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The Changes That Will Forever Transform How Entrepreneurs Operate in 2021 Entrepreneurs need to understand and adapt to shifts ushered in during 2020 in order to remain competitive going forward.

By Jeremy Knauff

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Dilok Klaisataporn | Getty Images

We all can agree that 2020 was a wild ride, and while we faced rapid change, the reality is these changes were already coming. The chaos only hastened them.

For a lot of entrepreneurs, this meant figuring out how to transition to a remote workforce, do business online or even invent a new business out of thin air because their industry was completely shut down — all virtually overnight.

But at this point, the genie is out of the bottle and there's no going back. And that's OK, because this kind of radical and rapid change happens every so often. I remember going through the 2008 crash, as well as the dot-com bubble in the late 1990s. And long before my time, we had the Industrial Revolution, the Great Depression and the Space Age. This is all just a natural part of life.

The business landscape has changed permanently, and if we want to continue to be successful, we need to be aware of these changes, anticipate how they will affect us, and quickly adapt.

Related: How to Go Full Entrepreneur in 2021

We all need a personal brand

Until recently, most entrepreneurs didn't need a personal brand. That was usually limited to entrepreneurs like Tony Robbins, Oprah Winfrey and Robert Kiyosaki, who built businesses around both their knowledge and personality. But today, everyone needs a personal brand.

This is because people want to do business with brands that align with their values, and now they're able to quickly determine exactly where a brand stands with a quick search. And that extends to the people behind the brand, because the truth is that people connect with people, not companies.

Think about the brands you're passionate about. Apple had Steve Jobs. Virgin has Richard Branson. And FUBU had Daymon John. This mindset, combined with reality television and social media, made a personal brand a necessity.

Shows like The Osbournes and Keeping Up with the Kardashians made reality television mainstream, giving more people than ever before the belief that they can become a celebrity. And because of social media, we no longer need a television network to archive that.

As faster mobile bandwidth made video viable, social media became both a catalyst for the necessity of, and a powerful tool for, the creation of personal brands. This is because video allows you to build rapport in ways that other mediums simply cannot. It showcases your personality in a way that almost instantly either attracts or repels people. As many people started to document every aspect of their lives, both personally and professionally, it forced others to follow suit. First with text and images, and now with video.

A perfect example is Gary Vaynerchuk, who started off posting terrible videos on his Wine Library YouTube channel, and soon after, began posting video to pretty much every social media platform multiple times per day.

"Every entrepreneur has a personal brand already, whether they realize it or not," says Cheryl Snapp Conner, CEO of SnappConner PR. "We tend to forget — even 'invisible' is a brand. Even taking a few straightforward steps in news or video to share the information and expertise you have that others would want to know more about, you will be well ahead of others in the game."

Conner also notes that advancing your personal brand also helps to put a human face on your business that makes it easier for others to relate with you more fully.

Remote workforce and technology

Most entrepreneurs experienced a massive shakeup when lockdowns completely transformed the workplace. Whether inspired by mandates or by health concerns, many employers immediately transitioned to a remote workforce. Some adapted smoothly while others had a bumpier ride. But the silver lining was that most eventually figured it all out, and that demonstrated to the entire world that a remote workforce is not only viable but often, preferable.

The ability to work from home is a great perk to offer potential job candidates, but a remote workforce also gives employers a significantly larger pool of qualified job candidates to choose from. Depending on the tasks and how well-documented your process is, you could even choose to hire from outside your own country.

And there are financial benefits too. Studies show that not only is productivity not decreased but in many cases, it's actually increased. These are just some of the reasons that employers like Adobe, Microsoft and Facebook are transitioning to a mostly remote workforce. But this requires the right technology, and many realized that theirs was woefully inadequate. Having employees work from home is one thing, but having them be productive and secure is something else entirely.

In a remote work environment, it's critical to have not only the right hardware and software to do the job, but also to protect your data, because a data breach can be devastating, both financially and from the perspective of lost time and damage to your brand's reputation.

And then there's the other side of tech: automation. While certain tasks should be handled only by key employees and others should be delegated to lower-level employees or virtual assistants, another group of tasks shouldn't be handled by anyone. What I mean by that is rather than a human getting involved in certain tasks, they should be automated. There are a lot of different ways to do this, but in most cases, it comes down to using software like Zapier or IFTTT to connect various tools in your workflow and automate a series of actions.

For example, in my agency, when we create a new customer in our accounting system, their project is automatically created in our project-management system. Once that happens, a shared folder is automatically created for that customer on our cloud storage. All of these steps happen immediately and automatically without any human intervention.

The individual tools aren't important. What is important is that there is software available to connect just about any tool you might use in your workflow to another tool in your workflow to automate certain tasks.

The key is knowing what to automate and what not to automate. A remote workforce coupled with the right technology can help a scrappy startup go toe to toe with an industry behemoth if you play your cards right. But technology's role goes even deeper.

The fourth industrial revolution, commonly referred to as Industry 4.0, will unite many emerging technologies, including big data, machine learning and the Internet of Things, or IoT — yet take it a step further into smart manufacturing, the Industrial Internet of Things. This will have a tremendous impact on industries like manufacturing and logistics, but its effects will quickly trickle into every aspect of our daily lives.

Early adopters will be rewarded with more efficient prototyping, manufacturing, and distribution, creating tremendous competitive advantages. These improvements will also lead to product and service innovation, reduced cost and more choices for consumers.

Related: Trends That Can Move Your Business Forward in 2021

We need to build relationships with our customers

Brands that can make customers feel valued tend to earn a more loyal audience of eager customers. This is important because it's not just about a transaction — it's about a relationship. In today's world, customers have far more flexibility than ever before in which brands they choose to do business with.

That decision comes down to whether that brand aligns with their values and values them as an individual. Once they've narrowed their choices down to brands that align with their values and nurtures a relationship with them, then they'll further narrow their choice based on price and capabilities.

In other words, if you're not putting in the effort to build and nurture a relationship in a way that makes them feel valued and appreciated, you'll never even get into the running. If this sounds like a lot of work, that's because it is. But that also means most of your competitors won't do it. That creates a powerful advantage for brands that do. This mindset needs to start at the top of your organization you need to empower your team to follow through on this mindset.

One approach is giving them complete autonomy to make a problem right, up to a particular dollar amount, with no need to bring in a supervisor. That might include issuing a refund, free bonuses or another solution. But when your employees can solve a problem on the spot without a lot of bureaucracy, it goes a long way in solidifying the customer's relationship with your brand.

We also need to consistently nurture these relationships. This might include regularly following up with your customers just to check on them — not to try to sell them something. There are a lot of tools you can use to streamline your efforts here, but a solid CRM should handle a lot of the heavy lifting. The key is to set a regular schedule to engage with your customers outside of your regular marketing efforts. You can also use social media, especially platforms like the newly launched Clubhouse that enable you to more effectively scale one-to-one communications.

After a challenging year for all of us, it's time to try and forge a productive path ahead. Hopefully, the above guidance can help you get started.

Jeremy Knauff

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor


Jeremy Knauff has become successful not because of brilliance, charm or a superpower, but rather because he’s always learning and refuses to give up. He is a speaker, author and founder of the digital marketing agency Spartan Media.

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