- 2020 was a tough year for small businesses. The global pandemic impacted people across the globe and businesses were forced to adapt.
- One of the main lessons learnt over the past year is the importance of being digitally savvy. Tech and digital tools have helped small businesses survive.
- In this article, we look at some of the digital trends that small businesses harnessed during the pandemic and will continue to focus on in the year to come.
The past year was especially devastating for SMEs, who worldwide, were the most affected by the global pandemic.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), 35% of small businesses reported that they expected to find it difficult or very difficult to meet financial commitments over the next 3 months. That’s almost twice that of large businesses - whose number tallied 18%.
Now almost a few months into 2021 and things are beginning to settle. Lockdowns are still de rigueur worldwide, but luckily they are getting results. Initial vaccine rollouts may have been slow from the outset, but millions have already received their second and (fingers crossed!) final shots.
All of this means that SMEs can now begin to focus on getting back to 'normal' or finding the best way to run their businesses in these uncertain times. But what is this new normal? And how have small businesses shifted their focus?
While many brick and mortar shops need to stay shuttered to ensure social distancing, there are still plenty of ways to reach the masses. The past year has taught small businesses many ways to be more digitally savvy, mostly because they HAD to. But what does that mean as restrictions are lifted?
To find out, I reached out to small business owners around the world to learn more about the areas they will be focusing on in the year to come.
What Are the Top Digital Trends for Small Businesses in 2021?
Digitisation will continue to play an integral role with many SME owners focusing on its use in marketing, automation and more. Here are a few ways that tech will influence this sphere in the upcoming months:
- More aggressive (organic) digital marketing tactics
- Leveraging social media
- Automation and virtual tools
1. More Aggressive (Organic) Digital Marketing Tactics
When lockdowns started, the internet was the only connection many people had to the outside world. So as businesses made the jump to e-commerce, that brought a push for more digital marketing.
David Pawlan, Co-Founder of Chicago-based Aloa shares his strategy of monthly implemented “Collaboration KPIs.” Collaboration KIPs are quotas on the number of collaborations team members need to hit per month. Ranging from being featured in a blog or a podcast or even being a guest writer.
This is a simple and cost-effective practice that can widen a company’s digital footprint and get them into new market segments. It’s not surprising that many small businesses are looking to incorporate other such ways to grow organically.
For instance, Joshua Wood, founder and CEO of Bloc in the UK writes how his company has been doing this with "different growth hacks." Joshua commented:
“With reduced marketing budgets due to COVID-19, SMBs can't advertise like they did in 2019. To combat this we have introduced a growth hack within our app so our users invite their friends and get rewarded within the app with real money.”
And for those with even smaller marketing budgets, you should consider optimising your digital content with some SEO best practices. Jessica Rose, CEO of Copper H2O had this to add about her own company as of late:
“Our #1 tip is to conduct detailed keyword research to optimise your blog posts. Find the most relevant keywords, with the highest search volumes, related to your subject. Then think of ways to make substantive additions to your blog post which address those related keywords.”
That way, your site will gain more exposure with just a few tweaks. And since more people are spending more time online, there’s a higher chance to catch a broader audience.
2. Leveraging Social Media
Small businesses are also embracing current trends for digital socialising by using the power of social media. According to Statista's 2021 projections, social media ad spending is set to hit an all-time high of US$110,628 million dollars over the next year.
This makes sense. There has been a noticeable boost in the amount of time people are spending on social platforms. Datareportal estimated that users will spend a total of 3.7 trillion hours on social media in 2021, so it’s no wonder SMEs are flocking to platforms such as Instagram and Facebook.
Another site that saw some unexpectedly big gains was TikTok. The site became the number one downloaded app in 2020, and businesses are taking note.
Wil Martin from heyitswil.com provides some stats to show how lucrative this site has become:
“We launched our TikTok account focused on sharing valuable SEO & content marketing tips back in September and since then we’ve gained over 6,000 new followers, gotten over 100 leads, and gained 6 new high-profile clients.”
This shows how one small change to your strategy can have such a positive impact on other areas of your business. This is great news for businesses with limited resources, budgets and time.
In a world where your website is your business card, social media gives your company a chance to shine and showcase what your brand represents. This can be a major advantage for SMEs Jack Klauber, founder and CEO of Everyday Dose put it:
“Social media allows smaller businesses a chance to make a community online. Big corporations will never have an intimate feel with their customers, but this is where the little guy can thrive.”
Social media is an online space that allows you to connect directly with customers regardless of where they are located. You can leverage the platforms to build your brand while also promoting your products or services. It’s a win-win!
3. Automation and Virtual Tools
The final way that businesses are utilising digitalisation is by incorporating it into their workflows.
Chatbots took off in 2020 and it's predicted that their usefulness will prevail into 2021. Kevin Mercer, founder of the travel Blog Kevmrc.com writes how his company will be utilising a mix of chatbots and AI in the year to come:
“We've seen a lot of experiments in the past regarding chatbots and most customers seem to prefer them. Chatbots instantly answer any query that customers might have without them having to sit through a long queue to be connected to the website's support team. Consumers really do prefer quick answers to simple questions and that will likely be the standard for businesses in 2021.”
Skipping a long queue has some tangible benefits for clients. But for companies, chatbots can also be a real timesaver. Another way to avoid wasting time is with no-code tools. Annabel Maw from JotForm elaborates on why:
“No-code tools are going to be huge in 2021. The reason? They're convenient and anyone can use them. No-code tools allow teammates to do more with less.”
No-code tools and platforms take away the steep learning curve associated with app development and web design and connect the tools we use on a daily basis - especially now with many people working from home.
Virtual tools like Zoom and Slack have helped many of us do our jobs safely and socially distanced and for some industries such as real estate, there will be even more tech integration this year.
Chad Massaker, Commercial Real Estate Strategist at This Pisaneschi Group at COMPASS elaborates.
“We've leveraged existing technologies such as meeting platforms like Zoom and Google hangouts to have real time interactions with customers while we have an agent at the subject property. Now, we're examining the viability of a completely agentless walkthrough experience by using WiFi controlled locks to open the door and let people in. ”
Whichever combination of virtual tools your team favours, there’s little chance that they’ll be going away anytime soon. Until enough people have been vaccinated, they will be our only choice to continue doing our jobs safely and effectively.
How is your business harnessing digital technology? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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