Before marketers set goals for the upcoming year, considering the changes of 2021 will help guide the next iteration of future growth. Here are three areas small businesses can focus on going into 2022.
After the loss and stagnation marked by 2020 across so many industries, 2021 brought promise and demand—sometimes in such a flurry that businesses couldn’t keep up. While myriad factors affected why service and offerings didn’t always meet that demand, this mismatch offered insight into changing customer needs and the areas in which small businesses can focus their attention in order to grow. The most notable change is the on-demand expectations that have escalated as customers have more options than ever before to decide who to do business with.
As B2B marketers determine business goals for the upcoming year, it is paramount to consider a few key factors that this past year has uncovered to be both opportunities and impediments. These three areas can help marketers set and measure 2022 efforts that accurately reflect the state of small businesses now and the real opportunity for growth and expansion in the near future.
1. Define growth and understand its realities
Before marketers can put 2022 plans into place, it’s crucial to determine the type of growth desired for your business and what that growth may hinge on, such as bringing on more staff, acquiring more customers or expanding services.
To do this, small businesses must first identify their current stage of business development and what success looks like at the next stage. Pragmatism in goal setting ensures businesses are set up to meet goals or, on the flip side, highlights the areas that need to be dialed in before you can begin working toward that goal. Without understanding where your business is now, and then thinking through what growth really looks like in the near term, small businesses can misplace efforts and misuse resources.
Let’s say you want to bring in more customers. To approach this goal practically, ask if you’re set up to handle a swath of new customers. Do you have the staff? Enough supply? Without these things, your business likely won’t be able to deliver an experience that leads to customer loyalty, increased referrals and lasting growth for your business. Worst case, you risk damaging your brand reputation and losing existing and future customers from poor reviews.
For every one customer that has a positive experience, a minimum of four more customers are generated through word-of-mouth marketing. The opposite effect happens with a negative experience—not only do you lose the potential of four new customers, but the damage is also further magnified by lost revenue from the sharing of that experience.
While the main business fundamentals are similar for small and large businesses, execution is different for small businesses. Often, small businesses do not have the same tools or resources in place to accelerate growth (such as marketing dollars to drive demand in a competitive space), so they must focus their efforts and be creative in their execution. Therefore, taking a step back to define the next phase of your business, understanding the realities of that journey, and ensuring everything is in place (or will be) to work toward achieving those goals, is your best bet for success in 2022. Too often businesses risk it all by skipping this critical planning step and instead dive straight into marketing without the full scope of the infrastructure required to deliver on that demand.
2. Challenge your assumptions of what’s working well
Another good strategy for approaching small business goal setting is to consider how to drive new efficiencies throughout your operations to deliver more value and potentially serve more customers.
Often small businesses rely on what has always worked before to inform the strategy moving forward. However, agility is only achieved through being flexible—and this is how some small businesses are scaling and winning more customers while others are showing minimal year-over-year (YOY) growth results.
Look at what makes the best use of your existing resources—from the work offered to how the work is done and who does it. Finding ways to streamline processes can mean more money reinvested back into the business and more profitability through gross margin expansion.
Solo-entrepreneurs and small businesses are particularly prone to competing priorities and significant distractions. And this is during a time with an ever-increasing demand for responsiveness to customer inquiries, something that the “chief everything officer” and their staff is often challenged with. Identifying areas within the business that can be made more efficient may uncover potential long-term gain at the same time, which ultimately improves the overall health and sustainability of the business.
3. Manage expectations better than ever before
Expectations management at its core is servicing customers in a way that meets their needs while over-communicating any given restraints your business might have. This is why the service experience itself is such an important area to focus attention on moving into 2022.
While demand rose for several businesses, services couldn’t be met in a timely manner, and customer patience waned for both products and services. Marketers must find a way to set and manage expectations at every turn to keep customers informed through every available channel, including their website, emails, and verbal and digital communication.
Prioritizing a customer’s experience has always been important. That said, consider that
half a million new businesses were started in January 2021
alone, and competition is now so prevalent that customer experience can be a distinguishing factor between a business succeeding, or not. An expectations management strategy can have a critical impact, from the first impression to the lasting one as small businesses rely on word-of-mouth referrals as a part of their go-to-market and growth strategy.
Businesses that are transparent with customers at every stage create the opportunity to align customer expectations with the reality of the challenges all businesses are facing with labor shortages, supply chain disruptions and evolving customer needs and demands. Though they may still come with their assumptions about what the experiences should be, over-communicating existing barriers can de-escalate moments of potential frustration. That responsiveness is crucial.
Looking forward to another year, businesses can’t assume what has been successful in the past will continue to work next year. Customer demands change, and how they move through the consideration phase also changes. Allowing room for agility and then paying close attention throughout the year to the fluctuations in your industry with a willingness to adjust and pivot as needed is how small businesses will find success next year.
While the factors outlined here will help marketers set more relevant goals moving into 2022, and provide a better strategy for reaching them, you must adapt along the way. If you don’t, your customers may just find a business that will.
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