Embracing SMB Challenges Provides Opportunities For Growth
2020-21 Brought its share of obstacles, but successful small business owners look for unique ways to adapt and thrive.
As the world rides the waves of the COVID-19 pandemic, small to medium sized businesses in the US remain on the front lines of those impacted by changing social needs and dynamic economic realities. Brick-and-mortar business opened back up in tandem with the vaccine rollout in late spring, and consumer spending in April of this year was higher than pre-pandemic levels. Economic growth is predicted to continue at a much lower but still positive rate in the third and fourth quarters of 2021.
Despite the broader economic uptick, SMBs face continued hiccups including hiring and staffing difficulties, housing shortages, production line interruptions, and social distancing restrictions. Many businesses have been forced to adapt — or to shutter. As we look towards 2022, what SMB challenges can we expect to see? And within those challenges, how can we find opportunities to thrive?
The Challenge: Struggles finding and retaining skilled workers
As of this spring, nearly 4 million fewer Americans were in the workforce than before the start of the pandemic. Women, who were the most impacted by struggles with childcare and school closings, have had to put careers on hold. Combined with chronic underpay, insufficient benefits, and overtime working conditions ranging from unprotected factory workers to “hustle-culture” startups, COVID-19 put America’s growing workforce crisis in a pressure cooker. The simplest approach is to compete through attractive salaries and benefits — taking care of your people in a way that most businesses don’t offer. In addition, we suggest combining those tangibles with an even more foundational approach — a tact which can bolster the magnetism of even cash-strapped SMBs.
The Opportunity: Invest in a magnetic company culture
The pandemic invited people to ask themselves — what do I really want to be doing with my life? What matters to me? For SMBs, the answer is in creating a company culture aligned with employees’ personal values. This can be done within any budget, industry, and size of organization. A strong company culture might include group bonding activities, and opportunities to work from home or bring your dog to the office, but it also should go deeper than that. It’s about your brand’s purpose — what drives you to do the work you do? What difference do you make in your community or the world around you? What beliefs and values guide your approach to doing business? A brand strategy that includes your mission, vision, and core values will help your employees feel like they are not just laying bricks — they’re building a cathedral.
But, let’s be real — for individual employees, group bonding and working towards “the greater good” doesn’t pay the bills. Companies should consider reframing their profitability to include the success and wellbeing of their team members, with moves such as raising prices to account for the full value of products and services, decreasing the number of open or working hours, increasing worker compensation, and going remote as a company to save on overhead like rent and utilities all playing a potential role in facilitating those moves successfully. As a company working to build great culture, remember that talk is cheap — platforms such as Glassdoor make it easy for potential hires to see if your company walks the walk. And whether your company has been navigating the pandemic with employee wellbeing at the forefront, or has some room for improvement, it’s never too late to embrace the sustainable framework of the “triple bottom line” — profits, people, and the planet.
The Challenge: Hard to stand out online
The pandemic threw our already-digital-heavy economy further online in nearly every industry. Now that former differentiators like solid brand photography and SEO strategy have become more ubiquitous, how can SMBs overcome modern marketing challenges to stand out and succeed?
The Opportunity: Build inspiring brand connections
Increasingly, people appreciate and buy from purpose-driven businesses. Whether it’s an actual nonprofit organization dedicated to a world-changing mission, a manufacturer committed to sustainable and ethical sourcing and production practices, or a small business that donates back time, money, and energy to community-level efforts, giving back is something that every SMB can and should embrace. Do good while doing well. In today’s age of social change and environmental need, customers and clients are increasingly familiar with the adage that we “vote with our dollars.” Even younger generations with limited, nascent-career wages want their purchasing power to align with their personal values. When you consider the brand narrative your company shares online, what purpose-driven stories are you telling? Partnering with the social media, content strategy, and digital marketing experts at Big Storm can help you make the most of every digital opportunity.
The Challenge: Tech overwhelm
As marketing technology advances into 2022, staying ahead of the game isn’t easy. Two of the most common SMB challenges in marketing technology are redundancy and integration. Sometimes, tech solutions actually create problems by duplicating efforts, thereby increasing the time your team must spend within each platform. Another SMB challenge in marketing tech is integration — digital platforms that either aren’t being used to their full potential, or have incompatibilities with one another.
The Solution: Tech with a human touch
Leaning into technology has the potential to provide huge benefits — if the right people are at the helm of your strategy and implementation. Whether you choose to build a talented team in-house, or outsource and benefit from the expertise, creativity, and strategy of Big Storm, your tech is only as good as the people running the show. Technology is a means, not an end — when utilized well, it supports authentic and genuine company-to-customer connections but doesn’t replace them.
The Challenge: Low sales
Inflation. Decreased purchasing power. Supply chain disruptions. Fiscally conservative consumers. One of the biggest SMB challenges of the pandemic, decreased sales will likely continue into the near future, making it hard to attract new customers.
The Solution: Lifelong customer relationships
When sales are down, it’s more important to keep investing in the people who already know and support your brand. Enduring relationships are rooted in more than just the products you sell. To really build loyalty, it takes a positive, memorable experience before, during, and after the sale. Take into consideration all your client touchpoints — marketing, web UX, in-store experience, account management, and post-sale support. Each one is an opportunity to offer value through a quality product, magnetic branding, or good old-fashioned human interaction. Be sure your team members in charge of these touchpoints have a strong understanding of the role each element plays in the big picture — building lifelong customer loyalty.
The past year has been a lesson in resilience. We won’t know for certain what marketing challenges 2022 will bring until the new year. But, by anticipating likely business challenges and the opportunities within them, small businesses can plan for the future with optimism and confidence.