It’s vcita’s diamond year — our tenth anniversary. 

And, with ten years of business growth under our belt, including (in a whispered tone) the pandemic year, we’ve emerged stronger, and more resilient than ever. That’s not to say it was easy but it has definitely been worth the journey.

Mining for diamonds, it’s a laborious job, extracting a piece of rock embedded deep in the earth. Then having to cut, shape, and polish it, in the hopes of transforming it into a profitable gem. We’ve been through that metaphorical ringer, and we’ve experienced enough to know what we’re doing. Now it’s time to share some of that knowledge with you.

Digitalization of SMEs before, during, and after COVID  has transformed business as usual. Normalcy has been redefined, and with it, a new set of rules has emerged.

Here are our top 10 expert tips (one for each of our 10 years) to help you build your “new normal” business strategy, so you can polish that rock and make it shine!

1. Embrace digital

When COVID-19 shut down “regular” business operations, for some brick-and-mortar SMEs, the possibility of going digital (overnight) seemed like an ominous black hole.

But, the adaptors understood that their customers still needed their services, be it physical fitness, take-out food, or birthday presents. 

Sharon Boon ran a pilates studio and offered massages, yoga classes, and fitness coaching for athletes. Her entire business model depended on in-person interaction. But when the pandemic hit, the studio closed and Sharon went virtual. 

She maintained 90% of her pre-COVID income by focusing on content she could transfer online. Using texts and email campaigns, she proactively stayed in touch with her client base. With the help of digital software and her client’s home equipment, she transformed her business in three days.

2. Pivot service offerings

The pandemic forced many SMEs to redefine themselves in order to survive.

The Snap Bar, a Seattle-based photo booth rental business, was named one of the country’s fastest-growing companies before COVID.

The cancellation of both social and corporate events put The Snap Bar’s business on hold. To keep their beloved team on the payroll, the owners pivoted drastically.

They evaluated their strengths (shippings, logistics, creativity, tech) and redirected them toward a new business, Keep your City Smiling, selling unique local gifts. Sales took off, sustained their team throughout 2020, and the company continues its activities today, cross-marketing between the two businesses and enjoying a whole new customer base.

3. Nurture and reward your staff

In uncertain times, your employees will always remember how they were treated. Your response to a crisis has a lasting impact on their engagement, productivity, and loyalty. Health and financial stability were their top concerns this year; did you address their anxieties in meaningful ways?

Employer branding took center stage at the height of the lockdowns. Shopify gave out a cash stipend to each employee to put together classy home offices rather than hiding from their kids under the stairs. Target announced an unlimited backup care benefit, providing company-sponsored daycare when their employees’ families needed it most.

How you treat your employees is becoming a competitive recruitment tool in the new normal. Be proactive, take notice, listen carefully, and act accordingly.

4. Identify and seek relief where you need it most 

Burnout results in exhaustion, frequent illnesses, and anxiety. 

Whether it’s 3,000 unopened emails or six months’ worth of past-due bills, many business owners are overtaxed and overwrought. 

Take proactive practical interventions – before you hyperventilate into your child’s brown paper lunch bag, not after – like hiring a virtual assistant or obtaining financial aid, can be the difference between taking control and managing effectively vs. curling up in a fetal position and singing Disney songs.

5. Stay competitive

Look at how your competitors are managing and what they’re doing to advance. 

Joelle Nwoke, a life coach, had a 50% rate of no-shows until she integrated online scheduling on her website, complete with email alerts and reminders. Now she reports that 99% of her clients make it to their appointments. 

Staying competitive may mean investing in research or new tools, or altering your operations to maintain a competitive advantage. 

6. Nurture Customer Relationships

Focus on your customers’ needs by providing relevant information based on what’s going on in their world at that time.

When their physical stores closed, Apple nurtured their customer base by promoting online, contact-free shopping and focusing on easy, immediate return policies. Don’t like it? Send it back! Apple identified their customers’ pain points and proactively provided a workable, COVID-friendly solution.

7. Make data-driven decisions

Both your customers and employees have developed new habits over the last year. 

Use reliable data to understand consumer behavior for your actions with both customers and employees. 

The home furnishing industry, for example, experienced a major shift in purchasing behavior over the last year.

With the development of the work-and-learn-from-home culture during the pandemic, consumers began investing more in home improvement projects. Furniture sales increased nearly 10% in February alone. Armed with this data, furniture retailers were not only able to better evaluate inventory and stock levels, but they also knew how to approach their customers’ new priorities.

Don’t guess. 

Ask, study, analyze, and then decide.

8. Market, don’t sell

You may have a unique product, but if you can’t reach and resonate with your prospects, you’ll go bankrupt. And, pushy doesn’t win anymore.

Marketing is serving and satisfying customer needs, where selling is an exchange. Be a resource. Educate. Reach out to your customer based on their preferred channel, in their jargon, addressing their pain points, in their style. Dr. Squatch, the creator of natural hygiene products for men, won big on this front in 2020. Their popular Superbowl commercial doesn’t advertise soap that cleans, it markets an attitude. That’s the difference.

9. Build Strategic Relationships  

As your business evolves in the new normal, collaborating with other companies or local nonprofits can expand your network and brand reach. At vcita, we took this to heart when we acquired WiseStamp a few years back. They had an incredible offering, and we had the same target customer base, so it made sense for us to merge; now we both have twice the bandwidth, plus the WiseStamp people play a mean game of foosball, so everybody wins.

And it’s not just us! At the height of COVID and in recent months, Ryan Reynolds, founder of Aviation Gin, found a great way to improve his market advantage with humor-driven ads. Then, with their newfound expanded audience, they donated a percentage of profits to the Bartender’s Benevolent Fund. The partnership cemented fan loyalty, and they were acquired recently, as part of a group brand acquisition, for $610 million. 

10. Embrace the new normal

The old world has disappeared. But, economic growth has not.  

Our best advice for small businesses is to stop reminiscing, take a shower, put on some pants, and get moving.  If you recognize your challenges as opportunities for business growth, you’ll innovate and prosper. 

So start shaping your diamond. 

As Extra gum’s popular commercial puts it so eloquently — We are back!