As economies worldwide continue to adapt to the effects of the COVID-19 epidemic, businesses have been slowly coming to terms with a new normal, one that has seen many of them close shop or operate under severely compromised circumstances.
For some entrepreneurs, however, it's not been all doom and gloom. The crisis has either given birth to new niche businesses or promoted existing businesses that offer specialized products or services, giving entrepreneurs opportunities to thrive during and after the crisis.
Niche businesses that help people maintain social distancing and interact remotely, for instance, have been busier than ever, with strong indications that these businesses will still be relevant in a new, post-COVID-19 world.
This silver lining, however, isn’t a trend written in stone. In addition to the confusion and uncertainty businesses face, crises like the COVID-19 epidemic have a way of disrupting business processes long after the downturn passes. Thus, forward-looking businesses, especially those within niche markets, should combine plans for weathering the current storm with even stronger plans to maintain future growth, resilience, and profitability.
Strategies for future success
Let's explore four fundamental strategies you can use to build a firm, growth-oriented path to future success for your niche business amid the crisis:
1. Evaluate and strengthen your niche marketing strategy
The current crisis has presented many niche businesses with real opportunities for growth. As such, it's still essential to prime your marketing strategy to engage with the right audience – that's in the face of uncertainty that continues to cloud the business world.
You may decrease or completely do away with marketing during the crisis. But, long-term studies show that businesses that invest in marketing remain resilient. That's because they stand better chances of success when the tide turns.
Start by taking stock of your existing marketing resources. Take a critical look at your marketing assets, which include:
- Digital and print ads
- Consumer data
- Blog posts
- Press releases
- Photos and videos
- Email campaigns
Cover every other piece of marketing resource that you've developed and used up to this point.
Using analytics, determine which ones have worked during the crisis. You can repurpose or discard everything else that doesn't make the cut. That gives you in-depth visibility into how effective your engagement tactics are. You'll also learn how to better interact with your audience.
Once you've evaluated where you stand with your strategy, look at ways to strategically connect with your audience during and after the worst effects of the crisis are over.
Infusing elements of authentic storytelling and empathy into your marketing strategy right now can give your niche brand a better chance of engaging with customers who will be ready to get on with life again after the crisis.
Another upside to fortifying your niche marketing strategy is the long-term value it holds. Since your specialized business caters to a specific segment of a broad market, your business can establish itself long after the acute effects of the epidemic subside.
2. Pivoting: scary but necessary
Pivoting is perhaps one of the scariest and most misunderstood concepts for business owners. Once entrepreneurs invest their hearts and souls into a project, and it takes off, it's hard to override that. However, like John Lennon once said, "Life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans." If you don't intentionally ponder over pivoting, life will force you to it. By then, it may be too late.
For example, Kodak is well known for losing significant market share because of its leadership's aversion to pivoting. They saw the signs. They even invented the first digital camera but still lost out.
It's one thing to notice the changes you need to make and another to execute these changes. It calls for bravery, as you'll likely need to endure short-term losses to realize long-term gains.
Right now, Kodak is pivoting to drug manufacturing.
Another industry that is ripe for pivots is the tobacco industry. For decades, consumers used tobacco by smoking it. However, health concerns over time pushed some producers to consider new avenues. Cigarette manufacturers now need to keenly study how to pivot and adopt vaping to continue making progress.
In the same vein, your niche business needs to look at how the COVID-19 pandemic has upended operations and market dynamics. Do you need to adopt new tools? Has a new business model emerged that you have to adapt to? These are just some of the questions to ask as you prepare to pivot for the future.
3. Don't let technology blindside you
The last two decades have seen a significant shift in technology. Innovation has been almost lightning fast; as a result, many businesses have scrambled to adapt. Tack on the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, where employees have to work from home, sales and marketing has moved online, and you see the crucial technology has become for business.
The best way to think about technology when it comes to your firm is that it's a layer over every aspect of your niche business. You either shape the influence it has on each area or let it cripple you.
An illuminating example's the Disney corporation. It's been a mainstay of American business and culture since Walt Disney created the earliest animation strips.
The formula was simple: Craft animations and distribute them through third parties while plugging in other revenue streams. That worked fine until technology began threatening the DVD business before ultimately eating it, giving birth to streaming. The company introduced Disney+, its streaming service, which quickly racked up at least 50 million subscribers. Since the pandemic hit, Disney's investment in technology has helped it weather the rough seas as production has slowed down.
The firm is still earning revenue by directly serving users with its content while they quarantine. Despite delays in releasing more movies and having to close its parks, the money's still flowing in.
As you navigate the pandemic, you need to identify the technology impacting your niche. Find ways to keep incorporating that technology post-pandemic. Additionally, make it a requirement to stay on the bleeding edge of technology.
As you courageously experiment with emerging innovations and allow room for error, you'll find you uncover and adopt new technology much faster.
4. Keep the funding tap running
The COVID-19 crisis has disrupted many of the old channels that businesses used to source funding. Venture capitalists, banking institutions, angel investors, and other traditional investors and lenders have shelved new funding plans.
For businesses in niche markets that already struggle to close funding deals, the slowdown in business financing during this period makes it significantly harder to keep the doors open.
While most conventional funding sources temporarily dry up, there are still a few ways that niche businesses can secure funding even after the crisis.
If looking for a long-term investor to partner with through the crisis is a solution, look for investors likely to have a professional or personal interest in your product or service offerings. Platforms like Crunchbase can help you find investors who are invested in businesses that closely resemble yours and are good places to start to connect with like-minded investors.
Another great source of funding is the U.S. Small Business Administration loans. Though these were typically reserved for businesses that couldn't access traditional loans, low-interest SBA loans have provided lifelines for many niche businesses during the crisis and could help your business maintain financial integrity long after the pandemic is passed.
Other funding options to look at include 410(k) loans for business owners with retirement assets, debt refinancing for short-term loans, and a home equity line of credit (HELOC) that can be very useful for business owners with homes.
There's life beyond the pandemic, so prepare for it
2020 will go down as the year many businesses went under. For niche businesses, in particular, 2020 offers a chance to not only survive but grow. But that can only happen when you look at the current COVID-19 pandemic through a long-term lens.
As you navigate the crisis, take the time to ask yourself what your niche will look like post-pandemic. Develop strategies to carry your business, not only through the recovery, but in getting ready to face the next crisis.