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National Small Business Month in Canada:
Top Growth Strategies for the New Normal
October 2020 is Small Business Month in Canada, a time that celebrates entrepreneurs in Canada. Now more than ever it's important to recognize both the growth potential of and top strategies for small businesses, who are learning to navigate within a new normal. Before we get into the top 5 growth strategies for Canadian small businesses in 2020, let's take a quick look at what Small Business Month is.
What is Canada's Small Business Month?
Small Business Month in Canada began 14 years ago in 2006 when it became an offshoot of Small Business Week, which launched almost 41 years ago in 1979.
During the month of October, thousands of small business owners take advantage of events, seminars, resources, other opportunities when they come together to celebrate, learn, and network with other entrepreneurs and small businesses.
It's become the time of year to recognize and laud the significant contributions of entrepreneurs and small businesses to local communities, provinces, and the entire Canadian economy.
Foundation of the Canadian economy
Small businesses are the foundation of the Canadian economy. As of December 2018, there were 1.2 million employer businesses in Canada. Of these, 1.18 million (or 97.9%) were small businesses. Small businesses employed 8.4 million Canadians in 2018, or 69.9% of the total private labour force.
The top 5 growth strategies for small businesses in Canada
1. Optimize your website for search and SEO best practices
"If you build it, they will come." Mysterious voices in cornfields notwithstanding, this is not always the case with websites. You may have built a breathtakingly beautiful, well-designed, and brilliantly written masterpiece, but unless it's optimized for the web, not everyone will come visit it – they may not even be able to find it.
Increasing visitor traffic
Optimizing your website for the web means helping customers find you when they need you by enhancing your site for search using, ideally, search engine optimization (SEO) practices. SEO comprises standards for increasing the traffic of visitors to your website via organic search engine results, which are those that exclude paid placement ads.
When people go searching, they tend to avoid clicking through multiple pages of results. SEO aims to help your site appear in the highest possible position – for example, the first page of organic search results.
Search engines like Google, Bing, and others use proprietary algorithms that determine where websites rank within those results. Although these algorithms can change continuously, there are several SEO best practices that you can apply to help bring more visitors to your site.
Content is, indeed, king (and queen)
One of these is ensuring that you're writing high-quality, original content. Not only does well-written, trustworthy, and informative copy help keep readers interested and engaged, but it also can convert readers into customers, and make them more likely to share and link to it, thus increasing engagement and search engine rankings.
An important part of SEO marketing and business growth is developing a keyword strategy based on research. Your strategy should center your content on a primary keyword plus a few secondary keywords.
Use the specific words or phrases that your audience would use to refer to your products or services. Focus on keyword research before you write your content so that it reads as fluidly and naturally as possible.
2. Enhance your social media presence
Social media use has exploded across the globe, from social networks to chat apps to gaming and beyond. There are now 3.484 billion social media users worldwide, which means that 45% of the world's population is on social media. In 2018 alone, there were approximately 25.3 million social network users in Canada, and by 2023 that number is expected to reach 27.1 million.
Reach and engage these social media users
According to the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA), almost 90% of Canadians have an internet connection and nearly 61% of them engage on social media every day. A huge number of Canadians, 86% in fact, spend more than 80% of their online time interacting with businesses on social media to some degree. They follow companies on social media as well:
- 59% on Facebook
- 27% on Instagram
- 17% on Twitter
- 16% on YouTube
- 9% on LinkedIn
- 7% on Pinterest
As a small business, you have the opportunity to reach these social media users like never before. While some people are starting to step away from the overload and overuse of social media by deleting certain profiles and apps, it's still important to have a meaningful social media presence even if you're not engaging them on every available channel.
Build a social media community
One way of engaging your audience and potential customers is to build a community around your content that goes beyond people simply liking it or even sharing it. Make sure that your customer service is personalized and on point by answering social media users' questions or responding to their comments directly – and, of course, addressing any issues as quickly as possible.
Collaborate with an influencer
Social media communities also help you tap into the power of an influencer who is already there, potentially advocating for your product, brand, or company. These micro- or nano-influencers are different from those influencers with tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of followers or those at the celebrity level who brands pay huge amounts to partner with.
