I will start by stating the obvious: Things really have changed, and some things will never go back to where they were.
As you read those words, I want you to really think about what your gut reaction is to them. Do they scare you? Make you angry? Make you excited, more engaged?
Everything I teach and coach involves personal development, so I’m going to start this discussion from that vantage point because how well you make changes has everything to do with your personality, your motivations, strengths and weaknesses. I’ll list a few of the top changes that businesses are needing to make, for now and really forever, if they are to continue to succeed. However, I’ll also include what you personally will need to hone your skills on, and what basic tools will set you up for success.
The challenge: If you are a business, not having a website and some form of presence on a social media platform that is appropriate for your business, you need to get one, even before COVID-19 came on the scene. Previously, these were tools that just made you easier to find by potential customers and gave you the opportunity to be accessible to them 24/7.
Now, it’s imperative, an absolute requirement, as people are resetting their habits to shop and search online first, and exclusively. If you are no where to be found, you are losing out on a customer base that is actively searching for YOU.
What you need to develop in hard skills: If you’ve been allergic to technology, it’s time to seek out someone who is a good teacher to explain the value of websites, and other technology platforms. You are never too old to learn. If you have been investing in traditional advertising, your dollars can be far better spent in creating a website that is going to get your business found, and be interactive with your customers. You can receive orders from customers anytime of the day, and if you have found a marketing email platform like Constant Contact, ACT, or Mail Chimp, you can set up auto-responses to let them know you’re on it.
What you need to develop personally: If you felt your stomach contracting when I spoke of change, and you aren’t savvy with technology, this is the time to take this challenge, which could paralyze you, and put it down on paper. In one column, write down what scares you or at least makes you very uncomfortable. In another column, write down why that is. Perhaps it’s a negative experience or a lack of experience. Then, in a third column, start brainstorming what you can do to overcome it. Steps as simple as taking a 101 course in understanding how websites work, interviewing website developers, and even such detail as the questions you will have for that person to help you become comfortable.
Often this exercise is a way of unloading those negative thoughts and putting them down on paper, where they don’t seem so daunting anymore. Then you can also share them with someone you trust to help you achieve these mini-goals. In any circumstance, you will be more successful when you ask for help. If that’s a problem, you need to then examine what it is that keeps you from asking for assistance. If you fear embarrassment, feeling dumb, or vulnerable, realize that no one is an expert on everything, and that you are likely an expert for someone else. If you helped someone, did you consider them dumb or make them feel embarrassed? Likely not. So give yourself a little grace, and get help wherever it’s available.
Growing your business with what you’ve already got
The challenge: Getting a new customer is fantastic, but it’s also costly, as much as five times as expensive as developing your existing base. So, how can you grow with what you’ve already got?
What you need to develop in hard skills: Let’s say you came into the pandemic with 100 loyal customers. By loyal, I mean they are committed to working with you even if a competitor came knocking on their door. These are not just customers, but they are also 100 opportunities to provide referrals, testimonials, and evangalize on behalf of your business.
It’s time to invest in them just a little bit more with good marketing offers for their loyalty. Create email marketing campaigns that recognizes them, and then asks them to in turn share their experience with someone they feel would also benefit. They essentially are doing the work for you! Again, platforms like Constant Contact can send personalized emails to them to stay in touch. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) programs like ACT or Salesforce can get extremely detailed in how you can stay in touch with your existing customers and track their responses, making each feel like they are the only and most important customer you have.
What you need to develop personally: Hopefully, you can look at your customers and not just see dollar signs. They will see through you, and soon become former customers. I encourage people to really develop listening and empathy skills. Often it’s that five extra minutes of chatter about someone’s alma mater, or where they vacation with their family, that can close a sale, or increase it. These are the times where you can see the return if you become less concerned about the almighty dollar, and instead see your clients as people who have their own concerns, and then you change from being a sales person to a helpful and valuable resource.
Telling your story, living your values
The challenge: There’s always competition, so you need to stand apart, especially if you are in a business that isn’t exactly unique.
What you need to develop in hard skills: Communication could be a soft skill, but sharing it is definitely a hard skill. If you aren’t good in putting two words together, especially in a web environment, it’s a solid investment to hire a writer who can. Your story is the only thing that makes you unique, and it’s likely what gives you the foundation for the values your business stands for. If you have not developed a mission or vision statement, or have expressed a corporate value statement, that writer you’re going to hire will help you with that, too. People want to do business with companies they feel proud to know. If your story helps develop that “warm and fuzzy” feeling, you become far more attractive.
What you need to develop in soft skills: Even critical thinkers who immerse themselves in analytics, graphs and metrics have a story. It does take a sense of vulnerability to share your story with others. Honestly, these days it’s a must. With everyone feeling down to some extent, it can be your history of how you started the company, perhaps failed, and got up again that can resonate and make you an understanding partner in their business relationships.
As always, if telling that story and developing relationships like this makes you uncomfortable, write down what you fear, why, and come up with ways to overcome it. Ask a friend or advisor to listen to your story to help you get comfortable in telling it. Ultimately it will also help you to become a more empathetic listener for your customers as well.