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Revisit the Pivot: 5 Things Small Businesses Should Do Now

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Even before a global pandemic struck, disasters forced many small businesses to shutter. Now, a new report from McKinsey & Company reveals that a general business recovery from the COVID-19 crisis could take five years or more—even longer for small businesses.

Nearly everyone has taken steps to adapt, but it's clear that small businesses must revisit every opportunity to pivot, especially now that a federal loan program and other economy-boosting efforts from the government have ended.

Here are five to things you can do right now.

1. Dive into Data

As virtually everyone has changed their behavior in a range of ways since the pandemic struck, it's likely that your customer base and their spending patterns are changing, as well. Now is the time to examine—or re-examine—this shift. Fortunately, free web and social media tools can analyze such changes, which is crucial because you'll want to see how you can best serve new customer needs.

For example, Google Analytics show how people navigate through your site and highlight which users are likely to convert or which customers have high revenue potential. Social media dashboards such as Sprout Social offer reports that let you spot social activity trends early, so you can see which posts engage your audience. Free or low-cost email marketing tools detail who opens your emails and if they click on links for more information or to buy.

All this lets you get to know your audience better, so you can start offering products and services targeting them.

2. Lean on a Giant

In many cases, big companies depend on small businesses' survival, so you can look to them for support, according to McKinsey. Big tech companies could be a source of help. For example, restaurant aggregators such as Door Dash and Uber Eats might help by featuring small, independent restaurants on their platforms.

Large manufacturing businesses might give small companies demand guarantees or help with capital financing. That helps large companies shore up their longer-term supply chain. Small businesses operate on tight profit margins, so collaborative efforts such as this offer an ideal alternative to solutions that come with a price tag.

3. Think “Hyperlocal" to Gain an Edge

Changed shopping behaviors, supply-chain challenges and other types of marketplace disruption have led 15 to 20 percent of consumers to switch stores. About half of those who switched reported that they plan to stick with their new store, according to McKinsey's U.S. Consumer Pulse Survey.

But that could be bad news for small retailers because shoppers are taking fewer trips and spending more in bigger, one-stop shops. As a small business owner, you can differentiate your company by offering more value, according to the report.

Focus on “hyperlocal" demand trends and compete on service and quality instead of price. Look around and find out what your community needs, and what other businesses are doing to fulfill that. Talk with suppliers and manufacturers for help and input, too.

4. Create Buzz

Once you've determined how to fill a new market niche with a new product or service, tear a page out of the playbook of trending tech companies and use a pre-order strategy to create excitement about your launch. Think about your kids' anticipation as they wait for the next version of their favorite Xbox game—after they've asked you to buy it for them—or friends awaiting the next new iPhone they've pre-ordered.

List your new item on your website. It can get customers talking about you, gauge demand and, best of all, lock in early sales to fund production or future marketing campaigns, according to TradeGecko, a cloud-based commerce platform.

5. Build your e-Commerce Store or Optimize It to Boost Sales

Extend your brick-and-mortar business into the digital world—or, if you already have, make it more profitable. E-commerce platforms such as Shopify offer simple tips for getting started. Promote it with emails to customers, storefront signs, adding your store's URL to your Instagram bio, pinning a tweet with your store link and sharing it on Facebook.

Use the Google My Business free tool to post your site address, product photos to appear in search results and special offers to draw customers to your online shop.

Already have an online store? Optimize it. Lead generation software OptinMonster offers steps for making product pages better at convincing visitors to buy, and tips for up-selling, flash sales, split-testing email campaigns and other tactics to drive up revenue.

It's clear that small business owners have to work harder—and smarter—to survive. In this Darwinian landscape, a refreshed pivot could help you adapt and evolve. Challenges offer opportunities, and millions of consumers are now up for grabs.