Supporting Our Small Business Colleagues & Friends

Every once in a while, I like to look back to what we were doing a year ago.

In July 2019, life was radically different. We were busily blogging about branding. We also  roamed freely in our cities and networked face-to-face. Summer was filled with beach time,  boat rides, biking and concerts and festivals. A typical wonderful Chicago summer.

A lot has happened in this year. A lot of really difficult days as small business owners struggle  to survive…..or just to not have to shut down.

More than ever, we need to support one another. Our business community is stronger when  it’s healthy. So we’ve come up with something called Small Business Shoutouts. We want to  help our small business colleagues, clients and friends who are facing huge challenges. We  want to celebrate the grit, hard work and determination it takes to start a business and stick  with it through difficult times. Like now.

The goal of Small Business Shoutouts is to spread the word. Maybe you don’t know these  businesses or organizations. Maybe they offer something you’d love or a friend or colleague  would love. We’d love if you could share them with friends. Because we think that’s what a  healthy small business community does.

Here’s who we’re shouting out this month:

Shoutout #1 goes to Free Spirit Yacht Cruises, a family-owned private luxury yacht charter  Owners Angela and Joe Donofrio operate two of the most inviting private yachts on Lake  Michigan. Many of their corporate and private clients come back year after year to entertain  and celebrate happy occasions. But this year has been rough with almost three months lost  due to COVID-19. When your season is only six months long, it’s devastating to lose half of it.

free spirit private yachtA private yacht offers excellent entertaining opportunities despite the virus. And it definitely is  a spirit booster. You’re outside in fresh air and the yachts are large enough for easy social  distancing. You can still enjoy great food and drinks. The yachts are spotless and every  precaution is taken to keep you and your guests safe. So if you’re looking for a way to  celebrate summer, a private yacht charter might be just what you need. The season doesn’t  end till early October. Just sayin……

Full disclosure: I worked with Free Spirit on their marketing and PR from the time they first  bought the company ten years ago until 2018. We also designed several website iterations  (although not the current one).

Shoutout #2  is for 360 Chicago, the observation deck at the top of 875 N. Michigan Ave  (formerly called the John Hancock Building).
360 CHICAGO
Another near casualty of the virus, it just  reopened on July 1st and offers one of our town’s most amazing views. Whether you’re up for Tilt, billed as Chicago’s highest thrill ride, or just want to experience the oohs and ahs of our  city 94 floors below, it’s a treat for the whole family. They’ve taken all sorts of COVID-related  safety precautions? so you can feel perfectly comfortable visiting.  Full disclosure: Iris does their  graphic design branding work.

Shoutout #3 is not a small business but an organization that advocates for small businesses  in Illinois. The SBAC (Small Business Advocacy Council) is a non-partisan, member-driven  organization that promotes the success of small business through political advocacy, support  services and educational programs.

the sbac website home pageIf your small business has benefited from Illinois’s reduced LLC filing fees or from bills that make it  easier for small businesses to compete with large companies in the same arena, you can thank the  SBAC. Aside from advocacy, it offers a wealth of resources including educational programs and  networking opportunities to all its members. We are active members.

We are also active in the SBAC Women In Business Group. And Iris is on the board of SBAC  Empower, an SBAC affiliate which promotes entrepreneurship and small business development in  economically-challenged communities with education and mentorship. Full disclosure: we did the  SBAC Empower website.

If you know of a Chicago area small business that could use a Shoutout, leave a comment and tell  us why. In the meantime, stay safe and enjoy the summer we’ve been dealt. It beats Chicago winter,  right?

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Small Business Marketing in the Throes of a Pandemic

an image of the world wearing a protective mask

When the world does a 360, everything you thought you knew becomes questionable.

In the grips of a frightening pandemic, advertising might be the last thing you’re thinking about. But businesses still need to be on their toes.

You simply can’t ignore campaigns you’ve been running because, odds are, the messaging needs adjusting. And if you don’t acknowledge the new normal, you’re going to look bad. Really bad.

See our latest video about companies that are thriving despite Covid-19.

