The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken up the business world in remarkable ways. Swathes of companies around the world suddenly faced a change of scene, replacing their slick city offices with employees’ bedrooms and living rooms for the foreseeable future.
With long, stuffy commutes now a thing of the not-so-distant past, thousands of us find ourselves with an extra chunk of availability in our day. Client meetings moved largely online, schedules got rearranged, and priorities shifted. This means that despite the distress and uncertainty caused by COVID-19, many businesses could take advantage of the situation, and even derive positives from it. The newfound time in our overhauled schedules has given us the chance to think, strategize, and learn new skills.
A new survey of over 100 small businesses has revealed that SEO is the most common new skill owners have learned about during lockdown, followed by social media marketing. But what does this tell us about the priorities for small companies? And what else can we learn from small businesses’ response to this global upheaval?
A time to focus on marketing
The small business survey, conducted by tech news and reviews site Tech.co, analyzed responses from a range of industries including B2B services, beauty, health & well-being, retail, software/tech, and travel.
There’s no denying that all of these industries have suffered challenges during the lockdown period. 54% of small businesses surveyed reported struggles with sales or rescheduled product launches and events. 18% struggled to pay staff and business costs. Another 18% lost investment opportunities.
In times of economic downturn, cuts are inevitable. And oftentimes, the marketing budget is the first to be slashed. However, many respondents stated they wanted to make marketing a priority, pointing to the importance of maintaining reputation during a challenging and uncertain time, so as not to jeopardize long-term growth.
Being away from public foot traffic and everyday business activity, owners have turned to building their online offerings and enticing customers through other means, including social media, email marketing, paid ads, and search.
Skills acquired during lockdown
- Search engine optimization (SEO) was the most common area small businesses reportedly spent time learning (25%)
- Followed by social media marketing (13%)
- Data analytics, PR, and learning a new language were also common answers (all 3.1%)
The importance of SEO
It’s telling that a quarter of all small businesses looking to upskill centered their efforts on organic search engine optimization.
Websites are crucial to 84% of companies, and with people spending a record amount of time on the internet during lockdown, this has become truer than ever.
For small businesses who succeed in SEO, the results are great, as over 14% of users coming from SEO result in sales. By contrast, traditional strategies like print ads and direct mail have a 1.7% average conversion rate. In fact, 61% of marketers believe SEO is the key to online success.
In other words, SEO is not going anywhere fast, and having a bit of knowledge in it can go a long way. A quick search for SEO on the online courses website Udemy brings 6,952 results, while lynda.com brings up 1,634, demonstrating its popularity as a key skill to master.
Long term growth
The observed trend of investing in SEO is also an indicator of the broader attitude small businesses have taken during this turbulent time period – that of prioritizing long term growth while short term performance remains uncertain.
Creating new content (88%), online offers (60%), holding or attending online events (60%), and connecting with customers (57%) are other ways businesses set about doing this.
“Step back from trying to grow right now, and think: ‘what conversations can I start now that could mature into a potential client-conversation in 8-10 months’ time?’ Lockdown is a great opportunity to work on long-term marketing projects. Most SEO campaigns take up to six months to plan and execute. Use this downtime to create new content that will rank well on Google for when the market recovers,” advised Joe Binder of WOAW branding agency.
Web designer Julia Ferrari comments: “People are more open than ever to having online conversations, using social media, and connecting with new people. Developing a good and effective website is more important than ever.”
No time for risks?
Many small businesses reported that lockdown was and is a key time to prioritize what you do well at. In other words, lockdown is not a time for risks.
Joseph Hagen from Streamline PR recommended that businesses “use this time to sharpen what [they] are already good at.”
Similarly, Dennis Vu of Ringblaze said: “Focus on your strengths, don’t experiment too much. Do more of what works for you in terms of customer acquisition, and focus on that. For us, this has been email marketing, and we’ve doubled down on it.”
On the other hand, many businesses we spoke to said that now is the time to demonstrate agility and test new things.
During times of uncertainty, you may think taking risks is a bad idea. However, trying out new things with your existing customer base can help you strategize for the future. This may be a new feature on your website, a special offer, or a customer referral scheme.
Michaela Thomas from The Thomas Connection stated: “Take a step back and strategize, to use your time wisely. Test out new offers on your existing customer base, tweak them, and then do an imperfect first round.”
Similarly, Kim Allcott of Allcott Associates LLP commented: “Look for opportunities that are unique to the situation. For example, we’re making the most of the lockdown period by providing free building advice from the company partners”.
The choice of whether you stick to what you know, or use this time to test new things will depend on where you are at with your business and what your current plans and priorities are. However you choose to act, and whatever skills or strategies you focus on, have confidence that things will return to normal – eventually.
If you can find a way to adapt and invest now, you’ll soon be over the worst of it. Indeed, a whopping 90% of companies that Tech.co surveyed said they were feeling optimistic for the future.