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Thrive in 2021 — Success Tips from Business Professionals Across Industries

Let’s face it: starting a small business these days is daunting. Where do you even start? How do you build on a business idea? Though the pandemic caused many in-person businesses to downsize or shut down, small businesses can continue to grow even in the online world we now live in. Our Spring 2021 cover story features tips from a wide variety of business professionals and owners across various industries. They will help you grow a business from the inside-out with tips on advertising, SEO, stronger business connections, outsourcing and more. These tips will help you feel more confident and motivated to start and/or grow your small business in 2021.

Entrepreneurs Thrive with Mentorship

Businesses don’t operate or succeed in isolation. It takes a community of people playing different roles — customer, teacher, supporter, connector, etc. — to really catapult a company to the next level. One way entrepreneurs and business owners can grow their companies in 2021 is to seek mentorship. Through a mentor’s priceless guidance, you can avoid common pitfalls, learn from their mistakes, and get on a faster path to success. Your mentor may also facilitate other useful connections with prospective customers, business partners, suppliers, service providers, etc. But the best perk of all? Your mentor or coach understands what you’re going through. They can commiserate with you in a way that your non-entrepreneur friends can’t. Sometimes, you just need to spend time with someone else who “gets it.” When you have a mentor, you benefit from their experience, knowledge, network, and camaraderie.

– Laura Gariepy, Owner of Every Day by the Lake, LLC, https://www.beforeyougofreelance.com/

Manage Cash Flow

Conserving revenue and managing cash flow is vital for small businesses. Today, there are a lot of great financial technology or fintech tools available that can help entrepreneurs save time, money, and energy. A trip to the bank is a bigger hassle now more than ever before as waiting in line is not only an inconvenience but a health concern. Fintech is quite a large industry with various products built for specific financial needs across payments, loans and bookkeeping.

Say that you host your website through Shopify or Wix; you can start selling online by simply embedding a payment processor. There are also products like Remitr, which allow you to send and receive payments with vendors, suppliers or contracts domestically and to more than 150 countries cheaper and faster than with your bank. If you’re looking to take your business abroad, you can use a virtual banking account to operate in U.S. dollars, euros, and British pounds without the headache of setting up and managing multiple international accounts.

– Sandeep Todi, Chief Business Officer and Co-founder at Remitr, https://remitr.com/

Start a Blog to Improve SEO and Drive Traffic

Figuring out the right digital marketing strategy can be difficult for a lot of small business owners, and it’s not hard to understand why. Between search engines, your own website and the various social media networks, there are a ton of digital channels to choose from. You then have to decide whether to pursue them with organic content, paid ads, or a mix of both.

One that I think a lot of small businesses could benefit from is content marketing. More specifically, starting a blog to craft content focused on relevant keywords that can drive targeted traffic back to their site.

A lot of businesses tend to focus on driving traffic through paid ads rather than organic traffic, but that strategy is shortsighted. Whether you’re buying the ads yourself or paying an agency, calibrating them properly so you get a good return on your investment can be tricky, and a lot of people end up losing money on their ad campaigns. Creating strong content geared specifically toward targeted keywords is also an investment, but it’s much more evergreen: an upfront investment in content can continue to drive traffic for months or even years.

For small businesses looking to set themselves up for long-term success, I highly recommend adding a blog to your business.

– Dave Bowden, Founder of Irreverent Gent, https://www.irreverentgent.com/

Resegment Your TAM

The pandemic may have forced you to seek new revenue streams. But you want to avoid approaching this necessity haphazardly. A systematic process of identifying new revenue opportunities starts with understanding your total addressable market (TAM). The right tool for that is market segmentation, which is a process of identifying the main segments in a market. In each segment, customers buy more or less similar products, following a similar sales cycle, and they share word of mouth. Businesses often stumble when their market segmentation is not mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive (MECE). This means that they do not see all potential segments, therefore missing out on opportunities. Also, instead of focusing scarce resources on a well-defined segment, they bounce around between the different sales cycles, value propositions, and unit economics inherent in a disorganized market segmentation. This process takes time, which is why business owners often neglect it. But as we say at MIT, it takes months, but saves years.

– Erdin Beshimov, Founder of MIT Bootcamps, https://openlearning.mit.edu/about/our-team/erdin-beshimov

Expect and Accept Chaos

Leading a start-up brand in the exploding NA beer segment this past year has been incredibly challenging. But with those challenges has come tremendous gratitude for our team, partners, customers, and, of course, the support of friends and family. When COVID-19 hit, we could have thrown in the towel and walked away from the added risk. Instead, we doubled down, shifted gears to off-prem and online sales, and continue to gain traction.