The Good, The Bad & The Clueless

I’ve been watching way too much television since the pandemic.started.. But part of it is marketing research. I’m curious as to how businesses are handling messaging during the pandemic. Some are ignoring it and doing advertising as usual. Others are either creating new ads or tweaking existing ad campaigns to reflect what’s going on in the world at the moment.

Ad Age took a look at 7 brands whose ads coincided with Covid-19.

Norwegian Cruise Lines stands out for horrendous timing. There’s not much else to say about it ……other than I’ll never take another cruise. Will you?

Here are a few companies doing a great job of adapting their messaging to fit the current climate:

Ford
Their commercials are reassuring, offering payment relief for Ford Credit customers. The director of U.S. marketing for Ford Motor Co. said: “It’s important to be reassuring right now and not trying to say to people ‘Rush into your car dealership for a sales event.’ ”

Nike
Nike’s new campaign focuses on social distancing and staying inside. Play inside, play for the world.” Perfect.

Hyundai
Hyundai  replaced their previously scheduled campaign with new spots touting the Hyundai Assurance Job Loss Protection program which defers payments for people who recently bought or leased a car and lost their job during a certain timeframe.

Toyota
Toyota’s new campaign reassures viewers that they’re “here for you now and in all the better days ahead .”

The examples above show how smart marketing teams pivot and respond during a crisis. They’re proactive and they speak to the fears and needs of viewers.

In return, we feel like these brands really give a damn. And when life returns to normal, these brands will be top of mind.

Look to the Businesses that are Marketing Smart

So what can small businesses learn from how big firms are handling their advertising campaigns during a crisis? Here are 4 key takeaways:

  1. Be compassionate. Don’t try to do business as usual when nothing is as usual. Empathize with your audience. Let them know you understand (and share) their fears.
  2. Be authentic. If you want customer loyalty, give them a reason to be loyal. People can usually see through phoniness. If your company has run some ads that ignored the tragic state of the world, acknowledge the error. Apologize and move on. We’re a very forgiving people. You’ll have another chance.
  3. Be trustworthy. Can customers depend on your company’s products or services? Make sure you give them a reason to trust you. This does more for brand loyalty than almost anything else. ‘
  4. Be creative. What can you do to help customers and potential customers notice you, and hopefully, want to give you business down the road? Start by letting them know you’re here to help. Whatever it is they’re going through, be a resource.

Sadly, many small businesses will not survive the coronavirus. So while we’re all stuck inside, now is the perfect time to do what you can to make sure yours is one that does.

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How to Market During Troubling Times

young man with his head in his hands

Building a business is challenging enough when the economy is strong. But we’re currently in the throes of a pandemic and on the brink of a recession and this is something none of us have ever seen before.

Small business owners don’t know if they’ll be able to survive the next few months. So what can you do when you can’t open your retail business or restaurant or office where you meet with customers face-to-face?

This is a time to be super proactive. Sitting on the sidelines waiting for things to turn around is not an option. Rather, use this forced quarantine as a time to get creative with your marketing.

Here are eight easy-to-implement tips designed to stay in touch with customers so you don’t lose them.

  1.  Market consistently. You want to maintain visibility. It’s important to keep your name out in the marketplace – even if it’s only virtual. Never give your customers a chance to forget about you.
  2.  Focus on your customers’ needs. Some of them are obvious now – food, shelter, business support, and the personal services we can no longer get (anyone need a haircut?). But never assume. Ask your customers what they need and how you can help. Let them know you’re still there for them.
  3. Make customer care a priority. A positive customer experience may be the difference between keeping a customer or losing her to a competitor. Vow to make every customer experience a positive one.
  4. Keep your marketing message consistent. Don’t keep changing who you are. Not only does that muddy your brand, but it confuses your customers.
  5. Don’t ignore what’s going on and pretend it’s business as usual. Nothing is as usual right now. Acknowledge that. If you’re a brick & mortar shop and can offer e-commerce, do it. Some sales are better than no sales. If you can’t sell online, what CAN you do? Could you offer online seminars or webinars? What about coaching? Get creative about alternative ways to bring in money.
  6. Find a WOW” about your business. If you can’t find one, create one. It’s the reason customers talk about your shop or your services. One-of-a-kind products. Custom designs. Styles that are always a few steps ahead of the current trends. Consistently outstanding customer service. What makes your company special?
  7. Read Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping by Paco Underhill. It’s a great book that explains what triggers peoples’ “need that” button.
  8. Don’t get discouraged. Well, try not to. Our economy is cyclical. The stock market always comes back. Yes, even from devastating losses like we’re seeing now.

