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A lot of businesses are in a bit of a spin right now. The ways they’ve always done things just don’t work right now. If you’re a business owner you don’t need me to tell you. You’ll know all about our new reality.

What we have in simple terms, is an obstacle. There is an obstacle between us and our customers. These obstacles aren’t absolute. All they’ve done is block the path of least resistance between us and our traditional customers.

Now I know there’s less money in the economy. But what I’d like you to remember is that the current situation affects every business equally. Yours hasn’t been singled out. What this means is that if you can find a way around the obstacle and reconnect with customers – you have a business again.

We see this with restaurants starting to sell takeaway foods, but what if your business doesn’t have an obvious route to market. That’s what I want to explore here.

Something I’m hearing in the online space at the moment is that business owners should pivot to an online business model. Some businesses are well suited to this and the route to selling online is pretty obvious. But what if this isn’t the case for you?

Online business models are not all about selling things in online shops. If you have a shop then, by all means, open up online. But if you don’t sell physical products what are your options?

The first thing to remember with an online business model is that while you don’t have the easy access to your local customers like you used to, you do have access to the whole world. Don’t think with the same limitations – if you’re going to reimagine your business do it from the ground up.

There are a lot of frameworks people use when trying to understand how to optimise a business. There’s the business model canvas and the value proposition canvas and countless other lenses you can use to explore potential ways to tune your business model. For the purposes of this exercise I want to keep it simple and fall back to the classic 7 P’s of marketing.

The Seven P’s

Disclaimer. If you’re a marketing academic or an argumentative competitor – just go now. This is an interpretation of the 7P’s for the current situation. I’m trying to be helpful here.

Product

Your product is value. When you sell it’s a value exchange. What your customers’ value might have changed. How you package your product might need to change in order to stay aligned with new needs. A big issue for some businesses is that their product doesn’t work at all in the current climate. That doesn’t mean they don’t have value to exchange. It means they’ll need to innovate.

Price

You might need to look at pricing. I don’t necessarily mean cutting prices. What I mean is that you might need to look at leading with different products. Another perspective is that when you start reaching out to people online your net is much wider. It’s possible that by selling more of a lower priced item your revenues might stabilise or grow. Remember, online you don’t have the same geography and you can reach many more people.

Physical evidence

When people come into your store or office they take an impression of who we are, how serious or competent we are. Our environment is part of our brand and affects trust. Online – you can’t take this advantage with you to the same extent. You’re going to need to tell your story online, share pictures of your people, products, place. You’re going to need to compensate.

Place

You might have traded locally before but now we can’t. That gives you permission to reimagine the constraint of place. If you’re going to be trading online why limit yourself this way. Additionally – Because you can’t work with people directly a lot of people will have to completely rethink the value exchange which is their product.

Promotion

To a large extent promotion is the easy part. Once you innovate your product and overcome the physical constraints of social distancing, you just need to connect to your audience. This is, for most people, marketing. Marketing is much more but here we’re talking social media, search marketing, online advertising, joint ventures and getting your brand and product in front of the most people you can.

Processes

A lot of businesses are defined by their processes and every business is unique. But one process has been interrupted more than any other. Delivery. So as we explore ways to innovate our value exchange we’re going to have to take this constraint into account and find ways to work around it.

People

This is all about community. Our staff, partners, customer and audience. Those business who’ve taken their people for granted are going to need to rethink things. Online is often thought to be about big numbers, ads and spreadsheet, but really it’s about people. Your ability to connect with people online and galvanise them as activists for your business can be a huge advantage. But you also need to make sure you’re properly leveraging your resources. Think incentives, recognition, shout outs, generosity, CRM systems and communicating more, not less. Think person to person. Not B2B.

The seven P’s are really just a few perspectives which allow us to steer a review of what we’re doing. It takes some imagination to understand how they might be applied in more traditional businesses so I’ll give you a few examples.

Example 1 – A Garden Centre

The best garden center in town never had to sell online. Those who knew, knew and they were always busy. Well that’s not how it ‘s working now. The garden center has to turn to it’s most loyal customers, who still have gardens and a lot of free time, with a rapidly produced PDF price list.

They’ve also reviewed products and put together some easy to buy kits for home veg growing. Everything you need from containers, netting, compost, seeds, and a watering can. They’re selling a lot of these around the country. They’ve promoted these in local buy and sell groups on Facebook where they found a ready army of activists with time on their hands and because their new product is meeting a need, business is better than ever.

Example 2 – A massage therapist

This therapist was faced with ruin. It’s ok for Joe Wicks to jump around on TV but that’s not going to work for a therapist that can’t touch you through the screen and doesn’t have enough money to buy an island already.

The therapist created a Facebook group for people thinking about job changing and put together s simple online course about how to sell massage therapy. He spent time in the Facebook group being as helpful as possible and very quickly had around 150 people around the world paying him £35 per month for support to plan the relaunch of their career. He’s working less hours and making more money than before. He also has the potential to scale five times more than any other therapist.

Example 3 – Telecom sales

While most telecoms companies are making people redundant one is retraining sales staff to operate online. People still need telecoms, now more than ever. But the ways this has always been done are not going to work now. This particular telecom has invested in virtual training in social selling .

Helping staff find new ways to prospect and connect in the new environment. Some simple changes have led to increased sales and new customers as competitors have gone into stasis and not risen to the challenge. The B2B telecom space isn’t bound by geography so sales teams are finding unexpected success with niche products around the world.

Each of these businesses had the same constraints and had to find new ways to connect value to the people who need it. First you need to reassess and audit your value and then the ways you bring that value to market.

The more imagination you bring to this process the more successful you can be. When you go online you don’t need to be mainstream. You can go as niche as you like because your market is comprised of seven billion people.

The pivot to an online business model is something that normally might be done over years. Right now you might need to address it very quickly. An online business model isn’t a license to print money or a ticket to a private island.

It’s just as much work. You’ll need to network like crazy, live on social media, create content all the time, be very high profile and get used to being visible in ways which might make you very uncomfortable. This is what it takes.

Remember that business is simple. It’s about value exchanges. If you can find ways to create value and connect that with people who want it – you’ll have a business.

If you have a business and it’s struggling right now then look to the seven P’s as one tool which might help you get that process started. If you want more inspiration then listen to my podcast where I’ve interviewed dozens of online business owners of every kind.

About Bob Gentle

I work with businesses of all sizes on digital marketing, host the Amplify digital marketing entrepreneur podcast and work with entrepreneurs to help them amplify their business online.

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