Life as a start-up CEO in a rapidly emerging industry is 50/50 organization and entropy. While planning is crucial, I must always be at the ready with the fire extinguisher. It works for me to make time each day to focus solely on unexpected problems and ideas. I maintain a robust calendar with feeds from Google, Zoom and family schedules in one place, which I review each evening for the next day. I mostly focus on the week in front of me — in our world, things are moving quickly, so anything more than a week out is subject to change. Biggest planning challenge? Time zones. Because we work with partners across the country, I’ve learned the hard way — by missing or being way early to calls — to always confirm the time zone.

– Jeff Hollander, CEO and Co-Founder of Hairless Dog Brewing Company, https://www.drinkhairlessdog.com/

Man and Woman Working Together
Photo by Anthony Shkraba from Pexels

Three Tips for Stronger Connections

Tip 1: Hire people you can trust. When expanding your business, it’s a challenge to figure out who will actually put in the work to make the company prosper. This is especially true when you have a smaller business where each employee should be making meaningful contributions each day. At FlexIt, we are very careful about who we bring onto the team. We recommend ensuring cultural fit is there and leveraging mutual connections and relationships to create a close-knit bond between team members. We also recommend creating a referral program to incentivize the team bringing excellent candidates to the table.

Tip 2: Make hiring a collaborative process. We have some key team members — beyond the leadership team — meet potential hires. We do this in order to make sure there is a level of respect between all team members. It leads to a more cohesive work environment, especially when projects overlap, as they often do in startups.

Tip 3: Have face-to-face conversations. With the rise of technology comes the decline of personalized interactions. Everyone is bombarded with hundreds of marketing emails, texts and push notifications, but those aren’t unique to that individual and all of that gets lost in the shuffle. It’s important to have a knowledgeable sales team that can communicate with clients, hear their needs and give them something they will use, love and be a fan of.

– Austin Cohen, Founder and CEO of FlexIt, https://flexit.fit/virtualpt/

Invest in Text Message Communications

One of the fastest growing types of applications being adopted by small businesses are tools that combine website chat with two-way text messaging. These digital marketing applications allow customers who visit SMB websites to contact the business directly through a web chat widget. The business owner or manager receives an alert about the customer inquiry and can respond via text message using the application. From then on, the customer can conveniently text message the business.

The most popular software companies offering these solutions are BirdEye and Podium. Both have over 50,000 customers across all types of industries. Pricing for these tools starts at around $300 per month. There are also industry-specific solutions that offer this web chat and text message functionality. An example of that is Weave in the dental industry.

From an ROI standpoint, these tools generate value from existing website traffic. Therefore, they maximize return on existing or reduced marketing spend. Since messaging volume is unlimited, companies that invest more into the tools will see the greatest return.

– Bruce Hogan, CEO of SoftwarePundit, https://www.softwarepundit.com/

Real Estate Industry Changes

The real estate business has changed immensely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The way we advertise and sell homes has become digitalized. Our Group, High Realty Group, has restructured spending through this pandemic and reorganized tasks, allowing us to keep our regular staff and hire new employees. We are willing to invest in technology and look into our industry’s future.

We handle our website development in-house, focused on SEO and social media algorithms. We successfully navigate the restrictions on housing ads on social media. Through our strategy, we can hyper-target the community radius of La Jolla, a 0.638 sq mi area, in comparison to the 15-mile restriction imposed by housing ad regulations from Facebook. Facebook also does not allow housing ads targeting based on age or income bracket. We can influence the ad placement to the proper demographics through our use of ad copy, imagery, and targeted keywords. We have structured our digital model to have landing pages in compliance with Facebook’s best ad practices, helping increase lead generation for our clients and ad placement.

We believe that houses’ marketing will continue to evolve into the digital realm with 3D renderings and aggressive social media marketing. Nonetheless, we hope to add previous marketing efforts that have worked before, such as open houses and events to showcase the properties. In the future, we will maintain a hybrid of strategies.

– Alejandro High, President of High Realty Group, https://www.HighRealtyGroup.com/

SEO for Gaining Relevancy

SEO is critically important for SaaS businesses who want to show up online and be relevant. I started The Word Counter in January of 2020 because I saw an opportunity to capitalize. The existing word counting sites that take up the first page of Google are of low quality and do not have a lot of content. My goal is to show up as the #1 search result when people search for a word counter so we can capture the vast majority of those clicks. Since January of 2020 when we began, we’ve gone from 0 to 30,000 unique visitors per month. In addition, we are using this site as a project to demonstrate our results as a digital marketing agency (I also own GR0). I monetize the site with Google AdSense and with a Grammarly affiliate program.

