Starting a Business Post-COVID: Your Three-Year Plan
Formulate a clear business plan accounting for acquiring a good online customer base.
With COVID having disrupted many industries and forcing many to adapt to the changing economic climate, entrepreneurship may be on the minds of those who would not have considered it before or this was the push to get them to move forward with starting a business. Starting a business and executing it to success is a wonderful feeling and accomplishment. Having a plan to benchmark against as you grow can be very helpful in reaching your goals. The better plans are simple in nature and have realistic goals for short- and long-term growth. Prior to COVID, many plans would probably have accounted for normal bumps in the road and not for something as drastic as COVID and the changes that have resulted. Starting a business now with Post-COVID in mind, it would be wise to account for possible shifts in revenue streams and access allowing for the ability to buy online or service remote customers as a building block for your business. Not all business ideas or industries will be able to adjust to full accessibility via ordering online and being serviced without contact as fast as others, but these considerations should be at the forefront of your plan. For example, if you are starting a barber shop or salon and the nature of your business is in-person clientele, what will your plan be to limit density in your location and also reach those clients who are unable to come in due to health or mobility reasons, but still be profitable and convey value for possible higher prices? How do you plan to reach them? Would you consider an option of the entire in-person client base offering a contribution for your remote base to account for the extra cost of having to drive to them? Or would your plan specify a day strictly for remote customers where you do your rounds on that day via providing moblie transportation for those customers?
Support for the small business community in your area can be grown organically if done authentically. If you are starting a consulting business, how will your plan account for accessing and reaching remote customers? There could be a larger number of clients who come out of COVID preferrring to continue with remote buying or servicing. Accounting for the technology to help you service these clients would be beneficial. It's important that you provide this option to reach those potential customers you could gain via remote services, and also for lost customers who you would not normally have had access to if you had regular foot traffic when opening. Scheduling, online buying and technology implemented at the onset may become a key growth factor for those starting out, enabling them to maneuver the waters of Post-Covid entrepreneurship. Customers still need in-person services at a location and servicing them can be a great way to build your customer base - but keep in mind those that will prefer remote or modified servicing options. However, you could be missing out on a very large customer base willing to pay for your service or product option when they know you have a plan in place to effectively service and support their needs. Keeping the option to buy and be serviced online will be beneficial to your firm in the long run if you can plan and execute from the beginning as you grow.
In the first 18 months, move to gain awareness to your brand and service offerings or products. Be authentic in your efforts. Respect customer's emails if you acquire them by not sending excessive emails for every product or service you offer - once or twice a month on a regular schedule with good information about your offerings and updates, inform potential customers about how you service remote clients, those with health issues, and your payment process. Many companies are having to adjust and utilize technology, and what is working or will work going forward, to set a trend for actionable items. There is no set-in-stone process but the one that you find works best for your business, customers and ethical manner in which you should be operating. Plan to acquire as many remote or online customers as you would in-person clientele. Buyers are savvy and educated with the wealth of available information. Acquisition for your customer base online should be authentic and show what makes you different. Be truthful and honest in your marketing.
Plan on your efforts taking some time to gain traction as most businesses do not grow exponentially overnight. Be driven and determined to stay focused on getting your brand or company to have an online presence. You can connect online almost as well as in-person, and use proper tools to help monitor and track your engagements, as well as have a geniune interest in helping your customers. You can provide information about your industry on open topics and forums online, offer your time free to help someone who could use it seeking nothing in return, as being a business owner should also be about helping those around you in your community with your time or resources. There are many businesses that you could possibly replicate who are adapting to the changes to meet Post-COVID guidelines.
If you plan to start an online business with a less intensive set-up such as an ecommerce site, then be truthful with supply chain shipping time lines. Set expectations for lead times - it's fine if you lose clients to competitors' faster shipping times, for when you do acquire customers, you are gaining those who will be able to support your brand for other reasons than expedited shipping delivery times. Moving to an online option for products and servicing can also lower your costs for maintenance if done correctly. Consider consulting a CPA or legal team if you want additional advice regarding your plan and projected financials. Build a business as we deal with COVID and seek to move to a Post-COVID economy gaining a customer base who buy from you online may also help speed up your revenue and assist with additional funds to make your in-person client experience more memorable as well. Show care for your clients whether online or in-person because that experience has the potential to have positive or negative results. People are still searching for products and services online prior to visiting physical locations, especially to check on how they handle COVID and servicing their customers. For example, if you have a client who has a high-risk family who wants to be able to visit your location, they may search online for how you handle the density at your location and then look further online for how or what options are available to accommodate them - making options available and showing care for multiple situations could bring in a new customer base willing to show loyalty, based on their positive perception of your methods.
By year three you should be looking to have half of your business sustainable via online or remote if possible. Communication via technology and human interaction should be parallel so that your customers don't feel like only technology is responding to them - being remote may have made it more difficult to have the human element of in-person interaction but there is technology to stay in contact which will go a long way towards customer satisfaction - via personal emails, as opposed to system-generated ones, or personal phone calls to check in on customers. You can foster a grass-roots method to supporting your customers by adding communication tools and metrics to stay engaged as you continue to grow by this stage.
Focus your energies on your first 18 months to drive relationships and customers to you, so that you can avoid the failure many businesses experience in their initial year. Seriously consider your financing and budget, along with access to funding, so that you can match to your plan for customer acquisition. It would be wise to account in your plan for potential issues, such as having only half of your revenue or your in-person clientele went away for six to nine months - how you would continue to stay afloat and grow, and ultimately return to pre-catastrophe levels of revenue.
Acquiring customers online or in-person, the changes to business models are already taking place and it would be prudent to research those competitors in business prior to COVID who sustained their revenue through the shutdowns and are still open and growing despite the setbacks of 2020. Plan as best you can for possible pitfalls, i.e., when starting out determine how you will offer your services or products exclusively online to support a customer base. Be authentic, stay driven and your chances for success may prove better than your competitors.
Disclaimer: This recent article has been created for the Entrepreneur by Paul L. Gunn, Jr., Founder & CEO of KUOG Corporation.
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