EX21: Small business master class: Digitization in the COVID era & e-commerce trends

EX21: Small business master class: Digitization in the COVID era & e-commerce trends

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[Music] hello to everyone joining us for today's entrepreneurship exchange workshop i'm eric gretig head of small business policy and regulatory affairs and that intuit we're on a mission to help customers solve their biggest financial challenges to us that means doing what we can to help reduce the policy and regulatory barriers that impact small businesses and connecting them and the self-employed with experts advisors and resources that can help them successfully manage and grow their businesses that's why we are excited to offer today's curated master class workshop with carl reader a best-selling author serial entrepreneur speaker and business commentator now carl has tailored this workshop specifically to meet the unique and practical realities of small business owners who want to develop and strengthen their ecommerce chops during his long and varied career he has bought and sold founded co-founded and invested in and sought investment for many businesses he has helped countless business owners either start or grow their businesses through his columns keynote talks and advice now recognized as one of city am's top 100 entrepreneurs in 2016 he is the chair of the practitioners panel at acca a former board director at the british franchise association and an ambassador of the for the association of independent professionals and self-employed take it away carl hey guys i'm carl reader i'm a small business expert an author of the best-selling book bossette and i also run a few small businesses myself over the years i've worked with thousands of businesses helping them to start or grow helping them to franchise their business and ultimately helping the business owners achieve what it is that they wanted to achieve from their business in the first place and it's safe to say that over the last 18 months it's been a bumpy ride the pandemic has caused some unimaginable disruption to the economy particularly for small businesses who might not be prepared for their digital journey they might not have even had a website so with the prospect of lockdowns and consumers not being able to go out and visit their shops or attend their classes if they're a tuition business these business owners have had to pivot very quickly and whilst it has been very up and down and in some cases very traumatic it has also been exceptional to see some of the inspirational stories that have come from small businesses so what i'd like to do is to share with you today my 10 top tips for e-commerce for small businesses now these tips don't come from any genius that i might have instead these 10 tips come from business owners but i know business owners that i trust from businesses that i've seen doing some remarkable things and those businesses might be small they might be big they might be multinational corporates they might be um sole traders we have all different types of examples here of how you very practically can implement some of these tips within your business and tip number one is that we must remember that e-commerce isn't just for product businesses now i guess it's going to be fairly natural that within much of the stuff will i talk about today over the next 20 to 25 minutes i'll be sharing with you stories about product businesses about how businesses have reached fair end consumer how they've sold more product how they've got it out there but the reality is that e-commerce can be embraced by any business of any shape or size and i wanted to share with you the journey of one of my clients and friends here's a dear friend of mine a guy called rob and rob run a sports training business and this business was reliant on going to parks or to church halls and teaching kids how to play football or play cricket you know the kind the kind of sports activities but we did pre-pandemic without a second fault but but naturally with lockdowns and not being able to attend group events he wasn't able to trade in the same way so what did rob do rob actually decided to start an online business during that time but he didn't just sell products or services he actually helped alongside one of his friends a gentleman called joe calzaghe former super middleweight and light heavyweight boxer some of you might have heard of him and they designed an online boxing curriculum now boxing to me is one of those sports but i certainly wouldn't imagine being able to be taught through a zoom class or um you know through an online mechanism but they actually managed to crack the essence of boxing for children and to provide this tuition successfully and not only start a business that was completely pivoted from the original type of business that they had but actually roll it out over over the time of lockdown into its own successful business in its own right you see when we think of e-commerce we often think of selling items one by one but we always must remember that there is often a facility for our services as they stand today our products as they stand today to be sold online and it might be that we're not selling widgets for 10 pounds or 10 dollars to the end consumer we might be making some quite large sales to corporates it might be that we're providing services such as consultancy and so on we need to think about how we can adapt what we do not dramatically but how we can adapt it and create an online opportunity there number two bricks and clicks now we've all heard of bricks and clicks and there are some amazing brands that have really embraced the whole bricks and clicks formula you know we could just look at mobile phones and we can look at apple we can look at samsung they've both dominated the bricks and clicks formula and in fact as did nokia before that nokia had a number of flagship stores in europe and they understood but actually the brand building from a high street presence helped their online sales in the same way that their online presence helped boost the bricks and