5 tips to set your business up for success in 2021
2020 was full of big challenges, and the new year is a great time to take a moment to reset. We looked at the big picture, and found five opportunities to help you take this year’s lessons and turn them into next year’s winning strategy.
Get a website
All types of businesses can benefit from a strong website, not just those that are consumer-facing.
A well-rounded digital strategy, including a website and social media, can help you take advantage of
how people are searching for information online.
In 2021, consider whether your site offers the best user experience and whether it’s setting you up for
sales and growth.
of small businesses said 2020 was the year they’d get a website.1
This year, we saw how important websites can be to generating business, and that won’t change in
Is my website mobile friendly?
Can customers place orders or make payments online?
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Managing the long-term effects of the COVID crisis
Build a new reality that works for your employees, your customers, and your business.
Social distancing, temperature checks, and working from home: the effects of the COVID crisis may be here for quite some time. Thinking ahead to how these long-term changes may impact you, your employees, and your customers can help your business thrive as we work toward finding a new normal.
How to succeed at remote work setups
According to a survey done before COVID-19, remote employees worked almost a day and a half more each month than their in-office peers. While getting more work done is a positive, pay attention to how new work arrangements might affect work-life balance for you and any of your employees.
the amount of extra work time remote employees log each month1
Create clear boundaries between work and life.
Communicate those boundaries. For example, an email signature saying you won’t be responding after 6pm.
Create clear “breaks” that are set in your calendars and honor them.
How to cultivate business relationships
Nearly half of people say work friendships make them happier, so it’s good business to nurture these relationships during social distancing. This is particularly important if you have a close-knit team or have a strong support system through your work.
of people are happier thanks to coworker friendships2
Express camaraderie in small ways: implement virtual coffee chats with employees or lunches with vendors.
Engage customers with handwritten notes: “We appreciate your business” on a takeout food order, for example.
Make in-person meetings more fun (and create a conversation starter) with custom masks for your team.
How to plan for the future
Just over half of Americans expect changes to the way we work, socialize, and travel to stick around even after COVID-19. So you may need to find more permanent ways to connect with your customers from a distance.
of people think COVID-response habits are here to stay3
Help customers experience your “in-store” environment at home via custom playlists or other thoughtful additions.
If you’ve implemented contact tracing, health questionnaires, or temperature checks, automate them so they feel routine.
Design a permanent socially distant offering; customers may engage more comfortably if they know the service isn’t temporary.
The effects of social distancing may vary depending on the size and type of your business. Look for ways to use distance to your advantage and build a business designed to thrive in the new reality.
The COVID-19 crisis is creating unprecedented challenges to cash flow. Whether you struggle with fluctuating revenue, find yourself having to delay projects, or need to get a handle on costs, these 4 steps can help.
Step 1: Recognize you’re not alone
Cash flow struggles can be frustrating. Even though most small businesses were growing before COVID-19,1 very few had significant savings.
of small businesses said, pre-COVID, that they couldn’t survive a 2-month revenue gap without supplemental cash flow.2
Unfortunately, that situation is now a reality for many small businesses.
Step 2: Analyze the disruption
Ask your accountant, or use your accounting software, to pull together your income statements for the last year, as well as an up-to-date balance sheet.
• Current and future sales • Accounts receivable • Existing financing
Compare your inflows and outflows in 2020 to the same periods in 2019, and note how COVID-19 has affected your business. Studying the disruption to date can help you plan for any future uncertainty.
Action: Create cash flow forecasts for the next 3, 6 and 12 months. You may want to create multiple forecasts to reflect different recovery scenarios.
Step 3: Make cash flow adjustments
How could you generate more income?
Pivot Think about how you can change your products or services to be better suited to today’s customer.
Adapt Think beyond products and services to how you do business. Could changes, like doing more digitally, help you win more customers?
How could you cut your costs?
Press pause Delay unnecessary projects, such as testing new products that aren’t immediately relevant.
Negotiate See if you can defer payment on big expenses, like rent, and ask your vendors about updated terms. Consider creative solutions like discounts for on-time payments.