Hopefully, your business will come back as well. But in the current economy, you need to hustle to make that happen.

If we can help, let us know. In the meantime, stay safe.

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Our small business community can beat this!

illustration of the words small business punching with a boxing gloveThe coronavirus has impacted how we live and work.

Schools are closed. Restaurants and bars, too, except for delivery or pickup (at least in Illinois). Appointments that aren’t critical are being postponed. Our world is getting much smaller.

It seems the entire country is working from home for the next few weeks. Savvy companies like Google and Zoho are making that easier to do with free productivity tools. Remotely from Zoho was developed in just one week. Google is offering access to their advanced Hangouts Meet feature to all Education and G Suite customers until July 1st. 

Since it’s  not going to be business as usual for a while, we’ve been thinking about how companies can put this quarantine to good use. Cause we’re going to beat this!

 If you’re a small business owner or a solopreneur, this might be the perfect time to catch up on your marketing. Updating email lists. Creating an inventory of blog posts. Checking in with customers to see how they’re managing. And updating your website, which seems to be a stumbling block for many overwhelmed small business owners who never seem to be able to catch up. Here’s your chance. 

A Robust Marketing Tool
Your website should be your most robust marketing tool. According to Blue Corona, here are two reason why:   

  1.  97% of consumers go online to find a local business or local services.
  2.  Studies show that between 70-80% of people research a company online BEFORE visiting the small business or making a purchase with them.

Think about it. If your website hasn’t been updated with fresh content, new products and security fixes, you’re probably giving away business at a time when more and more people are online working remotely. Especially when we’re quarantined and looking for things to buy.

Amazon just announced that they’re hiring 100,000 workers to keep up with online deliveries. Give you any ideas?

What can you do?

Keeping a website fresh is actually not very difficult if you know what to do. It’s time consuming, however. So why not use this forced stay-at-home time to work on it.

Here’s a checklist of four things you need to do keep your website working for you:

  1.  Add new content regularly.
    Blogging is a great way to keep content fresh. A regular blogging schedule lets Google know to crawl your site on an ongoing basis.
  2.  Keep your site secure.
    Think only large companies fall prey to cyberattacks? Think again.According to Accenture, 43% of cyberattacks are aimed at small businesses. And of that number, only 14% are prepared to defend themselves.Cyberattacks now cost companies $200,000 on average, putting many out of business. Make sure you install ongoing security updates. It’s not enough to just do it when your site is new. Hackers are constantly finding new ways to break in. So it’s critical that your site is protected with the latest technology.
  3. Keep your site optimized.
    Much like the security issues, algorithm changes affect search functionality.  So your keywords and phrases should be refreshed regularly. Don’t let your competition push you to the bottom of a search page.
  4. Never assume.
    As a business owner, you can’t afford to take things for granted. Periodically check your website to see how it appears on different size screens. A site that looks great on a desktop may look wonky on a cell phone.If there’s a problem with responsiveness, you want to be the first one to find it. You don’t want to hear it from  a client.

If you’re reading this and feeling that bringing your website up-to-speed is still not something you have time (or the interest) to do, contact us. We can handle your website management so you can spend your time doing something else to drive business. 

Because as scary as the current business outlook appears at the moment, eventually the coronavirus will be knocked out and life will resume. 

Hopefully, we will all come out of this experience safe and sound…… and wiser.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 20 Ways to Jumpstart 2020

A new decade dawning. Does it feel newer than a regular old middle-of-the-decade new year? Probably not. But why not use it for what it is – a beginning — the start of a calendar year. And as good a time as any to think about how you can jumpstart your business.

