Refocus your small business and start making profits by answering a few questions. They’re not all easy. But there’s gifs.
Would you like another depressing article on how screwed we are and how little we know about the future? Didn’t think so. Instead, how about a strategy for survival and… erm, thrival? (Seriously, the English language always delivers.) Every crisis is an opportunity to evolve — so here’s a bunch of things to consider if you want to snap your biz out of WTF mode and straight into ‘change is good’ mode. We won’t tell you what kind of pizza you are, but you may well start making more dough. (ba-dum-tsssh)
Q0.5*: First off: does the term ‘future-proof’ make you cringe?
Yeah, same. But the concept is valid, so whatever you want to call it, it’s worth a good long think. We’ll provide all the stimulus.
*yep, this is the half-a-question from the article’s title. Because we promised. #GottaDeliver
Q1: Have you, since the beginning of the pandemic, sat down to interrogate your business model to see if it’s likely to succeed under these new circumstances?
If yes: great, these questions should help even more. If not, and you’re still hoping that we’re just going to go back to normal in a few months: reconsider. It’s painful, but your business depends on it.
Q2: Are you fit for post-2020, or stuck in 14th century Japan?
The pandemic quickly took the brakes off progress, including digitalisation and sustainability. Are your processes up to speed with this radical change, or are you still holding on to your stack of business cards (rather than a QR code people can instantly scan to get your contact details), waiting for the day when we can magically print some more trees? Are you paying for overheads that stopped being necessary circa 1999? Would a 15-year-old be outraged by your vintage filing system? You get the gist.
Q3: If you were starting your business today, what would you have done differently?
Hint: ‘would have done’ can easily become ‘will do’.
Q4: Why are you doing it?
Think of your WHY — the reason you’ve been doing what you’re doing. Has it changed? These days people care a lot more about who they do business with, opting for brands whose purpose goes beyond ‘sell out and retire at 50’ — and this trend is not reverting any time soon. Are your purpose, mission and vision still relevant, do they require minor adjustments — or is it time for a major shake-up?
Q5: What does your audience want now?
We’ve all seen a lot of change in the last few months; in fact, make it the last few years. What have your ideal clients come to expect from brands that they didn’t use to? Is it contactless delivery? Instant response? One-click ordering? Flexible pricing? Free trials? Locally sourced ingredients? Higher hygiene standards? Free returns? Social responsibility? Personalised recommendations? Money-back guarantee? Emoji in emails? Gluten-free websites? 🤷
Q6: How has the rest of your industry been dealing with the situation?
If they’ve been doing cool things while you haven’t: you’ve got your work cut out for you. If they’re still in denial or in shock — that’s even better: this is a chance of a lifetime to show everyone you’re in a class of your own, by doing things differently and shouting about it from the rooftops.
Q7: Does your business rely on international supply chains?
The pandemic has shown us the downsides of globalisation, and it’s likely that the global economy will become less integrated as a result. And while we don’t know how permanent the changes are, smart business owners are using this time to build resilience into their supply chains. Or, in human language: look at your process, imagine everything that could go wrong, and make it right before it happens.
Q8: How’s your website looking?
Put yourself in your audience’s shoes (or mismatched socks, if they’ve spent all of last year WFH). Then go to your site. What do you reckon? Does it reflect what your brand has become since your site launched? Will your perfect client see that you’re a match made in heaven, at a glance? Will they have a reason to stay? To read? To buy? Will they be guided to the action you’d like them to take, or have to wade through tonnes of unnecessary information?
Now open your five closest rivals’ sites. Is there anything about your website that shows you as being different from all those other guys?
Q9: How’s your social life?
However many hours your clients used to spend scrolling their Insta feed or reading tweets before the pandemic, they are doing it more now. And if you’re not there when they’re scrolling, you’re missing a trick. We’re not talking hard sell — but you’ve got to always be where they can see you, giving them something of value and reminding them that you exist and can solve their problems or make their life better. It doesn’t mean you need to spend your spare time speed-reading about social media marketing instead of running your business. Just find someone who knows their shit and let them deal with exciting things like lookalike audiences, A/B testing, Facebook Pixels, and retargeting.
Q10: You have been taking notes, right?
If yes: great, it’s the starting point of your action plan.
If you haven’t, presumably it’s because you’re already in top shape and killing it, pandemic or not. Time to stop reading and crack open that Veuve Clicquot.
NOTE: If there’s a lot of rethinking to be done, you won’t be able to answer this final question until you’re finished — so take note of it now, and come back to it when you’re ready.
Q11: Does your branding still work for your business? Does it show who you are, who you’re here for — and, very importantly, who you aren’t for? Is it any different than the rest of your industry? Does your tone of voice and messaging sound human, interesting, and memorable? Does it show that you have a point of view and offer something different and valuable?
As the simplest reality check, pull a favour from a trusted friend who knows you well enough to be brutally honest. Explain how you want your business to be perceived, who you want to attract, and what makes you different from the competition. Then let them judge your branding — all of it — through that lens. The answer might not be what you want to hear, but this is your first step to a more successful business.
You might find your branding only needs a few small changes — a new paragraph here, some new imagery there. But if small tweaks won’t cut it, it’s time for a rebrand. It should be more exciting than daunting; especially if you don’t try to DIY it or go for those seductive offers of £50 logos on freelancing sites (because your logo is not your brand; never has, and never will be). It’s your opportunity to make a statement and set yourself aside from those pesky rivals, and if you do it right, it will serve you for years to come.
If you have a standpoint that’s unusual for your industry and are eager to do things differently, it will be surprisingly easy to make yourself stand out, mostly because too many small business owners don’t understand the value of proper branding. They think it’s about sleek stationery and pretty icons, rather than about business problem-solving, so they decide it’s optional — to your benefit. They can hold on to their bloated website, bland copy, me-too colour schemes and logos, and their distinct lack of anything interesting to say — while you’re busy making waves and profits.
Can you continue as your existing brand name, or would it be better to create a totally different new brand?
Sometimes it makes more sense to create a new name and identity than try to get your existing clientele up to speed with your changed brand. If you are changing your niche, clientele, purpose, service or product, that usually calls for a new name. If you’re just switching a real-life retail store to an online one, improving your services and products, or promoting under a new angle, then you should hold on to the clients you already have and their trust, instead of burning down the house. Just make sure your branding is up to speed with where your head’s at.
It’s not the biggest or strongest but the most flexible that survive: especially in times of change (point in case: snakes and crocodiles made it through the mass extinction that happened 65 million years ago, while the T-Rex is demonstrably not around anymore). This weird situation is no time to panic or hibernate: it’s an opportunity to build a kickass business. You just need to rethink, refocus, and possibly — rebrand.
This article was written by Olga Pope & Gina Kelly of Linehouse London, a branding studio for startups and small businesses who want to shake up their industry. They’ve switched from working with global brands like IKEA, YouTube and Pepsi to helping smaller but more ambitious brands.