The impact of COVID-19 has been coming in waves. We went from isolation to reconnecting and back again as the crisis developed. As small businesses began to rebuild, owners found new ways to make and strengthen connections — both personal and professional — to help keep their business afloat. After years of banding together to support one another and their customers, the small business community has learned much about the power of connection. Let’s take a closer look at how business owners can make the most of their strong network as a means to move from recovery-mode to growth.

 

Keep building your digital community

Finding the best method of communicating with your customers is an essential first step. It may be tempting to want to shift back to more face-to-face interactions, but it’s important to maintain a strong online presence, too. Many small business owners are finding that today’s customers not only like but expect their favorite businesses to offer digital options for communicating and making purchases.

Now is a good time to reassess your digital profile to ensure it still resonates with your customers. Some good things to update (or build, if you haven’t yet) include:

  • A Google Business profile
  • A business page on review sites like Yelp
  • Social media pages and posts
  • A website
  • Your ability to accept digital payments, whether on your website or via an app

In today’s reality, building a digital presence that reflects who you are as a company helps create an authentic connection. It allows your network — from customers to vendors — to easily discover what you’re really about.

Once you’ve expanded your digital presence, it’s important to make sure you communicate the right message — something that shows how much you care and accurately reflects your business. Be sure to use language that reflects how you would talk to your customers in person.

 

Build connections within your team

Your community is more than just your customers. Your employees not only comprise your business, they also represent you. To effectively broaden your community, start by fostering internal connections. Talk to your employees about the changes you’ve had to make as the COVID-19 crisis evolved as well as your plans for what’s next. You might choose to do this in person, but you can also write an email newsletter or host a group video call.

Make sure your employees know the message you’re hoping to share with the broader community, too. If they’re sharing the same message, your reach will be that much greater.

Individual connections and exceptional service are common reasons customers stay loyal to small businesses. You can use technology, whether it’s social media or video chats, to keep and even grow those personal connections.

 

Keep it going

Despite reopening, there’s a large amount of uncertainty. The good news is, the connections fostered through the crisis can help you continue to navigate it. One major benefit of digital communication is an enhanced ability to take advantage of feedback.

Customers can post feedback on Google or Yelp, as well as social media posts. You can ask clients to tell you what they’re worried about or what they think will happen next; you might even send out more formal surveys. Customers are likely to be pleased you asked for their opinion and even more so if you use their input to better serve them. Plus, since this type of feedback happens in writing, it’s easier for you to track it and ensure updates get made.

Take advantage of employee feedback, too. Employees are just as invested in your company’s success (and their continued employment) and may have ideas to help your business stay relevant as we work toward a new normal.

 

Embrace the competition

Finally, talk to other business owners. According to Wells Fargo’s research, many small business owners seek out advice from their peers. Continue to take advantage of the sense of community fostered by the crisis. 

Just remember that joining together with other local businesses as you navigate toward a post-crisis world doesn’t mean you have to stop competing or innovating. One idea to consider: Look at similar businesses in other cities and states. If you run a law firm in Arizona, consider how law firms in Iowa or Texas are attracting and retaining new clients. It’s possible you’ll find ideas to innovate or lessons on how to shift from crisis mode to a growth mindset. 

Small businesses are the backbone of the U.S. economy. They provide half of U.S. jobs and the majority of American consumers shop at a small business at least once a week. That means the community created by small business is essential to how we live and function. Business owners have an opportunity now to solidify that community in a way that benefits not just small business, but the country as a whole.

 

Sources: Deloitte, Edelman, Groupon, Google, Yelp, Small Business Administration, SCORE, SMB Group

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