 

Based on our combined 50+ years in business, we offer the following 20 ideas for making 2020 your best year yet:

  1. Focus on focusing. Don’t try and accomplish more than you can reasonably accomplish. Better to do a few things really well than a bunch of things half-assed.
  2. If you make a mistake, move on. If you’re lucky enough to be in business long enough, you’ll make lots. That’s how we learn!
  3. Surround yourself with smart people.
  4. LEARN from the smart people around you.
  5. Hire people with the skills you don’t have. So you can focus on what you do best.
  6. Learn to network. If you already know how, finesse your skills.
  7. Master a new skill. Or a few. Podcasting. Speaking gigs. Seminars. Blogging. All meant to increase your visibility and put you in front of new audiences (and potential clients).
  8. Ask for help. No one knows everything there is to know about an industry. Learn from people who know what you don’t.
  9. Think about mentoring someone. You will get back at least as much as you give.
  10. Take vacations. You need a business break now and then. Working a 7-day week will not make your business better. It WILL make you burn out faster.
  11. Volunteer. Get out of your own head and share your time to help others — local community organizations, homeless shelters, rescue organizations, foodbanks….the list is endless.
  12. Read. A lot. Not just business books but all kinds of books. The more you read, the better you write. And the easier it is to solve problems.
  13. Exercise. A little every day if you can. Not necessarily lifting weights or running. Walking works too. Anything that gets you up and moving and not thinking about work problems.
  14. Get more sleep. We’re not going to quote all the studies but you KNOW that you operate better on a decent night’s sleep.
  15. Take some risks. If you want to grow, you need to step out of that safe circle. There’d be no inventions if the inventors hadn’t decided to find a better way.
  16. Be pro-active. The last decade has seen far too many businesses suffer because new technology made their products or services obsolete (thanks, Amazon). Don’t ever get too comfortable.
  17. Treat your employees like the critical business assets they are. And if they’re not, let them go.
  18. If you don’t have a solid email program, stop wasting your database and make this the year you nurture your soft connections.
  19. If you’ve avoided social media (yep, we’ve seen companies that are still waiting to see if it works!), time to jump in. Be smart. Learn one platform well and then add others. Or hire someone who knows how to do it.
  20.  If your budget allows, bring in experts to do the things you can’t do, don’t want to do or need help with.

If you only implement a few of these 20 ideas, you’re bound to see some success.

And if you need help with anything web, digital or marketing-related, give us a call. We’re looking to grow your business too.

 

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How to stay relevant in a quickly changing market.

Keeping up in the business world is becoming more and more challenging. Because the very nature of the internet nurtures change. There’s always something newer, faster, cooler, brighter.

On the flip side, if you don’t like the way your product or service looks next to the competition, you can revamp your digital marketing quickly. Often in a day.

Falling behind in market share?

Change your marketing message in a snap. No need to wait months to get feedback. Results start showing up immediately.

Hand flips wooden cubes to change the word "change" to "chance"
Are you willing to change to stay relevant?

Not convinced? See what some savvy retailers have done to refresh their marketing and revamp their messaging.

A Cappella Books
The Wall Street Journal recently profiled this small independent Atlanta bookstore that watched sales drop for ten years. Faced with huge competition from Amazon, the owner figured he’d have to close.

But then he came up with an idea. Focus less on selling  books — where he couldn’t compete with Amazon’s prices — and more on appealing to customers who loved independent bookstores and would support a local business.

He started hosting author events — book signings and readings, then added events at other venues. What do you know? Business started to turn around. Because his customers were more interested in the bookstore experience and supporting a local business than saving a few dollars.

Think this is an isolated example? Hardly. According to a CBS segment titled “Independent bookstores thrive” that aired on April 23, 2018, “Between 2009 and 2015, more than 570 independent bookstores opened in the U.S., bringing the total to more than 2,200; that’s about a 35 percent jump after more than a decade of decline.”

What’s driving this small market segment’s success? Shop Local campaigns, selections curated for the community and lots of events. It’s about book-related experiences rather than buying as cheaply as possible. And it’s really a small business success story.

Booksellers aren’t the only retailers thriving despite the growth of e-commerce.

