"I Changed My Business Because of COVID-19. Now What?"
Many entrepreneurs have pivoted online, offering new digital services in order to keep their business afloat. Now they’re wondering: Is this really sustainable?
Small-business expert Amanda Brinkman offers a surprising answer: Not only is it sustainable — it might be better for your business! “I think this is something you can sustain well past when this crisis is behind us,” she says.
To dig into the details, we arranged a coaching session between Amanda and an entrepreneur who’s been wrestling with this exact question — and we filmed it so you can watch.
The entrepreneur is Leigh Ann Cannady, founder of the Forsyth Academy of Performing Arts, a children’s performing arts school in Cumming, Ga. Cannady’s team has developed a wide range of digital classes and programs, but she’s worried about how long they’ll keep customers engaged. That’s the question we brought to Brinkman, Deluxe's chief brand officer, who’s also the host of its Small Business Revolution show on Hulu.
Here are three big takeaways from Brinkman:
1. Use this time to focus on solutions.
As entrepreneurs scramble today, many are looking for short-term solutions — just something to keep some revenue coming in. Brinkman says that’s the wrong way to look at it. Instead, see this as a time to develop new ideas, lean heavily into them and build an infrastructure that can sustain them going forward.
“I really feel like in times of great need, and times of pressure on the business, you're forced to pivot quickly — and sometimes we almost need these outside forces to drive us into solutions,” she says. She encourages entrepreneurs to focus on what their business does well, where areas of growth are and what consumers might want long after this crisis is over.
In other words, don’t think of your solutions as short-term. Think of them as new opportunities that you’re developing for the future.
2. You’re a digital company now, so act like it!
Brinkman is seeing a pattern: Many local businesses are now offering services online but still think of themselves as a local business. That’s a missed opportunity — because online services can reach customers globally.
To reach these new customers, however, a business will need to think its online strategy.
“Your findability online comes down to a couple of different sources that search engines use to triangulate the data,” Brinkman says. Every entrepreneur, even a local one, should start investing in improving findability. For example, is the business set up on Google My Business? On Yelp? Are these pages robust — full of photos and up-to-date information? Is someone from the business quickly replying to all comments? And are you categorized properly — not just as a local business, but as a global one offering a wide range of services?
Cannady did some of this well, but not everything. She wasn’t on Yelp, for example. “When I think about Yelp, I think about what restaurant I want to have dinner at,” she admits.
3. Change the conversation with your consumer.
Language matters — and businesses should pick the right words for the right time. At this moment, for example, people may be on tight budgets, but they also likely want or need the services a business has to offer. So how can the business ask for payment without seeming inattentive to people’s needs?
“Start using terminology like donate,” Brinkman says. “You could say, ‘We want people to attend [our online services], we don't want price to be a barrier, but if you're able to, we want to be able to compensate our staff for the great work they're doing.’”
This way, she says, people feel good about helping the business. It can be the beginning of a new kind of relationship — one that evolves once the world opens back up.
For more great advice, watch the video above!