Dear Agile Aunt,
I own a small clothing boutique, and have been doing my best to balance the books post-lockdown. I’ve followed the re-opening and social distancing guidelines to a T, and have been glad to see a slow trickle of customers return to the shop.
Recently though, it’s become clear that, even when restrictions are relaxed, we have entered ‘the new normal’. From what I understand, going forward, it’s only the businesses that have strong digital capabilities that will survive.
The problem is, it’s our in-person experience that makes us unique. We don’t have the resources or technical expertise to recreate this digitally – if indeed it’s possible at all. Is the business doomed to fail, or is there anything I can do to boost our chances of survival?
- Flustered Fashionista
Dear Flustered Fashionista,
It’ll come as no surprise that you’re not alone in your worries. It’s been a turbulent time for all businesses, big and small. And with the end of the pandemic still not in sight, everyone is coming to terms with the fact that things have to change.
The good news is business size doesn’t necessarily correlate with the ability to thrive. Plenty of large enterprises have had to admit defeat. And conversely, many small businesses have flourished in recent months. In fact, the flexibility and agility small businesses enjoy gives you an advantage!
By being adaptable and embracing technology – which you quite rightly say is important for survival – there’s absolutely no reason you can’t weather the storm.
Learning to adapt
Let’s start with the two barriers you say are stopping you embracing tech: a lack of resources and expertise.
It’s a common misconception that technology is only for those with deep pockets. Technology companies want to help small businesses, and they know that these enterprises can’t make the upfront investment that larger businesses can.
That’s why many products have been designed specifically so that the barrier to entry is low. For example, these tools may have scalable pricing structures, which reduces upfront costs and means businesses only pay more when they are earning more. They are also easier to install and have simple interfaces, so that businesses don’t need to onboard a team of techies to makes their systems works.
A good example of an small business focused tool is our own Meraki Go. It’s a cloud-based networking solution that unites all devices within a single network – something that’s very handy when remote employees are using a diverse set of devices. The pricing is affordable, and as the product is managed from a single handy app, it’s nice and intuitive.
Tools like these mean it’s never been easier to embrace tech. Whether it be for managing your network, collaborating with teams, or setting up a new digital revenue stream, technology is a tool to help you adapt to the new market.
The age of ecommerce
But let’s address the second point in your letter. It’s very common for the ‘instore’ experience to be the defining feature of a small business. Surrendering it may feel like you’re losing a big part of what makes you unique – but that doesn’t have to be the case.
Firstly, physical retail will never be completely eclipsed by ecommerce. Your brick-and-mortar store(s) will always be the soul of your business. Rather than lament reduced footfall in a post-COVID world, explore how you can set up an ecommerce presence – and how it can augment your already-strong physical presence.
This is where you hold the edge over the likes of Amazon. While the corporate giant can (mostly) only operate in the digital sphere, you have a physical space where you can offer experiences they cannot.
These could be transactional (click and collect, or shelf QR codes so customers can see more product information on their phones, for example), but they could also be more creative. How about store fashion shows, style makeover packages or clothes personalisation workshops? Let your imagination run wild!
Overall, the most important point is the need to be adaptable. Ecommerce isn’t going anywhere – so rather than fear it, use it to your advantage.
COVID-19 is unprecedented. But remember, just a decade ago we were going through a major financial crisis – and that was pretty unprecedented too. While some businesses crumbled, many more emerged stronger than ever before. I guess the message is no one is doomed to fail. Adapt to the new normal, embrace technology, and there’ll be no reason you can’t succeed.
- Yours, Agile Aunt
Cisco has been helping to support small businesses to recover from the economic impact from COVID-19, explore how here.