Ever hear of Warby Parker?

Established as a hip online-only retailer selling stylish glasses at affordable prices, Warby Parker’s marketing message focused on their mission to give back — “Buy a pair, give a pair” was what they thought would appeal to their customers. But in reality, their customers didn’t pay much attention to the mission statement. Instead, they were drawn in by the cool styles and the ease of buying glasses online.

So Warby focused less on its mission and more on the Warby Parker cool factor and the ease of purchasing. Next, they opened a few brick & mortar locations where they honed the shopping experience even more. Tiny shops that looked like cozy little libraries. Each eyeglass frame shown in three different sizes to fit various face shapes. Super friendly and helpful personal service. And fresh designs rotating in on a regular basis so there’s always something new to see. And buy.

Today, Warby Parker has retail shops around the country (including 5 in Illinois) as well as in Canada and British Columbia. And the shops (at least the ones I’ve seen in Chicago) are always busy.

How do you say pivot?

Would you be surprised to learn that some of today’s biggest brands started out selling products or services that evolved into something different –which is where they are today?

If you said YouTube, Slack, Yelp, Shopify and Groupon, you’d be right.  Jayson DeMers writes about these companies and their reinventions in his Entrepreneur article titled “5 Big Brands That Had Massively Successful Pivots.”  If you’re fascinated by success stories (like I am), you’ll enjoy this article.

Smart business owners know that being nimble is critical in a competitive marketplace. And fortunately, it’s far easier for a small business to pivot than a large company with multiple layers of approval.

So if something’s not working, do your research to see where the problem lies. If it’s a product that’s no longer relevant to your key market, don’t scrap the product. Find a different market. If there’s still a market for your product or service, do whatever it takes to become relevant again.

And if you’ve had to pivot for your small business to stay relevant, we’d love to hear about it.

 

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Network your way to more business.

2 people talking at a networking event

Networking has always been at the top of our marketing list for building business. It doesn’t require much of an investment, other than time.

For small businesses, it’s a great way to meet fellow entrepreneurs. Getting out and talking to people who might have a need for your product or service. Or….just as important….who know other people who might need your help.

2 people talking at a networking event
Are you an authentic networker?

How many times have you been to a networking event where you were casually engaged in a conversation that led to a really interesting discussion — one you wanted to continue? It might not even be that this person needed your service. Maybe you just really clicked.

Networking events offer a limited time to connect with someone other than superficially. At a 2 hr event, if you want to meet more than 1 or 2 people, your chat time is limited.

So, your next step should be to tell the person you’re speaking with that you’d like to continue your conversation over coffee or lunch. Set a date or exchange contact info to do it at a later time. Then move on to meeting some other people in the room.

When Networking Works

I’ve met some dynamite people at events where casual conversation led to collegial friendships. No one was selling. We were just talking about business challenges or sports or hobbies….in no particular order. In the course of conversation, we found that we really liked talking to each other. Cards were exchanged and within a few weeks, we met over breakfast so we could get to know one another better.

Not all of these encounters led to new business. Some introduced me to colleagues who did what I do. A writer comes to mind. I keep her contact info so I can refer her business I can’t or don’t want to do. I’m always happy to refer business to others which is why I like having a full network.

I’ve also met some really outstanding people who’ve become close business associates. We refer business to one another and support each other as much as we can. Sharing job leads. Introducing colleagues to friends where there might be potential work. Contributing to the local networking community.

If you look at networking as getting to know people, the process often becomes organic. You’re focused on learning about someone and not selling them something. You’re being authentic rather than trying to impress the other person.

Watch the Skilled Networkers

The best networkers are not selling. You’ve seen the hard-sell types. They have trouble holding eye contact because they’re looking around for someone better to talk at (not a typo).

On the other hand, those people who are genuinely engaged in the conversation you’re having are the type of networkers you want to connect with.

Think about the most successful networkers you know. Odds are they’re super nice, always willing to answer questions and, once they know you and your reputation, happy to refer business to you.

If you’re new to networking or not comfortable in the “how to”, read this Lifehack post on helpful networking tips.

