Challenges of SMB’s During the Pandemic (Interview)

Hello Gytis, tell us a bit about yourself and the company.

You recently conducted research on SMBs and the impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on them. What are the key takeaways from this research?

First of all, thank you for the opportunity to share our research updates.

Our research aimed to shed light on how businesses have coped running their daily processes during COVID-19, and what changes have they made to survive this unparalleled transition.

We found that a third of all SMBs owners have focused on personal growth, with 31% of small business owners trying to learn new skills during the pandemic. This could be because many challenges that business operators have faced were entirely new to them, so they had to master new skills fast in order to overcome them.

Interestingly, only 23% of SMB owners in the US and UK said that they have not tried to grow their business during COVID-19.

Some of the most common changes involved modifications to marketing strategies:

  • 22% of SMBs made pricing changes
  • 22% launched new sales channels
  • 20% launched new marketing promotions

During our research, 54% of SMB owners stated that websites are an important part of their business. Since they all had websites prior to COVID-19, these SMBs mostly focused on implementing new marketing activities instead of opening new channels for growth.

In general, SMBs are highly dependent on the digital channels for their business growth. Of those we spoke to, 66% stated that the ability to sell online is crucial for their business and 52% said that options to sell globally are important.

A dependence on the digital channels is also clear while analysing changes in SMBs ad spending during the pandemic. Nearly one fifth of all business owners increased their spending on digital channels:

  • 19% of the business owners increased their spending on Facebook advertising
  • 23% on search engine advertising
  • 19% for online banners
  • 22% email marketing
  • 23% on online video advertising

Which business types do you think have undergone the most changes?

Somewhat surprisingly, in total only 10% of business owners mentioned that they launched remote channels to provide their services via channels like online courses or Zoom. From our research it was clear that most changes were made by the businesses that had the opportunities to “digitize” their business propositions more easily.

For example, many businesses that previously provided services in a “physical form” switched to digital-first delivery. Anything from classic examples like yoga classes and personal trainers to tax consultants.

What were the most significant growth strategies being used in this period?

As we briefly mentioned before, most of the growth efforts were made in learning new skills (31%), changing pricing (22%), launching new sales channels (22%), and launching new marketing promotions (20%).

There were also other notable strategies reported. One of them included a closer communication with the existing clients: 18% of businesses said they communicated more with existing customers.

An almost equal number of business owners (15%) focused on improving their marketing plan and increasing online advertising spend.

While changing their business propositions, businesses had to adjust their communication on key channels like websites and online stores as well. This is why 33% of the small business owners increased spending on improving their online shops, while 28% increased their spending on improving their websites.

In the report you talk about AI powered tools. Can you give some examples?

Yes, we are talking about AI because we believe that AI, when used for some very specific activities, decreases small businesses’ dependence on third-party services when it comes to branding their business or creating content.

We want to make life easier for small business owners so that they can focus on what they do the best — providing exceptional services and making great products.

Our research shows that besides running their day to day business operations, these people were also deeply involved in marketing activities:

  • 69% of respondents said that managed the online store themselves or worked with someone internally within their organization
  • 65% wrote promotional copy and other marketing-related content
  • An impressive 72% designed their own logos themselves
  • 74% chose their own company name and 75% chose their own slogans
  • Among those who have a company website, 76% built it themselves

However, small business owners are not only involved in the initial design of their marketing activities, but also with day-to-day tasks:

  • 64% write and manage content for their blog themselves or work with someone internally
  • 73% manage social media channels
  • 74% run online advertising campaigns

You can see there are many activities where the efforts of these business owners could be amplified with the clever use of AI technology. This is why we started developing AI tools to address very specific client needs.

Our tools include:

  • AI Writer — helps to come up with professional copy for client websites or online stores in any business category
  • Business Name Generator — provides great business name ideas
  • AI Heatmap — enables users to understand where their visitors will pay attention to even before clients visit so all websites are optimized for conversions
  • AI Logo Maker — generates thousands of logo ideas which users can then easily edit
  • AI Slogan Generator — helps to come up with memorable slogans and messages
  • AI Blog Topic Generator — offers unique content ideas for your blog

What advice would you give to someone who’s just starting out in eCommerce in this period?

As the saying goes: “Never waste a good crisis”.

Small businesses need to quickly adapt to this changing environment. Just like the small business owners in our research, your readers should search for new channels for user acquisition and innovate the way their products or services are presented and distributed.

For those who are starting out anew, there has never been a better time to launch a new digital business as consumers are increasingly moving online.

During the last few months the same number of people switched to online shopping as did over the last 10 years. This provides an enormous opportunity. The options for digital-first business are now better than ever.

Featured image via Depositphotos