Raise prices Evaluate a potential price increase by weighing lost revenue against your customers’ ability to pay.
Sell assets Selling an asset can generate cash. If you didn’t own the asset outright, this could also eliminate an expense.
Action: Research the potential consequences of any cost-cutting efforts to help you avoid surprises. For example, skipping payroll may violate the Fair Labor Standards Act, and skipping payroll taxes may lead to a penalty from the IRS.
Step 4: Seek help if you need it
The federal government, along with many corporations and nonprofits, wants to help small businesses. These resources can get you started.
1Main Street Lending Program
Run by the Federal Reserve to help small businesses access credit.
Find community development financial institutions (CDFIs), small business development centers and more.
3Small Business Administration
The SBA offers various programs meant to help businesses through COVID-19.
of small businesses applied for funding via the CARES Act.3
Action: If you received a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan, keep tabs on how you spent the funds. This can make it easier to sort out potential loan forgiveness or repayment terms when the time comes.
Keeping track of cash flow can help you apply for and keep track of outside funding.
The current crisis is changing how companies market themselves, which creates an opportunity for small businesses to stand out. Coming up with a strong marketing plan now can set you up for success well into the future.
This isn’t marketing as usual
Before you build your marketing plan, take stock of the way businesses — large and small — changed their advertising at the start of the COVID crisis.
More people reading emails means it’s more important than ever to say the right thing.
Actions to take…
Offer basic information to keep customers up-to-date on how your business is changing.
Build goodwill via customer-centric products and services, as well as through relevant content.
Acknowledge customer concerns, especially if your customers might be facing health or financial issues.
… and to avoid
Don’t go too far off brand; it can come across fake. Make sure any mention of COVID-19 feels natural, and not like you’re using the crisis to generate sales.
Adjust your tactics
How you distribute your message should account for the fact that people are spending more time at home checking email, social media and even postal mail.
more likely to research products ahead of time during COVID-19.5
This creates new opportunities for people to discover your business.
Actions to take…
Widen your target: With more people researching products, you don’t want to miss an opportunity by casting a narrow net.
Play nice: Americans want to help small businesses rebuild; that may mean supporting both you and your competitors.
Go to them: Choose the placement of ads (e.g., TV, social media, or print) based on your clients’ changing lifestyles.
… and to avoid
Don’t push a purchase which can feel aggressive — especially when people are already stressed. Instead, focus on brand awareness.
Think twice before you slash your marketing budget completely. Spend smarter by using metrics to track the success of your efforts.
Uptick in most online retail sales, from May 2019 to May 2020.6
Marketing can help you discover new customers to help carry you through recovery and beyond.
Actions to take…
Establish a baseline by looking at your marketing pre-COVID. How much did you spend, and what were your results?
Set a marketing budget that makes sense by looking at cash flow and current ad rates.
Be flexible about what success looks like. Try to value “soft” success, too, like more people learning about your company.
… and to avoid
Don’t ignore the future. It can be hard to picture life after a vaccine, but eventually this crisis will end. Savvy marketing now can help you find customers and grow beyond COVID-19.
People need products and services as much as ever, but your marketing needs to feel different than it did pre-crisis. Look for opportunities by thinking about how marketing can help you find and engage customers.
The COVID-19 crisis can make real connections challenging — we’ve spent much of 2020 six feet away from other people. These four steps can help you stay connected and build new relationships when face-to-face contact is limited.
Step 1: Go digital
People are logging on more frequently during the crisis:
Action: Make sure your business’s social media accounts are up to date, and don’t just post about products and services. Comment, send personalized messages, and engage informally, too.
Step 2: Build a network
To get the most out of your connections, choose a platform best suited to the relationship.
Your macro network of suppliers, partners, employees, and clients LinkedIn or other professionally focused sites
Your neighbors and local connections Nextdoor, Front Porch, or local groups and pages on LinkedIn and Facebook
Your acquaintances including casual friends and your word-of-mouth network Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or generalized sites with broad audiences
One-on-one connections like friends, employees, or anyone you work with closely Skype, FaceTime, Zoom, or other video chat software, even phone calls
Action: Make a list of the people you deal with regularly, using the categories above. Then search for them online and reach out.