The upside: while you’re growing your business, you’ll be building relationships. That’s how What A Great Website came to be. We met in a networking group eight years ago. We liked one another and started doing projects together. Three years later, we started a company. You never know where networking can take you.

For more networking help, here’s an article I wrote back in 2005 called The Nuances of Networking. It still applies today.

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when startups fail

Jumping on the startup bandwagon is not for everyone. It’s certainly not for the risk-averse. Because starting a business is a bad idea if you’re not able to accept failure.

It’s also not for someone who can’t develop or follow a plan. Startups need structure. Processes and procedures don’t just happen. They need to be created and implemented.

According to Small Business Trends, “A bit more than 50 percent of small businesses fail in the first four years”.”

girl's hands typing on a laptop
surviving your startup

Actually, we thought the number was higher. Maybe because we’ve been doing this long enough that we’ve seen more than a few startups fail.

Sometimes you know upfront.

You get an inkling that something’s off. Often it starts with a whirlwind of excitement and big plans. Really big over-the-top plans that seem wildly optimistic.

Now we have nothing against excitement and having a positive attitude is hugely important. But so are plans – especially when you’re starting a new business. And if the plans aren’t based in reality, you’re looking for trouble.

That was the scenario a few years ago when we were hired to build a website for a new music and light dining venue. The concept looked good on paper. A sophisticated, casual night spot in an area that could easily support this kind of entertainment. The client was over-the-moon-excited. She was commissioning pricey artwork and spending freely on interior design. The excitement was contagious and we were all looking forward to the opening.

Then reality kicked in. And we realized that under all the glam and excitement was…..well, nothing. No business plan. No marketing plan. No roadmap on how this business was going to run. They couldn’t find a decent chef because they hadn’t allocated enough money for one — unacceptable in an area where people expect top quality food.

A few months into the launch of this project and the red flags we’d noticed were looking bigger and bigger. One thing after another went wrong until we realized there was no way this venture was going to fly.

In hopes of helping save other startups, here is what went wrong for our client and the six warning signs you need to heed if you’re launching a new business:

Six Red Flags

  1. Ignoring the competition
    Our music venue client disregarded a successful venue down the street because it was really a restaurant. But they did have music one night a week.  Fast forward a few months, the competitor’s weekly music night was drawing crowds. Because they had terrific food and longstanding customers. Never underestimate the value of customer loyalty. And always understand the competition.
  2.  Failing to prioritize
    Rather than allocating marketing dollars to communication tools to let people know they were opening and build some buzz, the venue owner spent money on all sorts of pricey premiums and custom artwork. Social media was minimal. PR was non-existent. Huge oversight! We still have some of those premiums — they lasted far longer than the club.
  3. Skimping on the essentials
    Serving food? Better make damn sure it’s good. Saving money by hiring inexperienced (or poor) chefs will be your demise. That’s what happened to our client.
  4. Not listening to the experts you’ve hired
    Savvy entrepreneurs know they can’t do it all. That’s why they hire professionals to handle what they can’t. If you’re paying someone to help you build your business, listen to their advice. Otherwise, save the money and do it yourself. It’ll be less of a loss when you shut down.
  5. Not listening to your customers
    If one table sends back food with a complaint that it’s cold, that’s easily fixable. If more than one table has the same complaint, pay attention. You’ve got a problem in the kitchen. Ignore the problems and you’re never going to make it.
  6. Falling in love with your product or service
    The A#1 mistake our client made was falling blindly in love with her venture. She was so convinced that this was going to be a success that she did little due diligence. And once things started to fail, she ignored the warning signs.

As entrepreneurs, we’re passionate about entrepreneurship. We like to see others succeed. And we love being involved in success stories. Building a website for a company that didn’t even last a year made us feel pretty bad. Especially since we loved the website!

Because we give a damn, there’ve been times we’ve suggested that a potential client pull back instead of moving forward with a new website. Rather than see a startup fail, we’ve suggested that they go back to the planning table and rethink what they’re trying to do. Once all the pieces are in place, we’re happy to build their website.