mortar sales now i'm sure that many of you are thinking that i'm not apple i'm not samsung i don't have pots of cash to do this stuff well you know what neither are most small businesses 99 of small businesses don't have the ability to create these sorts of flagship stores in capital cities however there are ways that you can do this on a much tighter purse string and that you can reach your end customer and help supplement your online brand through the use of a local presence and here's where i shared my second story of the guys at wear london now where london is a business but i've given some informal advice to i count the owner of where london as a personal friend and alex had um a business but was decimated during covet so they they make jackets they make coats they make outerwear in general but pre-covet their manufacturing was all based out in shanghai and they had a problem because in january the factories were closing the pandemic was very real out in china before we realized the impact that it would have on us so they had a problem with production but then pretty soon after they were supplying major corporate show some big name online retailers that you would have heard of they were providing them with these jackets and coats and so on and these retailers were saying look our forward planning tells us that we're not going to have demand in eight nine months time we believe there'll be another lockdown and this was um quite challenging for the business as you can imagine so again they pivoted they looked at what they could do and they went from being a b to b supplier of clothing to a b to c supplier of clothing now we all know that the b2c world is notoriously difficult to crack and i will share my later tips some of the ways that we can do this but the way that where london did it was through the use of pop-up stores when the pandemic allowed so they took the opportunity they took advantage of the fact that landlords had empty buildings you know retailers were going out of business there were doors being closed and instead of trying to just replace the retailers philip suffered they decided to take on pop-up locations so they would take on the locations for say two to three months in relatively touristic hot spots based in london but not in central london you know not the london but you might imagine of big ben and houses of parliament these were areas like shoreditch and broadway market trendy areas but not prime areas they took these areas they opened a pop-up shop and what this allowed them to do was to showcase their product on a relatively low risk basis but also then they found that they were increasing their traffic to their website they were increasing their social media following and it gave them so much content that they could share on their social media platforms but actually the b2c journey wasn't anywhere near as complicated or as difficult as it could have been and in fact it's led them to a i guess a decision that they need to make now which is do they go back to b2b or do they carry on serving the end customer through e-commerce now number three and we've discussed a couple of examples of this but it really deserves calling out is that we really do need to carefully think about whether our business would benefit from a pivot and if so what kind of pivot should it go through and what uh what potential pivot should we do and one one of the aspects that's really jumped out to me during the pandemic is but the public in general now have even more of an appetite than before to shop small it was something that was increasing you know we were seeing resistance to major corporates to franchise brands we were seeing resistance to anything that didn't feel relatable to the local community but over the pandemic i know that certainly myself and my family are thankful to the local butchers local bakers we're thankful to the local farm shop you know all of these people have actually kept us going without the difficulties of um trying to book a delivery slot from the local supermarket and indeed the risk that that bought from meeting loads of people that were outside of our bubble so one of my good friends a guy called james sinclair actually had quite a dramatic pivot but focused firmly on this shot small community basis so james runs a a small chain of soft play businesses so soft play for those of you that aren't aware those of you that don't have children that drag you to these places every weekend soft play is basically an industrial unit where there's loads of padding and fun stuff and trampolines and slides that kids can go crazy at now again during the pandemic james had difficulties he had nine of his locations he had rent to pay he had about 400 staff you know he was in quite a dire situation had he not done anything so what did he do one of his locations was called marsh farm now marsh farm is a historic area in essex and um there's a lot of land it's a children's activity area now but what he did was rather than trying to virtualize his children's activities he decided to use the space that he had he decided to use for the local area and the local community to build a farm shop he pivoted completely he started speaking to local producers and buying in product that wasn't sold in the major supermarkets he was coming up with quite novel ways of customers getting these products so not just delivery but he was offering a drive-through service as well he was offering click and collect all from what i would call a minimum viable product you know basic web apps to enable this to happen but what happened through him doing this was that he built a real bond with his local community which i'm sure will set his businesses in good stead once the doors reopen and once trade gets back to its previous levels tip number four is the power of community because we've touched on local communities and how important it is to bear in mind the shop small notion i think that we also can learn a lot from social communities as well and i think that i've not seen a better example than this than from a a company who you can find on instagram at offspringhq sales