Step 3: What to say
Be strategic with your first message, particularly if you are connecting with someone for the first time. Think about the best way to build trust, since people may have their guard up during a crisis.4
To start the conversation…
With new customers, include a personalized note to welcome them.
With vendors, distributors, and partners, call just to check in throughout the crisis.
With existing clients, email them to say thank you and consider loyalty rewards.
For the first time, make it clear why you’re reaching out and why you picked them specifically.
Action: Lead with empathy. Before reaching out, ask yourself: “What is this person going through, and will they appreciate this message?”
Step 4: Build the connection
As communities rebuild, meet your digital connections in person and make sure to connect digitally with new people. To help transition between online and face-to-face, consider arranging digital events that translate to real-life events, and vice versa.
Host a digital cheese tasting
Host a happy hour
If you like to network over food, simulate the setting online, then invite the same people to an in-person event.
Create a how-to video
Organize a workshop
Consider pairing a tutorial video series with in-person classes (it may even develop into a revenue stream).
Start a social media group
Create a local club
If you connected with peers during the crisis, consider formalizing the group. Likewise, create a digital version of any in-person groups to stay connected.
It can feel challenging to build connections in a socially distanced world. But if anyone can do it, small business owners can. As leaders who bring people together every day, owners can use digital tools to strengthen existing relationships and build new ones.
We’re facing unprecedented challenges, but there’s reason to believe we’ll recover and emerge stronger. To gain perspective, let’s look at how we’ve bounced back financially from previous crises.
COVID-19 is unique
In the past, it’s taken years for the stock market to bottom, and job loss has been gradual. With COVID-19, the effects were immediate and severe, as you can see in these charts depicting the first few months of the crisis.
Dow Jones Industrial Average Stocks fell 34% in just a month and a half.1
Initial Jobless Claims Millions filed for unemployment each week, the most in recorded history.2
Action: Pay attention to the data affecting your industry and geographic region, and use national numbers to create overall context.
Policy makes a big impact
Historically, the government has been quick to respond to crisis. Consider these extensive responses to previous economic challenges.
Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation
Protects consumer deposits in member banks
Securities and Exchange Commission
Social Security Administration
Provides supplemental income for the elderly
Makes education possible for millions of veterans
Action: Stay on top of new regulations, policies and aid packages. They can provide opportunities for growth and affect how your business operates.
Perspective is powerful
How long did it take to recover from the last recession? It depends on your perspective.
Gross Domestic Product According to the GDP, the downturn lasted 1.5 years, but…3
Dow Jones Industrial Average Stocks took about 6 years to recover…
Consumer Sentiment …it took a full 8 years for consumers to feel confident about the economy again.4
Jobs …and roughly the same amount of time for employment to rebound.5
Action: Prioritize day-to-day observations and customer feedback ahead of big-picture data.
Recessions can provide opportunity
Downturns change our habits drastically, but some industries survive and potentially even grow during recessions. Deloitte looked at the outlook for a variety of industries.6
Action: Consider which industries and products are doing well, and use those insights to brainstorm how you might pivot, and potentially grow, your business.
How the COVID-19 crisis is affecting your customers
Americans are reacting to COVID-19 in a variety of ways, which can make it challenging for business owners to respond and plan ahead. We’ve compiled research and data to help you start thinking about whether you need to adapt your business, and how.
What they’re thinking:
Your customers are focusing on COVID-19. A lot.
9 in 10
Americans are following COVID-19 news coverage, but…1
7 in 10
…say they need to take breaks. Many say it’s emotionally draining.2
COVID-19 is disrupting nearly every aspect of American life, including how customers interact with your business. The road from discovery to purchase is filled with nuances that didn’t exist a year ago. Let’s walk through the main stops on the customer journey and look at the potential impact of COVID-19.
Opportunityis the point when your potential customer has a need you could help with.
Since COVID-19 is causing lifestyle changes, these wants and needs may be different.