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Image of Melinda F. Emerson

Use uncertainty to your advantage

Agility and resilience are important for every small business, especially now. The coronavirus pandemic has forced many business owners to navigate unprecedented uncertainty and question how to move forward.

“We are all in what I call an evolutionary journey of business,” says Melinda F. Emerson, who is known as SmallBizLady. “Nobody’s business is ever fixed. This moment is just one of many challenges which small businesses must address by evolving out of them.”

In a recent Chase Chats Webcast, Emerson, author of “Fix Your Business: A 90-Day Plan to Get Back Your Life and Reduce Chaos in Your Business,” discusses how businesses can handle uncertainty. She shared 12 tips to help you thrive in challenging moments like the one we’re living through today.

Preparation: Look under the hood

Think of preparation like car maintenance: You may hear a rattle in your car and continue driving — aware of a problem but unwilling to deal with it — until eventually the car won’t start. Don’t be afraid to look under the hood of your business and address issues that may be lurking beneath the surface, even if that means reinventing your business model.

Purpose: Put your ‘why’ into action

Customers are more interested in businesses whose leaders have a clear purpose, beyond simply profit. This is especially effective when your vision shines through in your business model. For example, a winery whose vision involves building connections and community may host open mic nights online or create custom care packages, pairing wines with goods from local businesses. Get clear on your new “why” story and put it into action.

People: Get the right team

There are three common people problems in business: not enough employees, the wrong employees and not enough training for your employees. Hire the right people, and help them develop the skills your business needs. As the leader of your business, you should mentor your employees.

Profit: Mind your money

Track your profit margins carefully. Every sale should be profitable. Cut any unnecessary expenses, and don’t let fear of math be an excuse for not knowing what’s going on financially in your business. Use up-to-date financial statements to make business decisions.

Processes: Document how your business runs

Don’t keep all of your processes in your head. Document, document, document. That way, you can train employees to do routine tasks and free up your time for more important work, like sales.

“If your time is billable at $250 an hour, why are you entering your own data into QuickBooks?” asks Emerson. “Make sure you’re focused on your most high-value activities, and that’s not doing $20 an hour work.”

Productivity: Use the right tools

Once you’re clear on your business processes, make a list of the tasks that need to happen every week and every month. What can you automate? For example, if you sell products on your website, make sure you’re optimizing sales by sending an email nudging customers who’ve abandoned their shopping carts to finish the sale. If you’re shipping a lot right now, find ways to automate label printing, postage and tracking notices.

Performance: Measure your results

What are you measuring in your business? It’s important to pay attention to the details of your business operations. When you track and measure things like customer satisfaction and email open rates, you identify areas for growth and improvement. What is your customer acquisition cost? What is your rate of repeat business? What social media sites drive traffic to your website? What is your ROI on online ads? If you don’t measure your marketing, you’re throwing away money.

Product: Stay relevant

Review your product and services portfolio often. Is there still a market need for what you’re offering? Will there be a need in three to five years? Solicit customer feedback. Study the trends in your industry, and determine your next product, online course or service innovation. It’s not enough to know where your industry stands now; you must know where it’s going.

Presence: Build your brand online and offline

Does your brand need a makeover? Remember that your website is your top sales tool, especially right now. If you haven’t updated it in 18 months, it’s likely time for a refresh. Inbound marketing is generated from effective and consistent content and branding in the marketplace.

Prospects: Create a sales system

Evaluate your sales process end-to-end. Do you have a systematic way to drive leads, nurture prospects and convert them into paying customers? If not, it’s time to create one.

Planning: Update your strategy

It’s unlikely that the strategy you had in place pre-COVID-19 can stay exactly the same — and be effective —after the pandemic. Even if your business has been doing well, the landscape around you has changed dramatically. And so have your customers, making it a great time to rethink your strategy for evolving your business this year and beyond.

Perseverance: Stay strong

It’s hard to weather the storms that come along in business. To survive, you must be willing to take some punches. Never focus on failure, just remember that every experience is a lesson, some are just more expensive than others.

“You have to stay strong enough long enough to win in business,” says Emerson. “If you do your planning now, you will come out better in the long run. You will be ready for tomorrow.”

Learn more about Emerson’s approach to turning challenges into opportunities in her Chase Chats Webcast.


For informational / educational purposes only: The views expressed in this article may differ from those of other employees and departments of JPMorgan Chase & Co. Views and strategies described may not be appropriate for everyone and are not intended as specific advice / recommendation for any individual. You should carefully consider your needs and objectives before making any decisions and consult the appropriate professional(s). Outlooks and past performance are not guarantees of future results.



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