5 Helpful Small Business Lessons to Learn from 2021

2021 has been a year of perseverance and recovery for small businesses. Owners who had to temporarily shut down their business had to reopen in an unpredictable environment, pivot to socially distant delivery models, and navigate economic relief programs. Despite these challenges, many are adapting to this new normal. So what did they learn from 2021 that helped them survive? Take a look at some lessons learned and see what you can apply toward a successful new year.

Continue Staying Connected With Customers

There are two important reasons why it is so important to stay in touch with customers. First, it reassures them you’re still here. You can be trusted to answer questions and resolve any customer service issues. Second, it lets them know how they can buy from you. That might include when you’re open, what delivery options might be available, or if any online shopping is available.

Social media and email are great modes for socially distant communication. Both are low-cost and can be distributed quickly to a wide audience. Some businesses are adding a video component to increase engagement. Here are five ideas to turbocharge your virtual communication with video.

Keep Your Website Current

If prospective customers can’t come to your store, they’ll shop around to find a virtual storefront—your website. So be sure it’s a good experience. For example, how long does it take for your site to load? Best practices say it should be three seconds or less. Check with your hosting provider to see if it’s longer than that.

Be sure to update the basics. That includes your phone number, email address, days/hours of operation and any customer service links. Let customers know what you’re doing to ensure a safe shopping experience.

Always Have a Plan B (or even a Plan C)

Change is the one constant business can take to the bank. During the pandemic, restaurants learned to pivot from inhouse dining to patio-only service to carry-out only options (and back again). That’s why it’s important for businesses to make contingency plans.

How might you respond to a change in the market and what can you do now to prepare for it? For example, some businesses experienced disruptions in their supply chain. Vendors they did business with could no longer deliver needed supplies. But small businesses who had previously established relationships with alternate suppliers could more easily pivot and fill in the gaps.

Mind maps can be a helpful tool in planning for “what if” situations. Take a look at this tool to help you create a customized map based on the factors that impact your business.

Actively Manage Your Cash Flow

Even when times are good, cash flow management can be challenging. That’s especially true for small businesses that operate on a thin margin. You need the right balance of money coming in to pay out your debts. That means staying on top of factors like expense management.

It also means having access to more cash. Some businesses establish a line of credit before they need it. That’s when you have the greatest leverage with lenders. And it doesn’t cost you anything until you use it. This webinar from SCORE is a helpful resource in evaluating access to capital.

Deliver Digitally

The expression “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” applies when it comes to delivering your product. If customers can’t shop in person, you need to offer digital alternatives. In a recent study, nearly half of businesses surveyed implemented an online store last year (another 28% plan to add one).

One option is to build your own online platform with hosted sites like Shopify or Big Commerce. Another is to use existing platforms like Amazon or Facebook Marketplace which already have a large audience.

It’s likely even the best of business planners did not forecast what the pandemic would bring to the small business marketplace. But it’s important to take those hard-earned lessons forward into this year. Take a look at these lessons to see if they can help guide your 2022 plan.

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