Deliberate digital for SMBs: create habits
Like our modern-day diet, many of us change our plans based off lack of results, popular trends, recommendations or difficulty in sticking to a plan that seems unrealistic; we can at times fall back into old habits. If we keep our diet metaphor, chances are you have a plan to eat (your business is up and running), are buying/growing your own food (have a budget for sales and marketing activities), and are applying healthy eating strategies directly (likely to at least have a website and engaged in digital/social activities) or indirectly (being pulled online by your customers/audience).
The habit of time:
Many of the small business owners and entrepreneurs I meet are ‘to do’ list people; whether they have a physical list of ‘what needs to be done’ or it exists in their less tangible ‘mental ether’. I don’t consider myself a ‘to do’ list person, but I know I have a list that exists in my ‘mental ether’, and at times of multiple project deliverables in physical format. ‘To do’ lists can be the most productive of tools, or a vehicle to overwhelm and procrastinate’.
When discussing implementing digital, (or any strategy activity), it is important to understand ‘time’ (either for yourself, your team or to manage an external supplier). Most work places are dynamic environments, whether responding and reacting to customer needs or ‘fighting fires’. As individuals, we can gravitate towards the fires we find easy to put out, not necessarily the biggest or most impactful, through comfort or a desire to be ‘productive’ we can complete a volume of activity, tasks or tactics the less desirable, difficult or tasks we are least proficient are a permanent fixture at the bottom of the ‘to do list’, or the first rolled over to tomorrow’s, next week’s or the new month or quarter list. It may sound overly simple but the first (or next step) on your digital journey is to create the habit of time. Like any health, fitness or diet goal, skipping training, choosing the right times and foods to eat, cramming it all into the last week or day, is the absence of healthy routine and habit.
The habit of conversation:
Why is there (for many) a chasm between our business strategy (and day to day operations) and the digital environment as businesses (and as individuals) we are all operating in? Intention, reactivity and planning are frequently mentioned themes, when I speak to small business owners they are not bereft of planning, often at time the opposite.
Email is at times held up as a modern-day evil, but it is simply a mechanism to communicate an idea. That mechanism, years ago (and still today), may have been a letter drop, a newsletter (either physical or online) or even a ‘cold call’ list (when used badly). What these mediums have in common is that we often craft a message, hit send and hope for the best; often on the back of a well-documented set of plans.
Business has evolved and moved on from ‘make, tell and sell’
What are people talking about? Joining the conversation, creating answers, continuing dialogue to the common conversation threads on your sales floor, giving your expert opinion on a trend that provides insight and value to your audience is likely what you do every day. Bringing digital into the mix is where to apply the time and discipline. That may be creating the right content on your website through a blog, personalising content to a member/or member of your audience, and being clever about your delivery mechanism and the journey to the core information.
If everyone in your gym is talking about the Ketogenic diet; what’s your view? How should they balance their exercise against this eating plan? You may choose a specific individual to craft a recommendation around, that provides value to their interest in the diet, and an opportunity to cater your service delivery to the individual increasing satisfaction and creating potential up/cross sell. How we deliver this could be through a tweet, Facebook post, Instagram picture or a video through YouTube, Vimeo or other channel, and the level of personalisation may be layered, direct to your chosen example individual (in a personalised SMS containing a link to your blog), less personalised but using language of your gym goers for your ‘active audience’ and more generic for potential new customers.
Getting past the specifics of the above example many of us struggle with the transition from ‘make, sell and tell’ thinking to the habit of conversation. This does not mean abandoning planning cycles to a pure reactionary business. An organisations vision and strategic goals are the raison d'etre, but to achieve the biggest impact in this ‘reason for being’, we need to incorporate listening into planning cycles, create flexibility to include climate, trends and interests to planned communications, sales motions or events, and be prepared to limit scope of activities to ‘the things that can be done well’.
Dependent on your situation your goals may vary but I’m yet to think of a business growth goal that is not directly improved by creating meaningful, frequent and manageable conversations with your customers and audience.
Next week: Chapter 4 – Data and Tracking for the small business owner: am I big enough?