sneakers now for anybody who might have come across me before you'll know that sneakers are my passion um it's a guilty secret but it's not so secret but i'm going to share it anyway now they sell sneakers but what what they did was and particularly over the pandemic they understood but they needed to do something to maintain the bond with their customers they're a nike tier zero retailer which means they're one of a select few who's able to access certain types of sneakers and i've spoken many times before to gas and v and one of the directors of the company and his vision was always very clearly that even though they were part of the corporate they wanted to retain the small shop field to know their customers and they really managed to nail this over the pandemic they increased their social media following by about 150 000 if not 200 000 over that time and they did that by capturing the imagination of their audience by um generating conversation and speaking to them creatively over the lockdown period now their e-commerce solutions aren't the best they certainly don't have the biggest budget or the biggest reach but what they did that was really clever was that they managed to stay on top of the trends and the the noise in the wider world they hosted live chats where people could submit q and a's and actually get some feedback from a brand that they care quite passionately about and um all of this led to a point where that actually they became the retailer of choice for um quite a substantial chunk of that community now there's plenty of other online communities as well and one of the common factors that i find here is the maintenance of a human voice rather than a corporate voice by having a human voice and having relatable people building that community it does take building it's a real effort you can find that actually you can generate quite a buzz about what you do and get that virality that we all dream of now tip number five is about keeping on trend but also demonstrating social responsibility and i've observed this at arm's length most recently with valentino so valentino the major italian fashion house has released a range of clothing that is valentino vaccinated but we've seen a number of initiatives from small businesses whether it's black lives matter whether it's around carbon neutrality we've seen some amazing initiatives where businesses and most importantly for business owners behind them have taken the opportunity to share their um their desire for social responsibility and embrace it and it's not something that we just need to pay lip service to if there's a cause or a need that you feel a particular affinity to the likelihood is that provided that cause is reasonable and it's legal the likelihood is but your customer base will also empathize with that so don't be afraid in today's e-commerce world to bring your personality to the table but include some social responsibility in that as well make sure that your customers know what it is you're about what your brand values are about and whilst it might not seem very professional or very corporate actually it's the kind of thing that compels customers to be part of your community now tip number six i just want to talk a little bit about the need to diversify your platforms um because we go on a bit further i'm going to talk a bit more about the specific of utilizing social platforms and online platforms to um to make the most of your digital journey but it's absolutely vital but you spread the load across your social media platforms that you have backups in place in terms of your web presence and that really you have a contingency plan you see one of the big risks that i see for many businesses is an over reliance just on a single platform and that is the opposite of an omni channel approach and i really don't recommend it now it might be but as of today you are getting your most bang for buck in terms of ad spend versus product sales on a certain platform and that's great but please please please think about spreading that load think about de-risking it think about how you can own the relationship with your customer rather than any individual platform owning that relationship how can you capture email addresses how can you capture the attention yourself as well as through these platforms brings us on really nicely to tip number seven which is about the customer journey and i want to share with you something that i think has been quite phenomenal from a brand called lux collective now lux collective cell designer wear for females it's generally those expensive things that um we know we see but we can't necessarily afford the louis vuitton bags for gucci bags for chanel all of that stuff that is always on christmas lists and we panic about anyway they they offer an agency service effectively where they buy it and then sell it on and they actually inadvertently the guy behind it ben had um quite an amazing customer journey mapped out without realizing you see ben was finding that he was making a lot of sales via instagram but actually his attention and the um eyeballs on the brand were coming in through tick tock so what he did and i still don't know whether this was intentional or just sheer genius and he'll never admit either way but what he did was that he used tic-tock as a way of showcasing the life around the brand so how they authenticate items how they ship items and this stuff was going quite viral you know people were interested in seeing it not just to know how they can detect a fake pair of trainers or a fake bag or a fake purse but also because it was genuinely engaging it was given an insight behind running a small business but they didn't sell a single item on there instead what they did was to funnel the customers through to other platforms so they had a very clear journey of where the customer goes to ultimately make the purchase on the website and by doing that not only do they diversify but also they manage to raise the attention levels of the brand in the consumer's mind so that by the time they've stumbled across another social platform with e-commerce ability or by the time