Small businesses have been hit by myriad challenges over the course of the pandemic, including, but not in the least limited to, supply chain issues, rising inflation, staff shortages and employee wellbeing. However, the greatest strain on small businesses has been a loss of revenue. A recent survey by Goldman Sachs revealed that 71% of small businesses’ income had suffered, while 37% said their business had closed or scaled back with the onslaught of the Omicron wave.
In this context, it might be wise for the survival of both you and your business, to switch to a different working model. Small businesses have been leading the way in transitioning successfully to hybrid and fully-remote models, according to a report by Ring Central, which showed that 3 in 5 small businesses are remote or partially remote. So how can you successfully transition your small business into the world of remote working?
Assess remote viability
The first consideration is to see how viable working remotely is for your business. If you’re in the hospitality industry, maybe there are certain aspects of your business that can be done remotely, but probably not all of them.
However, if your enterprise is more product or service focused, then it’s very possible that you can run your business online. D8 Design Co. started out with in-demand candles during the first lockdown, and has since expanded their offering into a lifestyle range that is stocked both online and in high end retail outlets across Dublin. Gill Costello pivoted her yoga teaching business to a remote model by teaching classes online and organising all-inclusive retreats to the Canary Islands, as well as developing a jewellery line for yogis. “Life is a continuous balancing act of seeking adventure while creating a home, having fun but pushing yourself to continuously grow,” she says of her remote working philosophy.
If you are able to run your business remotely, you then need to assess what systems you should have in place to be able to do this as seamlessly as possible. The eCommerce Association of Ireland outlines the six pillars for a successful ecommerce business. How does your business fare in relation to these pillars, and what systems do you need to implement to make your business work remotely in response? Consider aspects that you can outsource; get a good accountant to do your bookkeeping and taxes, investigate a drop-shipping model for your product, or engage a fulfilment company to pack and ship orders.
Establish your brand
Awareness is key to the success of every business, but it’s even more important if you’re going to be working remotely. Having a physical presence helps to establish your brand, and customers can get to know the company, product or service better if they are able to interact with the business owner and staff in a bricks and mortar premises that showcases the brand’s DNA.
Of course, you don’t have to have a physical space to run a successful business, and it may hinder your dream to go remote. Instead, seek out existing local businesses that you can partner with to do pop-ups. This is a great way to introduce yourself to the right audience without the overheads of securing a long-term space. It also encourages cross promotion through the partner’s social channels, getting your brand even more exposure, and helps you build a supportive small business network.
Double down on digital
The potential for small businesses to go remote has been made possible in large part by business owners’ ability to double down on digital. Social media is key to this, regardless of industry. According to a survey by The Manifest, 88% of small businesses said they are actively investing in social media, showing just how crucial it is to a business’ success.
Identify which platforms your customers are using and develop a strategy to promote your business there. That way you’re targeting your customers where they’re already spending time online, and reaching new customers who may not be aware of your offering. If you have the resources, enlisting a digital marketing specialist or agency can be much more effective and efficient than going it alone - the best digital marketing and social media management requires technical knowledge of a rapidly changing technology landscape.
In addition to social media, make sure your website is working hard for you, and always try to direct potential customers there, as your website acts as a shopfront for your business in the absence of a physical store or office. Shopify and Squarespace are easy to use ecommerce platforms that can also act as portfolios and content sites, and have social media integration and analytics. Look into supports for migrating your business online, such as the Trading Online Voucher Scheme through the Local Enterprise Office.
Concentrate on communication
Niall Bodkin, chair of the eCommerce Association, says, “The battleground for the next 10 years in ecommerce isn’t price. It’s about the overall experience, from landing on your website, to finding the product easily, and the whole thing of how it’s delivered to your door, how you paid for it. And if there is a problem, is it going to be handled efficiently? There’s so much competition out there, so you must make sure that everything is as smooth as possible.”
Customer service can be one of the biggest drains for small business owners, both in terms of time and energy. Consumer attitudes have shifted radically since the start of the pandemic. Accenture’s Life Reimagined survey revealed that consumers are more driven by convenience, trust, purpose and service rather than by quality and cost. In addition, they are increasingly demanding a multichannel approach from companies, no matter what size they are. This all spells danger for the small business owner, who can have their time and energy sucked away by never-ending customer service.
Try and anticipate any pain points along your customer journey and provide solutions to these before they become a customer service request. Have an FAQs page on your website, provide requisite details when someone places an order or booking, notify the customer with all of the relevant information when an order has been completed, and follow up with a request for feedback. If this becomes a bad use of your time, get a customer service representative on board to help with this workload.