A nano-influencer is like a built-in brand ambassador with established relationships who is usually seen as more trustworthy and transparent, sharing genuine advice and experiences in an approachable manner. A 2019 study found that 41% of Canadian social media users say they're inspired by product and service recommendations from social media influencers.
3. Grow your customer base through networking
Networking is still one of the top small business growth strategies, even when much of the world must network virtually. In fact, as some companies lose business and customers during challenging times, networking can become even more important.
Rely on virtual networking
Networking with potential customers and strengthening relationships with current clients can still happen, but most of it will need to be carried out virtually and digitally rather than in-person.
Fortunately, the good old-fashioned phone call is still a valid form of communication, as are email and texting. And there are a number of online video applications such as Skype for Business, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and others to match a voice with a face, or to share your screen. Potential clients are much more likely to accept virtual invites in 2020.
Tap into your professional network
Current customers can refer you to and connect you with people they know as part of valid growth strategies. Most people know how difficult it can be to grow a business during "normal" times, so they are especially amenable to asking for help now. If you don't already have one, create a LinkedIn account for yourself, and one for your company. This popular online networking platform is ideal for business professionals.
Stay in touch
As your network grows, it's not always easy to stay in touch with the people you meet. But it's essential, especially for long-term business strategies and planning. LinkedIn lets you share regular updates, articles, and more to your network.
Create a weekly or monthly newsletter if you don't already have one and send that out to your contact list. Keep track of contacts with potential clients, manage leads, and set reminders with apps such as Apptivo, HubSpot, Mailchimp, and others.
4. Ensure that your business is set up for remote working
As business after business was compelled to make employees work from home, the remote workforce has now become the new normal. If companies were previously on the fence about the effectiveness of remote working, most have now embraced it.
In fact, 96% of Canadian companies surveyed by Indeed report no adverse effect on productivity from employees working at home and 65% said that it actually improved productivity.
Though many have embraced it, remote working is not an easy adjustment for everyone, especially those experiencing social isolation or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, working while parenting and home schooling. It's important to establish clear guidelines about daily, weekly, and even monthly expectations.
Make plans for regular one-on-one conversations or meetings to check in with each employee individually. Remember to be flexible with expectations as well; some employees have other pressing demands in addition to job responsibilities such as working from home while caring for dependents.
Track projects and progress
Working remotely is more than just setting up remote meetings. It also means creating a collaborative, results-driven, yet human-centric experience. If your business doesn't yet track projects, start now by using project management tools such as Trello, Asana, or Jira. These tools let you exchange messages, assign tasks, and establish deadlines without having to rely only on email.
5. Invest in the right technology for you and your business
As remote work becomes the new normal, it's more important than ever to make the right investments in technology for your small business. Use appropriate technology for your specific requirements to save time, help you stay competitive, and even improve your cash flow.
Procure the right software
Software options for a remote workforce are varied and plentiful depending on your needs. To create a single and secure depository for your documents, consider tools such as Google Drive, Box, Dropbox, or Microsoft OneDrive.
Enable employees to easily communicate with each other using Slack, Microsoft Teams, BaseCamp, or Google Hangouts. Keep track of finances with accounting software like QuickBooks Online.
Consider your hardware
If you're looking to upgrade your current setup or invest in new technology, consider your short- and long-term requirements regarding upgradability, performance, price, security, and more.
Both laptop and desktop business computers offer form factors for multiple uses. For example, tablet laptops, which are also called 2-in-1s or convertibles, feature two modes that give you essentially two PCs for the price of one. Desktop computers come in traditional towers, All-in-Ones (AiO), and mini PCs.
Don't forget your customer's technology
Find out if your customer or client needs you to collaborate with them using their technology of choice. If so, test out anything in advance to ensure that it works on your computers, and determine if it requires plugins. Use the technology to its fullest for screen grabs and stored assets for later use; these are great ways to create follow-up opportunities and conversations with customers.
National Small Business Month is a great opportunity to take a look at growth strategies for the new year. As you put some of these suggestions into practice, you'll give your business a leg up in 2021 and beyond.