they've stumbled across the website what they were able to do was have the reassurance and credibility that the customer had not only heard of a brand but actually had seen how the authenticity checks take place they had got to know the owner through these videos you know they really felt quite comfortable at making what could be quite a significant purchase now tip number eight is another brand that's embraced this virality but what i love is what they've done with this so the brand is delicious body so delhi as in india delicious body and they create body bombs and face creams and so on so forth it's a cosmetic business but what's been really phenomenal to see about this business is the way that they've harnessed the power of drops now i'm conscious that drops might be a new concept to you all and it's a concept that's rooted within the streetwear communities so some of you may have come across a skateboarding brand known as supreme it's a fairly big brand now supreme have the concept of weekly drops where they release their product once a week in store and for anybody who's ever been near a supreme store on the first day of the drop they will know that they're accused for miles and the reality is that if you're not on the list you're not getting in they created a scarcity around their product so that week after week month after month they could release a drop and there's the real fear of missing out now we've seen this with the likes of playstations and all sorts we see this scarcity principle really generating customer demand but the amazing thing about delicious body is that they've embraced the scarcity and have put it into place from a small business to business customers at a much smaller transactional level and do you have a crazy thing i'm going on there every week trying to see if i can get onto the drop before it sells out and the likelihood is but they're probably only loading up 10 less stock than they know they will sell but provided they get to sell out the fomo is still there the customers return and the desire to purchase increases because as customers we all know but we want what we can't have and that's the reason why we queue up to buy the ps5s or we queue up to buy the xboxes and so on because we feel that there's a perceived scarcity of them it's been done really well in as a safer streetwear community it's been embraced amazingly well by adidas with the yeezy brand and so on and now small businesses can do this as well tip number nine collaboration is key whether you are a product business service business whatever it is that you do have a think about collaborations how you can have collaborative partners that can help elevate you and them by reaching your mutual audiences now there are various case studies of collaborations um we just need to look at let's say virgil abloh and off white we need to look at um you know we can look at kim jones of dior but all of these brands in the fashion space will have embraced it really well and typically what they do is they focus on finding a larger retailer of a larger retailer finding them to bring some relevance and engagement and broaden the communities we've seen it with brands like stone island collaborating with new balance adidas collaborating with cp company but actually the power of collaborations goes far beyond fashion i know from a podcast episode that i recorded with the chief brand officer at kodak but kodak do you remember kodak the old cameras well kodak actually invented the digital camera but they were left behind because they thought the technology wasn't relevant and nobody would use it they got to the point where they realized that actually they are a powerhouse in terms of brand in terms of technology in terms of what they can do but they had to gain some relevance so kodak had collaborations with skateboarding brands with fashion houses and so on they they looked at creative ways but they could partner with other individuals other influencers other plans to elevate each other's audience now let's bring that down to nuts and bolts this could be as simple as a lawyer collaborating with an accountant this could be as simple as let's say a a local general store that sells groceries collaborating with a local hardware store and having a little area in each store to promote and sell some products for the other store it could be as simple as that but fundamentally when we're looking at it from an ecommerce perspective we need to be looking at audiences how we can get a crossover of audience we need to be looking at the congruence of the crossover as well does it make sense to the outside world or is it a bit crazy you know is is it like a very dated brand collaborating with a bleeding edge and not just cutting edge a bleeding edge brand the brands have to be similar they have to share the same ethos and the collab just has to appear natural to the outside world but whatever it is that you do if you can collaborate with another brand online you'll find that your audience and their audience multiply and finally don't reinvent the will i'm very conscious but for some of you ecommerce might be fairly new you might have some quite archaic systems for your online presence you might not even have an online presence what i would say is that there is no need nowadays to reinvent the will there are plenty of tools out there but will allow you to get up and running relatively quickly make sure that you investigate those tools if you don't know how to find somebody who can help you you know one of the best phrases but i use in my day-to-day life is who not how i'm trying to work out how to do it find out who can help you do it make sure that you consider um solutions like shop pay shopify wordpress wix and so on have a look at all of these options that are out there so that rather than trying to code your own site from the ground up instead you can piggyback off of someone else's hard work we're now going to move on to some of the questions that i'm commonly asked and the first one and possibly the question that i hear over and over again is how do i see e-commerce trends evolving post-pandemic