We made it to 2021! After the rollercoaster of 2020, fueled by the agony and uncertainty of Covid-19, a new year is upon us. While much difficulty remains, there is a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. This year will be similar to 2020, and small and medium-sized businesses will need to continue being creative to stay afloat in this new world. Thankfully, this drive toward innovation is ramping up what we at Crowned have been advocating for since our inception. Here are some ideas for small businesses to keep in mind going forward. 

Brainstorm Revenue Streams

Now more than ever is the time to put heads together to figure out how to stay relevant. That means thinking about ways to bring your product to your customers, from tangible items to digital products. If you’re used to leading in-person training, plan ways to take your classes online. If you have a lull in your consulting business, create ebooks and guides to sell on social media. Figure out ways to collaborate with other small businesses to drive revenues across the board. Offer freebies, webinars, or beef up your newsletter to stay relevant. 

Broaden your Digital Footprint

So many small and medium-sized businesses have a minimal online presence. They haven’t updated their website since 2009, and while they might have social media accounts, they never log into them. Invest in your website, social media, and email marketing in 2021. These aspects can be overwhelming, but thankfully there are heaps of tools that can make building your digital footprint easier. This is an investment area; you are laying a foundation for your business by creating a thoughtful online presence. 

Be Agile

The best part of being small is that you can make changes quickly if you’re agility-minded. As a small business, it’s fundamental to make necessary changes. Try not to get bogged down by the same old routine, and think about ways to pivot if you need to change things up. Getting stuck in your own mind as a small business leader can be devastating for your business, so be sure to think outside the box and use all your resources (and your team!) to evaluate what’s important. 

Learn E-Commerce Now

Creating an e-commerce presence is a no-brainer. If you aren’t working toward selling direct, you’re missing out on revenue. This goes hand-in-hand with much of what we’ve already discussed, but can be a challenge to roll out. Thankfully, a lot of website builders include e-commerce right out of the box. If you are working on a more a la carte platform, here’s a resource to help you get started

Be a Thoughtful Leader

These are challenging times for all, and leadership is harder than ever to navigate. Just getting out of bed is a feat of greatness for many more people than you might think, thanks to the Covid Blues. As a leader, think about ways you can be more thoughtful and support your team. This might mean giving paid time off for a long weekend, sending a Covid-fatigue care package, or even just the simple act of asking how everyone is really doing. Try to connect on a human level with your staff and reap great loyalty and better productivity. It’s also vital to also take care of yourself. As we all remember from the days where we used to fly, you have to put your own oxygen mask on before you can help others. Check out our “Another Self Care Blog” for ideas on this front. 

Get Help

Thankfully, if all of the above is just way too much, you can get help! Digital consultants, like yours truly at Crowned, are the juggernauts of helping to make your business thrive, even in uncertain times. We can help you plan your strategy to digitization, e-commerce, and staying on top of your customer relationships with one-on-one help and support, as well as handy guides on how to make the magic happen from our new Digital Library. 

Plan Infrastructure, Analytics, & Customer Care

It’s always, ALWAYS, an excellent idea to improve and enhance your digital infrastructure (think CRM, email service providers, your website), because your infrastructure ultimately makes your relationships with customers better. You may need to be a bit more communicative with customers and clients who want quick answers. They may be glued to their phones and computers, as so many are now, working from home with little divide between work and home life. They will remember and appreciate the human touch. Times of crisis can bring people together (or drive them apart) in ways that “normal times” don’t. Investing in these areas now is a way to plan for the long game. Another important aspect is staying connected to your customers via analytics. Data is every small business’s best friend, that is if you are actually looking into what KPIs, email marketing, Google analytics, and other metrics say about your business. Use your tools and stay curious about trends! 

Tap Your Local Scene

Small businesses need to band together right now for maximum effect. Why not figure out ways to work with your local BBB, schools, religious organizations, community centers, grocery stories… the list goes on and on. Building these relationships now will be yet another way to sure up your foundation for business stability in the future, and you might even make a new friend along the way!

Silver linings? 

Discipline is key now more than ever. While having something to motivate is great for inspiration, the focus of discipline is ultimately what will drive you forward in your small business. Be as specific as possible with your goals; it’s important to make small, reachable targets for yourself in times like this to keep yourself going and not succumb to burnout. Making attainable goals will help you feel in control, set expectations, and help to balance your work with your home life. 

I certainly know how difficult it is to stay positive during uncertainty, and it won’t be possible to be upbeat all the time. That said, it’s more important than ever to take care of yourself. Rest more than usual, eat good food, meaningfully connect with your family and friends, try to do something you are passionate about, and try not to let the apocalyptic nature of it all drag you down into the muck. And if you do find yourself eyeballs deep in the darkness, reach out and talk to someone.

If you haven’t had at least one video call in the last eight months, maybe you’ve been in a cave? 2020 will undoubtedly be a year for the history books, and one of the things we’ll probably all remember is the joys (and sorrows) of the many video calls we’ve attended. Meetings of any sort usually aren’t a favorite activity, and if you’re reading this, you’ve likely been on a video call before and have an opinion on them.

The “Zoom Call” has become part of the collective vernacular, with some praising it and others condemning it. Those who criticize the remote work ritual of the video meeting aren’t looking at the big picture. Sure, meeting in person can help boost your mindset and spur creativity, but to admonish remote work as “unproductive” after less than a year of data during a global pandemic is myopic. (Read our blog on WFH best practice in the “before-times” here!)

For some, video conferencing is old-hat, especially for veteran remote workers. Others who have had the WFH world thrust onto them since March have had to accept a new pace of life for the foreseeable future. 

