Entrepreneurs never stop thinking about what’s next for their businesses and how to make the most of what’s ahead—but in the times we live in, advance planning is not always easy. Getting in front of the trends can be especially challenging for one-person businesses and other very small firms, which usually don’t have a big budget for market research or marketing.
For insight on how to grow your business in 2020 no matter what your budget, I spoke recently with Jen Kem, a brand futurist who runs the marketing firm KemComm Media Group and the Master Brand Institute, which teaches entrepreneurs brand building. Forbes readers met Kem, based in Walnut Creek, Calif., when I wrote about her story of entrepreneurial reinvention last year.
Here are some of Kem’s predictions for 2020 and her ideas on how to make the most of what’s ahead.
Human connection will matter more than ever. Many people are lonely, isolated and alienated in a world that’s increasingly driven by technology. Smart entrepreneurs will find ways to devote the time they’ve freed up with technology to getting to know customers better, even if that’s through simple methods like taking a few extra minutes to talk with them. “Where you put your time and money needs to be in ‘real life’ and relationships,” Kem says.
Kem recommends building a small, close-knit network populated by people who help you connect to your higher purpose, rather than spreading yourself thin among a large group or making only superficial contact once in a while. “People don’t want relationships to be a ‘fly by,’” she says.
Also look for ways to create experiences that help people feel they are are part of a “movement,” as the cycling brand Peleton has done, she recommends. Connecting your customers to like-minded people adds to their sense of belonging.
What if you don’t have Peleton’s budget? It doesn’t matter. There are many ways to create genuine community on a shoestring, like planning a live event or workshop, she says.
Keeping your creative output true to your values will give you an edge. What attracts customers to your brand and business will be content or other things you create (or curate) that truly convey your values. That applies to every size business, whether it’s the next unicorn or a one-person shop. “If you’re a small business, you are actually building a brand,” says Kem.
The more consistent your message is and the more each piece of content syncs up with the values you’ve already expressed, the more powerful your brand will be.
The marketing guru Seth Godin and Eat Pray Love author Elizabeth Gilbert are good examples of this principle in action, she says. Both are constantly coming up with new ideas and books, but their fundamental values are very consistent.
Focus matters. It’s hard to get people to buy from you if they don’t truly understand what you sell. Make a focused offer that reflects what the market wants and shows how the brand will deliver it, she advises. Clarity will help your marketing message get your prospects’ attention in a very noisy and distracting environment.
Just make sure you do your homework (and plenty of experimenting) first, to figure out what your target customer actually wants. “You need to know what is happening and decide what is relevant for how you do business,” advises Kem.
You’ll win by creating real, lasting value. Your business will have more staying power if you find a way to make a difference that goes beyond simply addressing a pain point or desire of your customers.
Kem points to an exercise that Cynthia Montgomery, a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, developed. Ask yourself what would happen if your business died. Would anyone miss it? Would the world be the same? If no one would be sad it was gone, it’s time to devote more time to uncovering what matters to your customers and finding the intersection with your own purpose as an entrepreneur.
The mindset behind this approach is very different from the purely results-driven thinking that some businesses have embraced, without considering their long-term impact on the people whose lives they affect or the world. “It’s about profit, people and the planet,” she says.
Your platform is your ticket to future growth. Ideally, every entrepreneur should try to reach their community in both the digital world and the analog one, creating what Kem calls “an undeniable body of work.” For instance, you might have both a strong Instagram presence and hold live events, such as workshops, seminars, retreats or conferences. (Don’t spread yourself too thin across social media she advises. It’s better to go “all in” with one social platform and build a strong presence there).
As you build your platform, keep asking yourself how you can adjust to a changing world. “How can you stay relevant and grow while being true to you?” she asks. “You want to stay profitable and relevant to your clients.”
That mindset will make you very referable and help your business thrive, no matter what headlines have in store for us in 2020.