and you know what this is the million-dollar question because if i knew the answer to this um would i be sat here today probably not i would be um selling that magic pill for lots of money and retiring on a beach but what i can do is i can share my view i can share what i believe will happen and whether or not it happens is yet to be seen but i think that the pandemic certainly increased the appetite for people to shop online first of all through necessity but secondly i genuinely believe that a number of consumers for the first time had experienced the benefit of fast delivery of online grocery shopping and so on so i think that appetite for online shopping has grown dramatically however do i think that necessarily correlates with the death of mainstream and people just sitting at home buying online without any recourse to physical shopping no i don't what i believe will happen is but as a society we will become more comfortable with the showrooming concept and this is something that i've talked about for a number of years but i think has been accelerated by covet one of the challenges of bricks and mortar stores is that they need to hold stock and that stock needs to be held in a fairly expensive location it needs to be out on display the upkeep of shop needs to be top notch and all of this whilst paying premium rents wages etc etc um it's a bit of a nonsensical model given the infrastructure that we have now for fast deliveries and the potentials that we have going forwards whether it's drones or same day fast turnaround services so where do i see this going i see that the traditional stores that we would have had that we would have strolled into and bought a product will actually become showcases of tangible products which will then um have some kind of facility whether that's through a tablet whether it's ordered in store or whether it's a case of go away an order for the customer to then be able to order and i think a remarkable example of this is apple or tesla you know tesla for example they don't care where you buy your tesla from if you go to one dealer or another because you're buying it from them likewise with apple and the apple store they're not particularly fast if you buy the product of them and then the sales rep might be but the reality is that it's a sale for apple as a brand not for an individual store so that's the showrooming concept in a nutshell so i think for products um the showrooming concept will still be a thing i believe that click and collect will also be a thing for more rural areas i think that one of the challenges of click and collect historically has been but it can only be offered by bigger businesses but there are now organizations that help facilitate click and collect for smaller businesses so i think that that will continue going forwards in terms of the um i guess the user experience piece of online shopping um there will always be a need to touch and feel certain tangible products and given the amount or the perceived importance of a purchase but what i think will happen down the line is that our tolerance for purchasing online will increase over time we've noticed a massive influx of um by now pay later schemes and i think that whilst there are possibly some concerns that could be had around the risks around debt and so on that that can bring actually it facilitates the purchase and returns a product and the no risk basis but customers are used to within a normal mainstreet store and i think that going forward we're going to see eventually a real integration between social media platforms and e-commerce so that rather than a purchase being a click from a link onto a website actually the transaction can take place natively where the product is seen so cutting the steps cutting the funnel between the customer initial attention and interest and the actual purchase so those are the things that i see happening um from a macro perspective so that they're very tactical things but i've suggested from a macro perspective what do i see happening with trends i think we're going to see a continual increase i think it's safe to say that we're seeing a dramatic increase in economic activity whilst we might not yet be feeling back completely on the ground things are a whole lot better than they were a year ago and it looks like there is a resurgence um that resurgence will be primarily online i believe even though the doors are open and we can go out again in some areas of the world so i think that that will continue to grow um in line with general forecasts but um in terms of general trends yet i think there's going to be less resistance along the way and i think it's down to the platforms too to help facilitate that now for the next question it's all around small businesses and how they best evaluate the um omnichannel presence that they believe they need to have and how they identify what the best fit is for them and you know this is a common question that i have because often people are asking should i be on this social media platform or that social media platform where are my audience and it's a bit of a chicken the next scenario isn't it because the very simple answer is be where your audience are but the reality is that your audience are probably in more places than you think so for me i'm a really big believer that actually as a business owner we need to diversify as much as possible we need to make sure that we spread our risk but we spread our efforts and it can result in a bit of a dilution of our campaign if we have to learn about new platforms but actually if we do this intelligently and we read the room before posting we read the room before trying to sell if we do it intelligently we can create a really clever customer journey like the journey i shared earlier about lux collective so what do i mean by read the room all social media platforms whether you use them as a consumer of um social media feeds whether you use it as a research tool or whether you use it as an e-commerce seller all of these platforms have a a very real uh a culture i guess we can say and that culture dictates the tone of voice but we would be