In 2021 and beyond, a good SEO strategy relies on high-quality content plus in-depth keyword research. If you do the leg work and use keyword research tools like SEMRush or Ahrefs, you can identify hidden opportunities and then capitalize on those opportunities by creating high-quality, keyword-informed content. We frequently use original research and data in our content. The data is fact-based and usually displayed in visual charts that tell a story. This makes it easy to convey the findings and it is differentiated from normal text. The uniqueness is the key and it must add distinct value.

– Gerald Lombardo, Co-Founder of The Word Counter, https://thewordcounter.com/

Crush It on Instagram by Working with Influencers

We’ve amassed over half a million followers on our iHeartRaves Instagram page and over 270K followers on our INTO THE AM Instagram page and we like to use influencers as part of our digital marketing strategy. Our target audience includes fashion-oriented people who attend music festivals and enjoy electronic dance music. We engage in influencer marketing in a variety of ways. We find popular accounts that meet our criteria for selection, and we start a conversation to gauge whether or not it’s a good fit. Oftentimes, we will send one of our products to an influencer for free, in exchange for an honest review that is posted to their blog or social media followers. This leads to a ton of sales and new followers.

For us, the most important element of an influencer package aside from cultural fit is the overall reach of their blog or social media accounts. We measure our return on investment based on the number of new followers we receive, the number of impressions we receive, how much referral traffic we get, and of course how many sales come as a result of the campaign. The beauty of using social media and influencer marketing to generate sales is that they can be utilized in just about every industry, whether you’re selling a physical product or a service.

– Brian Lim, Founder and CEO of INTO THE AM and iHeartRaves, https://www.intotheam.com/ and https://www.iheartraves.com/

Adaptability in 2021 and Beyond

Adaptability is incredibly important for small businesses. It isn’t a case of being ready for expected changes, but instead to be ready to run the company with whatever happens unexpectedly, which could save a small business given the uncertainty of the market in 2020 and continuing in 2021.

In addition, as a young entrepreneur, starting my own business at the age of 22, I thought I could do it all by myself. I started a private tutoring company formerly called “Fortune Tutoring Group” — which is now a part of our current brand LA Tutors 123, and ran the company alone for over five years. One person, AKA me, oversaw marketing, talking to leads, supporting current clients, hiring tutors, HR, etc. The lesson learned from my mistake is that having knowledgeable and experienced consultants and employees not only can give you much-needed objective perspective, but also helps grow the business a lot faster. Having a team of professionals now, I regret not bringing other talent on board sooner.

– Arash Fayz, Co-Founder and Executive Director of LA Tutors 123, https://www.latutors123.com/

Outsourcing for Various Operations

Most entrepreneurs fall into the mindset that you must control every facet of your business all on your own for many reasons, whether that be cutting costs or maybe wanting to make your mark as being self-made. The reality is growing businesses have to consider outsourcing for various operations and departments. If you try to shoulder every aspect of the business, you will likely not be functioning at your optimal level. A business preparing for scaling upwards needs to broaden its bandwidth in order to secure the future and longevity of the brand. If you plan for your business to be a stronghold that is far-reaching, consider outsourcing for vital departments like finance, marketing, and IT. When you take this step, you are securing your ability to scale up.

– Kevin Miller, Co-Founder and CEO of GR0, https://gr0.com/

Typing on Laptop
Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

Sharing Video Content

My best advice for small businesses and entrepreneurs to grow their own businesses in 2021 is to focus on digital marketing, specifically video content. One of the most significant and lasting effects of the pandemic will be the way in which people interact and consume content. Since the pandemic hit in March 2020, digital content consumption is up over 48%, with the majority of this being on mobile. And with people going out less, traditional mediums of advertising like billboards and window signs just don’t carry the same juice they used to. So, if your ad campaigns need a totally fresh start, I would recommend starting a YouTube channel in 2021.

No matter what business you are in — construction, cosmetics, or even cannabis — you as a business owner have special knowledge. By starting a YouTube channel and posting videos with tips and guidance related to your niche, you are going to get instant traffic. Not only that, Google considers social signals like YouTube in its search rankings, so this will help with your website’s SEO as well. Video content consumption through YouTube has grown 62% in the last 9 months, and you want to be a part of that wave. Your videos don’t have to be fancy or have amazing production value. Just be authentic and give advice that people will find helpful related to your niche. This will be a great way to jumpstart your digital marketing and grow your business in 2021.

