Yaneek Page | Practical ways to pivot your small business
ADVISORY COLUMN: SMALL BUSINESS
QUESTION: Thanks for the information you have been sharing about managing COVID-19 as a small business. I must admit that this whole crisis caught me off guard. In the early part of April, I thought I could weather the storm as the country opens back in weeks. But things have got way worse, and I will have to give up my shop space at the end of June because I can’t afford to be paying rent and light any more with no sales.
I have seen where you say small businesses should pivot, but how can I can do this when I have lost everything? I’m trying to sell off my stock and see if I can get some cash to help pay off some debts, but any recommendation you have for practical pivoting would be good.
– J., St. Catherine
BUSINESSWISE: I am sad for the losses you have incurred and the challenges you continue to face. Hopefully, the advice I’m about to share can provide some light as you chart a new path in what is understandably a dim time for you and many others.
First, pivoting must begin with your mindset as the leader of your business. It starts by shifting your thoughts, your energy, your confidence, and even changing the language you use.
You have lost some things but not everything. The physical location may close but can reopen soon online, for example. Believing you can and will survive and perhaps even find new ways to flourish is critical to pivoting, which literally means a major transition or shift in focus.
The second step is to take stock of all of the assets, resources, and advantages that you do have, which can be leveraged in this time. For example:
Your existing customer database: Having been in business for several years, you should have built an impressive list of customers that is one of the most valuable pieces of intellectual property a company could have. You have a ready list of prospective buyers that you can engage and sell to for years to come.
Technical know-how: Your experience matters. You understand the fundamentals of business and you know how to build a company from the bottom up by bootstrapping. You have done it before and you can and will do it again as opportunities arise. You also know how to sell, how to multitask, and how to maximise scarce resources, which is important in these times.
You have a brand: You have built a brand that has name recognition and considerable goodwill. That is a real asset.
Remember, people prefer to do business with those that they know, like, and trust. In fact, in previous articles, I have shared several business research and publications that show that it can be seven times easier to sell more to an existing satisfied customer than it is sell to a new one.
Additionally, many of your customers will understand that you are down on your luck and are likely to be more willing to support you to get back on your feet in so far as they are able.
You have strong networks: Another big advantage of being in business for years is the rich network you would have developed and the strong personal and professional relationships you can leverage as you shift your business.
It’s time for you to see that network as the gate openers, promoters, suppliers that can offer favourable terms, repositories of strategic information, connectors, among other possibilities. Now is a time for you to partner, barter, collaborate, amplify each other’s offerings as you support shared goals.
Ideas for fashion business
Once you have shifted your mindset and taken stock of some of the resources and assets you still have, here are some practical ways you can pivot your fashion business:
Digitally transform your business – Consider shifting online to e-commerce. Since you may not have the money to build your own website, you can partner with an existing local or global e-commerce site to sell your items. Digital transformation isn’t just about how you sell. It is also about eking out operational efficiencies, enhanced customer experience, and relationship management to make you more competitive.
Become an affiliate marketer – Affiliate marketing is, basically, getting paid or earning a commission to promote or share content, sales offers, etc, from other companies. An example of this is Reward Style, a network of fashion affiliates that enables influencers to get paid for promotions of premium brands. See https://about.rewardstyle.com .
Start a fashion blog – You love fashion, so why not get paid to write about what you love? Fashion blogging can build your following, drive business to your company, increase affiliate sales, and you can even get paid to write and post articles.
Become a local reseller – Another opportunity is to become a re-seller or sales affiliate for local designers. Many local designers would welcome extra hands or a strategic partner who can help them move more merchandise right now. This is where you can also leverage your database of customers. You can negotiate with designers to either buy from them at wholesale prices and re-sell with a mark-up, or you can make a commission in the same way that you would as an affiliate for international companies.
Shift to sustainable fashion for a competitive edge – The sustainabl- fashion movement is growing in popularity more than ever as the world recognises the importance of environmentally friendly practices in every industry, including fashion. From the materials used to how the clothing is made and cared for, this would be an opportune time to become a pioneer and thought leader in the space in the Caribbean.
Specialise in care of clothing – Another possibility is to specialise in the care of clothing and products that allow for extended life such as gentle fabric cleaners, at-home dry-cleaning solutions, storage bags, and others. Some customers are likely to have less money to spend on clothing, so caring for their existing items becomes more important than ever before. This seems to be an emerging trend in other markets that could have promise for you as you retail these fabric-care items. What is exciting is that the business model allows for a subscription model or consistent monthly purchases, which is constant positive cash flows.
Fashion upcycling – As an extension of extended care, you can consider fashion upcycling, where you offer modifications to breathe new life into old clothing with, for example, accessories and fashion hardware. You can review some of the fashion-forward trends in this area on the Pinterest app or Etsy.com.
I hope these ideas are helpful as you try to pivot to not only survive, but, hopefully, thrive.
Yaneek Page is the programme lead for Market Entry USA, a certified trainer in entrepreneurship, and creator and executive producer of The Innovators and Let’s Make Peace TV series.