Lest we discourage anyone who’s eager to start a business, here’s an article from Inc magazine on 15 reason why it’s a good idea to start a business.

If you’ve got a clear plan and aren’t afraid of making mistakes (they’re part of the learning process), go for it.

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How agile is your business?

Ever feel like the world around you is changing too fast for your company to keep up?

Of course you have! Every small business owner or entrepreneur has probably felt this way at one time or another.

It’s a scary feeling. Especially if you’ve spent years getting your business up to speed — your staff well-trained and efficient, your processes streamlined and in place or your products ideally matched to the wishes and whims of your target market.

Technology leaps forward, and suddenly your services (or products) are on the way to obsolescence. Or falling behind a new-to-the-market, more agile competitor.

Smart companies are agile.

The Chicago Tribune recently reported that Fresh Market is closing stores around the country, including two in the Chicago area. The chain jumped on the organic food trend when it launched and rode it as long as it could. But when all the other grocery chains jumped in with farm fresh products, Fresh Market could no longer compete.

Whole Foods, on the other hand, became more competitive. Acquired by Amazon, they lowered some prices and offered customers Amazon Prime specials, discounts and delivery.

This is how companies stay successful. They can reinvent themselves on a dime…..or so it seems. They’re agile.

Fresh Market isn’t the only company in distress. Think about some of the once successful businesses that have closed — or are in the process of closing. You’ve no doubt purchased from them in the past.

If you have kids, you’ve shopped at Toys R’Us. Needed sports gear? You went to Sports Authority. Own a business or simply need to manage your schedule? You had a Palm Pilot. Then maybe a BlackBerry. Searched on the Internet? You used Alta Vista (right, WHO?) And if you’re a Chicagoan like we are, you’re no doubt still angry about the demise of Marshall Field’s.

So how can you avoid being on the short list of doomed businesses?

You certainly don’t want to wait til a crisis hits to start trying to figure out what to do. You need to be constantly vigilant and always proactive. You have to have a plan. And if you’re not sure how to do that, the best way to learn is to look at successful businesses.

Here are four things that successful businesses in highly competitive industries do to stay on top:

  1.  They’re nimble.
    They’ve streamlined the chain of command to make decision-making simpler. They’ve implemented technology solutions to make processes flow better. They’re making use of AI (artificial intelligence) for improved efficiency.They’ve honed communication skills to make meetings shorter, emails simpler and calls briefer.  Amazon comes to mind. Why? Check out how Jeff Bezos likes to run meetings
  2. They’re inventive.
    They’re constantly looking for a better way. To make products more efficiently, to bring a product to market faster, to SELL products to a broader market, to make customers happier. Whatever it takes to stay on top of the competition, a successful company finds a way. Yes, Amazon comes to mind once again. But so does Southwest Airlines, which is always looking for new ways to improve the customer experience. Read about how they do this courtesy of engage.customer.com.
  3. They never sit back on their laurels.
    Successful companies don’t get complacent. They’re not satisfied with status quo. They’re smart enough to know that a savvy competitor can appear almost overnight – with a cooler gadget, a smarter business tool, a glammier spokesperson, an everyone-needs-this must-have, a smoother system.Once Uber was the only game in town. Then Lyft appeared. While Uber is still #1, when a negative news report hits the  airwaves, Lyft gains market share. Uber’s problems in 2017 were a boon for Lyft’s bottom line.

    But Uber management is sound. They’re quick to respond to negative news, and the company continues to hold the    bulk of the ridesharing market.

  4. They’re humble.
    Successful companies take responsibility for their mistakes. They own up to their misdeeds. They ask their shareholders and supporters for forgiveness and promise to do better.

In the past year, we’ve seen far too many cases where this didn’t happen. Take for example, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, and Fox News as covered in fortune.com in 2017. Both men had been accused of sexual harassment. More than once. But it wasn’t until advertisers began to bail that Fox did anything in response. And they never said they were wrong. No humble pie here.

So how would your small business rate on the capabilities cited above? You may not compete with big companies, but you can certainly learn from them. Especially from their mistakes.

If we’ve encouraged you to think about this, we’ve written a good post.

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