Small businesses were hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic: Companies of 20-49 employees experienced a 21.5% decline in employment between March and April 2020, according to the Small Business Association.
Meanwhile, as Americans got accustomed to quarantine throughout March, April, and May 2020, many became "glued to their phones, because they are craving some sort of social interaction," says Elma Beganovich, co-founder of influencer marketing agency Amra & Elma. As many as 48% of 18-to-29-year-olds and 38% of 30-to-49-year-olds say they had a social gathering online with family or friends as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, for example, according to the Pew Research Center.
Here are four ways to use online tools to help you and your brand connect with a bigger audience and customer base.
Worldwide, more than 500 million Instagram accounts are active every day, according to Facebook. And the platform's usage is not limited to posting photos and videos on your profile: The Instagram Live function lets viewers watch a live recording as you're making it, and they can send you messages and reactions throughout.
"That tool is very handy," says Beganovich. "You can invite some guests to make it entertaining for your customers or potential customers … [or] you can make it informative."
Instagram Live is an opportunity to create engaging content that helps your audience build a deeper connection with you and your brand. And you can use it as an opportunity to spotlight your product and let people know how they can buy it.
Influencers have accrued large social media followings and often use their platforms to tout products they like and believe in. Influencers with hundreds of thousands or even millions of followers can be expensive to work with if you'd like them to shout out your business on Instagram or write it up in a blog post. There are, however, influencers with smaller followings who may be both less expensive and a better fit for your potential customer base.
Beganovich suggests doing some research to see which influencers have values that "align with [your] brand." That is, which influencers with complementary values are spotlighting products similar to yours.
If you're selling vegan muffins, for instance, you probably don't want to reach out to an influencer who posts regularly about the cheeseburgers they're picking up at McDonald's. The influencer who's already featuring vegan food will be more likely to want to work with you and will likely have an audience base that's more interested in your offerings to begin with.
Whatever connections you've cultivated with customers or like-minded business owners that could help you grow, it "remains incredibly important to nourish those relationships," says entrepreneur and consultant Rachel Braun Scherl.
Use online tools like Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, and email to stay in touch with people and help to keep yourself and your business top of mind. "Anytime I see an article that I think could be meaningful to someone," says Scherl as an example, "even if it's not in their industry, I share it."
Doing this "doesn't always result in business," she says, "but it absolutely always improves relationships."
Video by David Fang
The internet offers endless resources for learning how to grow your business. Scherl has committed to "a focus hour [every day] above and beyond what I always do trying to learn something."
Find articles, newsletters, and e-books through the library — lots of content available for free that way can help you learn how to be more productive, efficient, and successful, like Angela Duckworth's bestselling book about goals and achieving them, "Grit."
And try inspiring podcasts. "Side Hustle Pro" profiles Black women entrepreneurs who have scaled their side hustles into full-blown businesses.
When it comes to growing your business and building your brand online, remember that your goal, to start with, is to introduce yourself and your product. It can take a lot of repetition to get potential customers to recognize and remember you. "There's a basically a magic rule of seven," says Beganovich: It takes at "least seven times for the consumer to process your existence."
Online tools can help, since in many cases the point is that they help you "to get in front of people." In time, that can lead to sales, and to success.
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