expected to portray on those platforms so for example if you were to um type in the way that you would type on twitter particularly in the 140 character days and pop that onto facebook or myspace or instagram people would be confused it would be what what's an rt what's a hashtag it was all quite a unique way of communicating now that's a very obvious difference in culture but there are some subtle nuances as well because the cloud on these platforms the community the audience will communicate in different ways so responses that might seem perfectly acceptable on facebook might actually end up triggering an audience on reddit or on tiktok so you need to understand the nuances of how the community communicate you also need to understand what kind of posts and what kind of attention draws eyeballs to you and i've got a really simple way of doing this and i can't call myself a social media expert but i have got 175 000 followers so i i like to think i know a little bit about this stuff and i'm really not i don't get over complicated about this i look at the stuff that lands in my feed that's it i look at what lands in my feed i look at what works i look at why does that land in my feed and then i try to replicate that best practice so i don't focus on fads or tips or tricks or certain hashtags to use or certain noises to use on the reels or tic tocs i don't really focus on those because i don't genuinely believe that they have any longevity but i look at the tone of voice i look at the type of content i look at the type of imagery i look at the type of videos and try to extract what works and use it in my own posts now to come back to the core question about what is best platform for you ultimately as a business owner your best platform is where your customers are i say it again it's where your customers are but your customers are in more places than you expect so a question but i'm often asked from small businesses is where do they start if they're just looking at e-commerce tools and solutions um where where do they start and for me i would say that by far the best place to start is at the planning stage you see many businesses tried to dive in and do it all themselves but actually with strong research and planning you are more than likely to find that there's a solution out there for you already and i covered this off earlier in tip number 10 actually not to reinvent the will but let me just go into a little bit more depth about that and a bit more depth about why you do it and the mindset that you should take so as i mentioned before i try to live by the paradigm of who not how who can fix this for me rather than how do i fix it myself and i know as a small business owner it is often so so tempting to roll your sleeves up you know and to try and do it yourself the reality is that it's fairly likely you're not an e-commerce expert otherwise you probably wouldn't be tuning in to this workshop um the reality is that there's likely to be somebody who can do this stuff better than you and but it's fairly likely that your time is better spent elsewhere in your business so first things first you should find a consultant who can help you with it now it might be that your web designer can help you with it but i would just urge you to um bear in mind a note of caution and that is that web designers typically want to build and design certain tools there is no point reinventing this will secondly speak to other small businesses you will have other small businesses in your community whether it's people that you know or people that you don't know it might be through facebook networking groups it might be through linkedin you might have a wide range of people that you can call on ask for recommendations also look at other people's websites look at who powers their tools it's fairly clear when certain e-commerce solutions are used to power a transaction it's fairly clear how that's done have a look at the tools that seem to keep cropping up i shared some of them earlier the likes of shop pay shopify and so on um let's have a look at all of these options then is the time to start doing some research and one of the challenges of this research is that you don't necessarily know what you don't know so i would suggest that you look for peer-to-peer reviews you start asking your networks for feedback on these products because the likelihood is somebody somewhere has used them and just get really under the skin of the tools don't be afraid to pick up the phone to the companies and speak to their support lines and really try to understand what would be the right solution for you now what makes the right solution for a small business first of all it is around flexibility can it be adapted to meet what you've got already secondly i would say it's around functionality does it do the stuff you need it to do thirdly obviously we need to think about price we need to be looking at transaction fees we need to be looking at subscription fees we need to be looking at all of that kind of stuff but don't let the perfect get in wave of the good don't let the perfect game the way of the good it's really important but if you've got a solution that's 90 percent there and does almost everything you need provided it helps you sell to your customer it carts it up it tells you what you need to pack and send and it puts some money in your bank account that's all you need yes there might be a slightly better solution out there yes there might be a better iteration down the line as they upgrade it but the reality for you as a business owner is that there's no need to reinvent the wheel here but also don't go bespoke for the sake of getting perfect if it's perfectly good enough for you go with him and i know that from business owners i speak to some of them are hesitant to use off-the-shelf platforms because of this very reason they've been told by somebody that there's seo challenges by using platform a or platform b and they use that as an excuse not to take action again don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good

2021-10-26 01:29

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