We at Crowned are pros at conducting remote meetings with video conferencing tools, and we’re here to make your new WFH routine a little easier. Let’s dive into some of the caveats of video conferencing and best practices of how to stay professional while probably still wearing slippers.

Video Conferencing Best Practices

1. The right software

There are loads of free video conferencing tools to choose from, and selecting the right one for your team can be daunting.  Zoom seems to have become the “Google” of video calling in 2020 (remember when everyone called video calls “Skyping”?). Zoom is a popular choice for many reasons, including for security purposes and for meetings that require more seats. However, unless you have a paid plan, your sessions will get cut off at the 45-minute mark. While you can always sign back into the same link to resume the meeting, that’s not the most professional look for most. 

We at Crowned us Google Meet for most of our smaller team calls. Most video conferencing software has similar tooling, save for the few pitfalls of the Zoom free-plan. Make sure you try out whatever software you end up using to familiarize yourself with the mute, share screen, chat window, and hide yourself buttons before you’re live on a call.  

2. Camera Angle

No one wants to see up your nose. Position your webcam to be level with your eyes, and be sure that you look at the camera while presenting and not the screen. It can be hard to remember to look at the camera when you can see yourself, and turning off the view of yourself can help with this. 

3. When not presenting, mute!

Don’t t be afraid to use the mute button! It’s polite to mute yourself when you aren’t presenting or speaking. It may also be appropriate to disable your camera as well. Doing so allows you to grab a snack, type out notes without the annoying clicking sound, sneeze, and tend to your kids or pets who might interrupt your meeting. Muting yourself is a professional courtesy on many levels.

4. A Strong Internet Connection 

With the state of broadband infrastructure being suboptimal in most places, it can sometimes be challenging to have a seamless connection during a video call. There are a few things you can do if your internet connection isn’t great. You can tether to your cell phone and use your mobile data if it’s faster than your wifi connection, or you can use the hardline to your modem if your wifi router is a little on the slow side. Either way, if your connection is subpar, do everyone a favor and turn off your video because audio-only calls are a million percent better than a bad video connection. 

5. Respect Timing

As a rule of thumb, respect your client’s and colleague’s time and do not go over the allotted meeting time on your call. If you have a tight beginning and end time set, you may need to make the meeting longer, because inevitably the beginning of meetings involve a few minutes getting everyone connected.  Set a 5-minute warning timer for yourself if you tend to stray off topic during sessions. If you use the free version of Zoom, there is a 45-minute max meeting time for any call. The call will automatically disconnect after a pop-up warning after 45 minutes (as mentioned early, you can always sign back into the same link). If you want to have more extended and uninterrupted meetings, use a free tool without the time constraint, like Google Meetings, WhatsApp conference calls, Skype, or one of the many other free tools available. If you need the ability to have a large audience, Zoom is still our favorite. 

6. Hardware & Permissions 

Computer speakers are usually not the best, and, most annoying of all, they can cause an echo on a video call. The best way to mitigate this is with a good pair of headphones. Wired is best unless you have Apple products (both computer and Bluetooth headphones).  It’s worth investing a little bit in some nice ones, especially if you’re a heavy meeting person. Either way, I’d recommend noise-canceling headphones, especially if you have kids, pets, or a partner also working from home in the same room or area. 

A good mic is also crucial. Most good headphones will have you covered here. If you present a lot and work with higher-end clients, invest in a high-quality mic. It will make you sound like you’re in the room with the person on the other end and filter out any distracting background noise that can make you sound less than professional. 

You’ll also need to make sure your computer or phone has the proper permissions set for access to your webcam and microphone on your call BEFORE you get on your call.

7. Lighting 

Natural lighting is always going to make you look your best on a video call. If you don’t have access to a window, buy yourself a natural light lamp or a selfie ring light. You’ve probably noticed these on the news lately, especially in the reflections of people’s glasses! Thankfully, you can get a good one without breaking the bank, and they’ll make you look fresh and not like a quarantined couch-slug.

8. A Quiet Space

I realize that this can be a tough one, especially with partners or roommates working from home, kids doing online learning, and just life happening, but there are some ways to make this happen. If you don’t have a room you can dedicate as an office, try to carve out a little nook to make into your workspace. I’ve seen many creative workspaces with the uptick in WFH, including a closet-office, working from inside a bedsheet tacked up around a desk, and even working in a bathroom! If all else fails, getting a good set of noise-canceling headphones and a good mic will help you and your clients in the case of any occasional background noise. Also, never forget that mute button!

9. Etiquette: Food, Bathrooms, Attire

I know it’s hard to work from home; I get it. Sometimes we miss lunch or break time, and you just gotta wolf down some Doritos or take care of personal business during a meeting. If this is you, do your audience a favor and mute yourself and turn off your camera. No one wants to see you licking your fingers while going over KPIs, or hear the flush of a toilet whilst discussing Q3 goals. 

The same goes for your appearance. Dress as you would for the office in most cases and avoid wearing shirts with writing on them. If you wear a shirt with something like a band name or political message, angle your camera so that it’s not in view. The same goes for your background. If your space is cluttered or busy, use a simple background in Zoom to hide it. 

10. The Chat Feature 

All video conferencing software has a chat function. Use it! It’s a great way to ask a question without interrupting, or you can have your attendees post a hand raise to get in the queue to ask a question verbally in an organized way. For meeting notes, I usually take notes on meetings in Slack in my own direct message window and also type out any questions I have before a general post to a public forum. 

The Future of Meetings

Meetings are likely forever changed, along with many other aspects of working, due to the pandemic. But it’s not all bad! Hopefully, this new normal of video meetings will make many folks see the need for fewer meetings. As the adage says, “That meeting could have been an email.”