing positive relationships (and avoiding negative ones!), and sticking to your values and purpose.
In this recent post, we wrote about the change, accept or leave strategy to dealing with issues, and why it is a vital part of resilience. Basically, when you have a difficult situation, you can either actively try and change it; if you can’t change it, you have to try and accept it; and if you can do neither, you simply have to walk away and try something else. We can’t change the existence of COVID-19. But we can’t simply walk away from it either. So we have to accept it is going to be with us for a while longer and deal with it – and its effects – accordingly!
There is no magic wand we can wave or silver bullet we can fire to make 2021 a better year. And being realistic the struggles we faced in 2020 will still be around for several months into the new year. But by being flexible, creative, well-informed, resilient, and kind to others, we can at least give ourselves a good springboard for making 2021 the year we begin our recovery from the horrors of 2020. We wish you every success in the new year and will be rooting for you every step of the way!