By Greg Ashton, founder at GROW, a media company and conference series specializing in online retail.
It’s no doubt that times are changing. As economic uncertainty continues, companies in every industry are switching their focus from growth to survival (or at least maintaining). Even industry giants like Amazon are seeing the effects of the market, as their shares saw the worst year since 2000, with stocks plummeting 51%. And their stocks performed better than Meta and Tesla.
So if the bigwigs are even feeling the burn right now, what about the other 99.9% of businesses across the country that are considered small?
It’s inarguable that small businesses keep the economy flowing. Over the last 25 years, they’ve added over 12.9 million jobs (about two-thirds of all new jobs) to the market, according to U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy data (via Forbes). Yet one in five of them are still doomed to fail within the first year, according to Fundera (via Forbes). Add in the current complications—like increasing cost of goods, services and employees; supply chain issues; and declining retail sales—and you’ve got a perfect storm for struggling this year.
As businesses continue to cut costs and labor into the new year, it’s a perfect time to analyze your company’s reviews. Word of mouth is one influential way to get new customers—without spending a dime.
Your business’s reputation matters—now more than ever. I’ve found that getting new customers, growing online and even finding quality employees can all stem from simple word of mouth. If you’re like one of the 70% of small business owners in a September 2022 survey from Nationwide who said they expected a recession in the next six months or the majority who didn’t feel prepared for one, this could be the strategy you need to focus on in the coming months.
Positive Customer Experiences
Believe it or not, what your customers write about you online makes a huge difference for those who are interacting with your brand for the first time. Last year, a survey from Brand Rated (via Globe Newswire) found that 95% of consumers read online reviews before making a purchase, and over half would pay more for a product from a brand with good reviews.
To put it simply, you will likely need a great product and great customer service to succeed.
Where people leave reviews may not matter as long as there are some. According to ReviewTracker data, 88% of all online reviews are on four main sites: Google, Yelp, Tripadvisor and Facebook. Google makes up the majority of that percentage at 73%.
If your business is discovering that your online reviews are bad to nonexistent, it’s time to spend the energy on remedying this situation. Improving your customer service response time is a huge factor I’ve seen make an impact in my own business. Implementing live chat services, managing your company’s social media for direct messages and being transparent about how to reach real employees are just a few low-cost strategies that can make a big difference.
Spending Less On Ads That Don’t Work
It’s exciting to say that my company has spent virtually no money on advertising in the past five years. We’ve heavily relied on word of mouth to transform from a small Slack channel comprised of entrepreneurs into an online space where thousands of people have subscribed to our newsletter, attended our conferences and joined our workshops in New York, Los Angeles and Beverly Hills. Every time somebody signs up for a ticket to a conference or subscribes to our newsletter, we encourage them to share it with friends and peers (and they do).
Many marketers say that a customer needs to see an ad or interact with your company seven to eight times before making a purchase. Does your company have the ad budget to make a dent in the digital space this year? If your ads are just not hitting the right audience the right amount of times, it might be worthwhile to focus on word-of-mouth strategies instead. Do you have an email subscription that you can keep generating leads through and engaging with customers? Do you have incentives, like free giveaways, to encourage customers to leave reviews or share your product with their friends? Do you have partnerships with other businesses that can introduce you to new audiences? Take these opportunities to grow your base without wasting funds on ads that just don’t work.
Cultivating A Work Culture Worth Bragging About
Many have said that a positive work culture can lead to better production. If you’re looking for quality employees to get you through this economic transition, you should work to become known as a good place to work. Glassdoor reports that 86% of job seekers look at a company’s reviews and ratings before they even decide where to apply for a job.
As we all look at places to cut costs, consider what you can do to improve your company culture. Maybe bonuses weren’t as big this year; can you offer a couple of extra days of PTO? Maybe you’re forced to make layoffs and rely on employees to pick up more slack. Can you offer more work-from-home opportunities so they can still get home tasks done? The more you think about what you can do for your employees, the better your reputation for being a great place to work will be, and the better your business could perform.
Focusing On Your Reputation
We all know that 2023 is going to have its ups and downs. Getting more creative with your marketing strategy could be the way to cut costs and still see growth in your client and financial bases. Really, what it comes down to is whether you have a really good final product. If you do, people will naturally spread the word about what you’re building. You just have to ask them to do it.