If change is the only constant in life, the ability to nimbly navigate highs, lows, plot twists and curveballs will come in mighty handy. The more adaptable we are, the better we will fare in any situation—be it smooth sailing or wild storms. The beauty of small businesses is that they can bend, flex and pivot far better than their larger competitors.
Ready for the ride? In this article, we’ll explore how to adapt your small business to an ever-changing market by digitising and diversifying your offering.
What is adaptability?
Adaptability, by definition, is the quality of being able to adjust to new conditions and the capacity to be modified for a new use or purpose. Almost 10 years ago the Harvard Business Review dubbed it ‘the new competitive advantage’ and these days, with the business landscape shifting rapidly (and rather unnervingly) underfoot, adaptability is all the more crucial for small businesses.
Adopting an adaptable business mindset
While larger, clunkier companies might look to unforeseen events and see doom and gloom, small businesses—nimble by their very design—are often well placed to seek out new opportunities for expansion and growth. As with many things, how a business owner responds to change comes down to their attitude. Some characteristics of an adaptable mindset include:
Savvy business leaders will change their business model, processes and strategies to meet emerging needs and trends. Increasingly, successful brands have embraced more fluid employee structures (more staff autonomy, less dated bureaucracy) and workflow software (like Slack and Trello).
Socrates was on to something when he said, “True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing.” An adaptable business owner is passionately curious, always keen to learn new things and eager to expand and strengthen their skillset.
A flexible business owner doesn’t know the meaning of ‘no can do’. In the face of adversity, they are optimistic and solutions-focused, always ready to think laterally and willing to tackle an obstacle or challenge from all angles.
When finding themselves in uncharted territory or uncertain circumstances, adaptable business owners will ask themselves: how can I stay connected to my customers and what value can I offer them?
10 ways to adapt your small business
1. Diversify your revenue streams
A robust business will have more than one way to make money and, ideally, income streams that take little to no effort to maintain. Revenue of this kind (known as ‘passive income’) can be generated through royalties, affiliate marketing, ad space, and subscription memberships. If you’ve got skills to share, developing products such an e-book and e-courses can bring in dollars while you sleep (and isn’t that the dream).
2. Stream live events
Don’t limit your reach to the narrow confines of time and space. There are loads of free live streaming platforms (like YouTube Live Event, TikTok, Instagram Live and Facebook Live) that allow anyone and everyone to access your event, seminar, workshop, fitness class, author talk, concert, conference… whatever you happen to be hosting. Be sure to hit record so that latecomers don’t miss out.
3. Meet with clients via video conferencing
Thanks to remote conferencing services such a Zoom, Google Hangout, and Skype, face-to-face meetings needn’t be in the flesh. Whether you’re a health professional, counselor, personal trainer, business coach or music teacher, meeting with your clients via video can make life easier and more efficient for both you and your customers. The same goes for meetings with your colleagues and employees, should you have them.
4. Introduce or emphasize takeaways
It would do well to explore ‘takeaway’ options for your customers… here is an area to get creative.
5. Home-deliver your products
Apps like UberEats have long made it possible for restaurants, bars, and cafes to distribute their offerings far and wide, but other bricks and mortar businesses—such as hairdressers (think customised colour kits), book shops, automotive brands and beauty salons (think at-home spa products) are getting in on the home-delivery action. If your output is relatively small, consider buddying up with a fellow business owner to share the cost of delivery service.
6. Expand into e-commerce
No matter what you’re flogging, people should be able to find it, learn about it and buy it online. If your business doesn’t have a website, get one. If your website isn’t shoppable, make it so. And if this all sounds like too much right now, acquaint your business with a webstore platform like Shopify or an online marketplace like Etsy.
7. Automate everything
Automation allows you to get more done with fewer resources (hello increased output, improved efficiency, and lower costs). When considering which areas of your business to target, look to major pain points and time sappers and explore the technologies available to remedy them. Areas to automate could include your sales process, employee scheduling, appointment booking, inventory, invoicing, shipping, customer service, and digital marketing.
8. Make agile marketing decisions
An adaptable business needs a marketing strategy that can pivot with the grace of a prima ballerina. Keep a close eye on trends and issues that affect your target market and respond (quickly) with relevant content. Showcase this content in places where your customers are spending most of their time (hot tip 83% of video content is viewed on YouTube) and be prepared to move with them across various platforms.
9. Keep your customers up to date
Want to build a customer base that will loyally support your business no matter what? Communication is key. If you are making changes, be sure that your clients and customers know about them. Tell people how to best engage and interact with your brand and make it easy for them to buy from you. If you’re not doing so already, post frequent updates to your social channels. And now would be the time to launch that e-newsletter.
10. Supercharge your online presence
In this day and (digital) age if your business doesn’t have a solid online presence, it doesn’t exist. Check that your business is optimized for search engines (Google has a useful Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Starter Guide to set you in good stead here) and make sure that website of yours is easy on the eye and simple to use across both desktops and, more importantly, mobile devices.
Business is never static, even at the best of times. At the worst of times, it helps to stay positive and take a page out of Glennon Melton’s book, Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed, where she describes a ‘crisis’ as a gift. “As Kathleen Norris reminds us, the Greek root of the word crisis is ‘to sift’, as in, to shake out the excesses and leave only what’s important,” Glennon writes. “That’s what crises do. They shake things up until we are forced to hold on to only what matters most. The rest falls away.
Change can be just what we need to get back to the core of our small businesses, recalibrate and come out stronger.