For aspiring entrepreneurs, the thought of launching a business in the current climate may seem daunting at best and foolish at worst. Big grand opening events are out of the question, and depending on your industry and location, you may not even be able to operate at your full capacity for months to come.
If you haven't yet gotten your business off the ground, you don't necessarily have to put your dreams on hold. However, you do need to adapt to the new realities of the post-COVID business world and prepare for the challenges that come with it.
What does the post-pandemic business environment look like?
Because the pandemic is still ongoing, it's difficult to say how things will evolve as states continue their phased reopenings. However, right now, the majority of existing businesses are dealing with fallout from the current economic disruptions, as well as consumer health and safety concerns.
Even for companies that have been able to shift to fully remote work models, communicating with customers and closing deals has been a challenge.
"Sales teams … are struggling with what to say to customers, and [many] have changed or modified their offering to meet customers changing needs," said Raul Perdigão, global head of sales at Pipedrive. "Buyers are shifting priorities to adapt and salespeople must do the same."
With social distancing and stay-at-home orders, businesses that served customers and clients face-to-face have evolved to expand their service options. Yaniv Masjedi, CMO of Nextiva, said COVID-19 has created a big push for omnichannel sales in businesses.
"The current situation has forced people to consider their options going forward, and I expect to see a much more accessible, omnichannel sales-team of the future," said Masjedi. "An omnichannel approach to your sales conversations … [lets you] pick up all the extra customers that your competition loses through inflexibility."
If a brand’s online identity is non-existent or inconsistent, its audience will quickly figure it out and go to a competitor who communicates more effectively.
David Greenberg, SVP of marketing, Act-On Software
Tips for starting a business after COVID-19
A digital-first strategy will be the key for any new business looking to launch in the near future. Consider the following as you formulate your strategy:
Prioritize a strong digital brand identity
David Greenberg, SVP of marketing at Act-On Software, said in many industries, consumers trust information they get from respected brands online. To this end, he said, companies should create a content-rich, cross-channel brand identity that proactively addresses their prospects’ questions and needs.
"If a brand’s online identity is non-existent or inconsistent, its audience will quickly figure it out and go to a competitor who communicates more effectively," Greenberg told CO—. "Since you likely will never see your customer in person, you need to find other ways to understand what they are thinking and what makes them tick. You need to manage and activate on your digital data to make smart decisions throughout the customer lifecycle."
Focus on good SEO practices
Search engine optimization was already important for modern businesses, but standing out in search results is even more essential at a time when nearly all of your existing competitors are partially or fully selling online. The best way to do this is by focusing on a strong SEO strategy that draws in your target customer.
"Having solid SEO in place is a magnet that brings [clients] to us," said David Vranicar, managing partner and founder of FBS Fortified & Ballistic Security. "People who find us through targeted keywords don’t need to be sold. They’re ready to buy and it doesn’t matter that the sale has to happen virtually."
[Read: A Beginner's Guide to SEO]
Leverage technology to create more personalized online experiences
Since the dawn of e-commerce, retail selling has been shifting from personal in-store service to online recommendations. In the post-COVID world, the digital "feedback loop" between seller and customer has become even more important.
"[Brick-and-mortar] retailers should be able to replicate any of their personal interactions through online channels to remain agile for the future," said JoAnn Martin, VP of marketing at Searchspring. "Personalized merchandising technology, for example, allows shoppers to dictate recommendations based on behavior or the way they navigate the website. Nailing this aspect will be critical for [online] retailers who want to maintain a personal connection with their customers."
Have a communication plan in place well before you launch
Communications have been difficult enough for existing brands during this time. When you're building brand awareness from the ground up, good communication will make all the difference in whether you "stick" in your target audience's mind.
"New sales strategies are more focused on remote engagements, so … don’t skimp on communication," said Jack Wang, CEO of Amazing Beauty Hair. "Use every platform you can take advantage of. You’ll need to constantly remind your clients about your existence, but make sure not to be too intrusive."
Wang also recommended preparing a wealth of creative marketing and sales collateral to truly stand out.
"Make the most out of every tool at your disposal to create presentation materials, [including] visual forms," he said. "The sky is the limit here."