Taking the time to do a year-end review is a must for every business. But how do you do that during a pandemic?
Taking the time to do a year-end review is a must for every business, as it’s important to understand what worked – and what didn’t – in order to plan the year ahead. But how the heck do you do that during a pandemic?
You get creative and give yourself options.
The truth is no one knows what’s going to happen tomorrow or next year. But at this point, we’ve spent nearly a year dealing with COVID-19, and can expect that we’ve got a long recovery ahead of us.
That means we have experience and data to pull on.
It also allows us to plan.
Establish a Plan A and Plan B.
While it’s not a happy thought, if you anticipate that we’ll be in this situation for the next year, and plan for it, you’ll be in a better position than spending time hoping things will change soon.
That said, news about vaccine progress has many people optimistic that things will return to normal sooner rather than later. Thus, Plan A and Plan B:
Plan A: Operating and marketing your business in a pandemic for 2021
Plan B: Operating and marketing your business as normal for 2021
Sure, that means extra time on strategy, but it also means you’ll be prepared for anything and in a position to quickly pivot if things change. Chances are having a solid plan for both scenarios will also help your mental health, as you won’t be so worried about the “what ifs.”
Understand how the pandemic changed your business
While some businesses have thrived in the midst of COVID-19, most have taken a hit. You likely already know that sales are either up or down, but how much have you thought about why?
It’s easy to say, “The economy is in shambles, so my business is down.”
That may be a true statement, but it doesn’t help you move forward. You need to go deeper to understand how your business changed.
As an example, a good portion of my business usually revolves around website design, which seemed to be too big of an investment during the pandemic. Instead, my clients have been focused on search engine optimization and social media. Here’s how knowing that helps me:
- My marketing efforts should focus on social media and SEO services, not web design. This impacts everything from what I post on my own social media pages to how I introduce myself when networking.
- My team will change. Web design projects require graphic designers and web developers, whereas social media requires a copywriter, and SEO needs someone to analyze data.
- Social media and SEO projects cost less than web design, so I will need more clients than usual. That means a greater focus on business development.
I’ve now got information that helps me plan for staffing needs and marketing strategy – all things that help me work toward a reasonable budget.
Review sales trends.
First things first: Understand what you’re selling and how that changed during the pandemic. Since many businesses had to pivot this year, your sales trends may be different than you’re used to. Spend some time evaluating what changed and how you’ll move forward in different scenarios.
Example No. 1: A garden-supply business that had a huge sales increase during the pandemic
- The marketing plan is to resell/upsell customers by showcasing more advanced gardening techniques.
- Continued surges will require extra inventory to keep up with demand.
- Additional staff in customer service and shipping may be required to keep up with the demand.
- Marketing consideration: How do I keep people interested in their garden (and thus buying from me) when other activities open back up?
- Inventory consideration: Is anything perishable that I will lose money on if sales decrease?
- If so, is there a nonprofit I can donate to so I can get a tax credit and/or positive PR?
Example No. 2: A dog walker who switched to Instacart-like delivery services (true story)
- Services include the grocery store and drug stores, but should they expand to include pet and hardware stores?
- Can my car continue to support the business, or do I need a bigger vehicle so I can maximize my time by taking fewer trips?
- Do I also need to budget for repairs if I’m using the car more?
- Am I getting enough customers, or do I need to put in a referral program in place to grow?
- Now that things are getting back to normal, is the delivery service still a viable business?
- Can I market based on convenience instead of safety?
- Which service do I enjoy most and want to focus on?
- Which service was more profitable?
- Remember that you might have made more revenue on the delivery service but had to pay for gas and new tires, so, ultimately, the dog walking may be more profitable.
- Can I do both? If so:
- Can I continue to do it myself or do I need to build a team?
- How will I structure my time?
Example No. 3: B2B operational consultant whose business dropped in 2020
I know my sales are down because my customers are struggling to stay afloat, thus they are cutting their own expenses and doing things themselves. I need to explore:
- What are people still paying me for?
- Is there an aspect of my services that people can still see the value of? If so, I need to find a way to call greater attention to it.
- Is there a type of business or industry that is thriving? If so, I need to do business development to find more customers in that industry.
- Is there a way to change up my services or expand my offering to support people through rough times? Perhaps I can offer a lower-cost service or restructure my payment plan.
- Is my business still viable and bringing in enough money to pay my bills?
- Do I need to start thinking about an exit plan, or at least something to supplement my income for the remainder of the pandemic?
Once things get back to normal, I know a lot of businesses will be scrambling to scale back up, so I can lay the groundwork to support projects like:
- Back-office catch-up: Accounting and finances will be a mess because the business owner didn’t know how to maintain them.
- Staffing increase: Business owners will looking at how to rebuild a team quickly.
- Business decisions: If a business had to change up their products and services, how do they decide what to focus on in the future?
Measure your online impact.
The world went virtual in 2020, so it’s important to understand how your business fared online. If you’re using Google Analytics on your website (and you should be!), you will see a breakdown of your traffic in the following way:
- Organic search: Someone entered a phrase related to your business, and it led them to your page.
- Paid search: You used Google Ads to advertise on specific keywords, and this is the traffic that came from that ad.
- Direct: A user knew exactly where they were going and entered your URL in the browser, navigating directly to you.
- Referral: People come to your website by clicking on a link from another website. This is often the result of events and appearances, media mentions or guest blogs.
- Social: Users who came to your site from a social media site such as Facebook or LinkedIn.
- Email: Users clicked on a link in an email campaign to arrive at your site.
Now that you have an idea of how people are finding you, you can take things a step further by comparing your traffic to your marketing activities.
Let’s say you spent a whole lot of money on a public relations campaign, but you never saw any referral traffic from the media. That tells you investing in public relations may not be the best strategy for you.
On the flip side, maybe you were a guest on a podcast and saw that 200 people came to your website from the podcast. That means it’s a good way to gain exposure, and you would benefit from finding similar opportunities.
Is your social media effective?
Some sources of traffic, like social media, need to be explored in more detail.
We know a lot of people turned to social media as a lifeline to stay connected during the pandemic, but just because a lot of people are on Facebook, doesn’t mean it benefits your business.
If you want to judge whether or not social media effective, consider things like:
- Do you get a lot of website visitors from Facebook, Instagram or other social networks?
- Have the number of people on your email list increased, especially if you ran a campaign to promote a lead magnet?
- How engaged are people with your posts? Do people share what you post, or do you need to revamp your content strategy?
- Can you tie sales to your social media efforts?
- Are there any trends? Were there certain times or subjects that made an impact?
There is tons of data on Google Analytics that can be used as part of your year-end review, and it can help you determine if your website, as a whole, is effective. After all, your social media might be effective at driving people to your website, but if everyone leaves after 10 seconds, then your whole marketing campaign breaks down.
If you want to dive into information like this, take a look at my top five Google Analytics reports, where I share a couple of useful reports and where to find them.