Rhonda Abrams knows how to maximize resources. When the pandemic hit, she and her Planning Shop team did what the publishing industry calls “crashing a book” to release a small-business resource guide as fast as possible.
“We decided to be leaner, did print on demand and got something out there quickly that people could actually use,” she says, adding that by skipping traditional processes, she was able to cut costs and maximize resources during a period of great financial uncertainty. With that in mind, she recently followed up on her July 2020 webinar with Verizon to share additional financial tips with entrepreneurs for where to spend, where to save and how to lean into inevitable change.
Think like a startup.
Many tech giants started out in their garages and became household names by taking calculated risks. They tested minimum viable products (MVPs) before pouring big money into big ideas. Abrams recommends small business owners take a similar approach.
Tip 1: Try as many different things as inexpensively as possible.
“If they don’t work, think about what you learned and move on,” she says. For example, Abrams swims laps at a public pool that recently started offering an app so members could reserve spots in advance. “It's not the app they would use long term, and I'm frustrated with it many times, but they got it up and running,” she says. “A lot of businesses think, ‘If it’s not perfect, I’m not doing it.’ But there are lots of off-the shelf website builders and services and programs you can use to test out an idea. You can always change and improve it later.”
Tip 2: Take a low-tech approach to MVPs.
Since the cost of shipping has become a major pain point for companies of all sizes, you could try streamlining your inventory down to items that are lighter (and therefore less expensive to ship). You could also put more effort into organizing and offering convenient curbside pickup options, or focus on strengthening your community footprint by sticking to local delivery.
Many restaurants have gone the MVP route during the pandemic, tightening their menus and creating meal kits to maximize limited resources. Some are now seeing how these temporary solutions can actually become long-term business drivers.
Don’t skimp on marketing.
When the economy is tight, the first thing people tend to cut is marketing. Abrams says that’s a mistake: “If everyone else is cutting back, if you increase your marketing, you stand to gain market share.” Other finance tips for small business owners include:
Tip 3: Be resourceful.
You don’t necessarily need a professional consultant to enter new territory. “Hire your friend’s college-student kid to do some social media marketing,” she says. “They might not be the best but it’s better than nothing!” You can pay them a fair wage without blowing your budget and they get to put valuable digital experience on their resume. It’s a win-win.
Tip 4: Look off the shelf.
There are also plenty of lower-cost, off-the-shelf website builders, services and programs that can help you get the word out about your business in creative and direct ways—like when a local spa texted Abrams about how it was offering outdoor manicure and pedicure services. “They let me know they still exist,” she says, adding that while she’s not comfortable getting her nails done right now, “when I’m ready to go, they’ll be top of my list!”
If you don’t know the first thing about contacting customers through text or email campaigns, you can always contact your local small business development center, which offers a wealth of resources for free. “Every city has one,” Abrams says.
Find strength in numbers.
2021 is going to be a year of continued uncertainty. Abrams recommends making plans to accommodate both customers who are ready to resume life as usual and those who might be more cautious as the pandemic settles into rear view.
Tip 5: Partner with other small businesses.
Reach out to other small businesses in your community now to organize fun events in the near future, like a street fair where customers can frequent multiple vendors in an entertaining and memorable setting. “Small business owners need to stick together and constantly spread the word to shop small and shop local,” she says. “If you're a shoe store, the shoe store down the street is your partner, not your competitor.” The same advice goes for making it easier for people to support you from a distance. “Band together with other businesses to find delivery services that are cheaper than a lot of these national food delivery services that can take up to 30% of each order,” Abrams says. “And remind customers that when they spend their money online at a huge retailer, none of that stays in their community. Let them know, ‘if you are going to shop at a big online retailer, make that your last choice not your first choice.’”
Tip 6: Believe in yourself.
Above all else, Abrams says, “Believe in yourself. Entrepreneurs are people who take charge. They wake up in the morning with an attitude that they can do something today to change their lives. You might be more tired and frustrated right now, but you have it in you because you've done it before. You are capable of navigating these new waters. You are going to ride these waves, not be taken under.”
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