Surviving 2021

The seven things small business owners must do to survive 2021 (if you haven’t already done them in 2020)


New situations bring new words into our language, and we've had bucket loads of them this year. The one that's intrigued me most, though (other than spelling 'furlough') is the term 'new normal.'


What started as irritating blanket use of the word 'unprecedented' gave way to the equally grating 'new normal.' But have you noticed how infrequently we're hearing that now? That's because we're regarding the current situation as merely 'normal'; not desirable or acceptable, but inevitable. It’s a sure sign of just how adaptable and resourceful we’ve had to become to get through the year.



How 2020 tested the mettle of every freelancer and small business owner


On the face of it, as a creative who frequently works without human company, from a small box of an office, you'd think this year hasn't been very much different for the likes of my fellow freelancers and me? My business has evolved throughout 2020, and I've probably learnt more about my craft, and, most importantly, my customers in the past six months than I have in the past six years. I’ve also reappraised what I do, how I do it, and who I do it for. I’ve tweaked my offering, upgraded my communications, explored new channels, and taken the opportunity to learn and hone my skills.


All practical and sensible things to do and my business is more substantial for it (and, I'd like to think my customer's businesses are too) but before I delve into more philosophical matters, here’s my promised list:


1. Prioritise, engage and communicate with your existing customers

2. Ask them what they want; give them as much of that as you can now, and more when it’s possible.

3. Focus on service, especially the small details; how quickly the phone gets answered, and how you present your products represents your brand. First impressions count.

4. Review your website, how it works, how it looks, how it engages. If you need a new one, stop procrastinating, you'll be amazed at what's possible, even on a budget.

5. Standardise your branding; consistency, and repetition build trust.

6. Get better at what you do, and get comfortable with buying-in help for the time -consuming and tedious, but essential stuff.

7. Necessity is the mother of invention. Great things can come out of adversity, but learn to recognise and ditch the things that don't work quickly.


What else is new?


So, what else is new? Not new, exactly, and not in a triumphal realisation of self-enlightenment, but with an attitude of ‘I'm getting on with this and no one's stopping me, so I’m carrying on’.


Those of you who’ve read my thoughts on imposter syndrome [link] will get that there's an internal conflict in us all, none more so than for the self-employed small business owner. For many of my fellow business owners and me, 2020 has made us rediscover our passion for what we do, re-visit why we started our businesses, and to dig up some resilience deep within us to accept and adapt to turbulence, uncertainty and yes, risk.



Self-employment comes with risks and rewards


If we're honest with ourselves, we started whatever we did to be independent, and in control of our destiny. We chose the thrills and spills of running our businesses, making a conscious decision to walk away from the safety and security of employment through good times and bad.


It’s got tough, but that’s what we signed up for.


A final irritating buzzword to emerge in 2020 is ‘pivot’ which, to me, has no human interaction behind it at all. With the benefit of a few month's hindsight, the word 'pivot' has, I’m reliably informed, conceded to ‘swerve’.


Now that I do like, and I'm visualising me and my office companion, (dog) on our metaphorical surf-board dodging and weaving, ditching and scrambling, clinging on, being scared witless, and loving it.


Roll with the big waves


So, that’s what I’ll be doing in 2021, learning to shift my balance, roll with the waves, and cling on to what’s important; besides (dog) that’s everything I’ve built, the people and businesses who depend on me, and my sense of trying to do the right thing.


2021 – you’ve got this.



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