– John Ross, CEO of Test Prep Insight, https://testprepinsight.com/

Expansion Tips, Sales Strategies, and Marketing Insights

1. Entrepreneurs only have 16 hours in the working day to plough through the endless list of tasks. Stick to what you’re good at and offload those tasks you’re not good at to those who are more capable. There are great platforms such as Upwork which allow you to source global talent right from your home! You can initiate, execute and complete projects in less than 24 hours, often for a good price. Segmenting and dissecting high-priority areas in this manner also means you only pay for expertise as and when you need it.

2. I’ve been in sales for the last 10 years and this is an area I know well. If you are in B2B, create a hit list and a strong outreach with proper following up. If, for example, you are reaching out to decision-makers via email, you should follow up at least 4 times before closing that opportunity. Maybe you land an introductory call, learn as much as you can about their business and how you will help them achieve their business goals.

B2C is slightly different as you can’t exactly go knocking on people’s doors. This doesn’t mean that you cannot be personable though. Finding 100 customers who love your product is much more powerful than finding 100 customers who like your product or service. Do whatever you can to make them love you — speak with them over the phone, get feedback, and alleviate any issues quickly. These initial customers effectively act as your sales team, promoting you to others, for free!

3. Marketing is very simple. If you are spending more on your advertisements than you are receiving in turnover then it is not working. You should have the digital capacity to track exactly where your customers are coming from and how much it costs to bring them to your business.

Although businesses buy from other businesses, people buy from people. Get super active on social media and LinkedIn, sell your vision, sell your sell and your beliefs.

– Amit Gami, Founder of Card Payment Guru, https://www.cardpaymentguru.co.uk/

Leveraging PR to Publicize Your Biz

Public relations professionals play a major role in branding by shaping an organization’s image. How businesses interact with the public and their target audience will become their brand’s story, and during a pandemic, brand awareness is critical and uniquely challenging. In light of this, many businesses hired PR firms in 2020 to help build their brand, spread their message, and generate positive publicity, and have continued to invest in public relations in 2021. Leveraging the expertise of PR professionals allows them to craft messages that resonate with their target audience and earn media coverage that expands their reach and increases brand authority.

– Michael Vaughan, Account Executive at HeraldPR, https://heraldpr.com/

Use Storytelling to Grow in 2021

Storytelling is the most underutilized method of selling the brand. Everything has a beginning, middle and an end and this is how we as humans relate to the things we encounter in our environment. It has been proven time and time again that the most effective means of connecting to your audience is by eliciting an emotional response. Telling the story behind the brand; the “who, what, where, when and why” of it, is the most effective means of evoking emotion. Also telling the story behind the founder(s); who they are, what their past experiences were, where they came from, and why they decided to create their current company. This is the foundation of the most successful companies today such as Apple, Coca-Cola, Amazon, McDonald’s, Google, Facebook, Alibaba and many others.

– Rio Rocket, Founder and Host of Design Your Decade, https://www.designyourdecade.io/ and https://apple.co/3lLeKR8

Expanding a Customer Base

Entrepreneurs can grow their businesses in 2021 by performing an assessment of their existing products/services and eliminating the ones that require the most resources (especially time) and produce the least revenue. The highest-performing revenue streams that remain can be made more scalable by thinking of creative ways to automate the systems/delivery, turn live launch products to evergreen, and build in recurring income opportunities or payment plans for increased cash flow stability.

For us, turning our signature course (Cubicle to CEO) into an evergreen, annual membership with a 12-month payment plan has allowed us to scale from $500 months to $20,000 recurring months for that product alone, plus free up time and money to grow our overall business revenue by 211%.

We’ve also massively expanded our customer base and profitably acquired over 6,000 new customers in less than a year by creating a self-liquidating offer funnel and running ads to that instead of a freebie funnel. Basically, we’ve created an accessible, low-cost program (Hashtag Hacks, only $27) to at least break-even on our ad spend and build a list of buyers instead of a list of only freebie seekers. By purchasing a program, our customers are also more likely to take action and consume the content, thus achieving greater results for their business and building the confidence to invest in our programs and services down the line.

– Ellen Yin, Founder and Podcast Host of Cubicle to CEO, https://www.ellenyin.com/

Final Thoughts

It is still more than possible to start and grow a small business in the pandemic era. In the age of remote work, more entrepreneurs are taking the leap to turn a business idea into reality. Take these tips from industry professionals and help jumpstart your business today. For more information on launching and growing a successful home-based business in 2021 and beyond, visit https://homebusinessmag.com/ and https://homebusinessexpo.com/.

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