4 Ways to Reinvent Your Business
A step-by-step guide for adapting to the new normal.
By John Corrigan
April 28, 2021
It was over a year ago that the pandemic first pushed promotional products companies to the brink. To survive, distributors and suppliers had to adapt and get creative. They made new products, serviced new markets, even launched completely new business models. In short, they reinvented themselves.
ASI Media is celebrating that resourcefulness with “Reinvention Week” – a series of stories that honor promo’s ingenuity and explain how to stay agile in the face of future challenges.
If 2020 sent everybody back to the drawing board, 2021 is when we run the plays.
Read the other published stories in this series:
Staying Ahead of the Curve
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced everyone to make changes in both their professional and personal lives, often blending the two. And even though we’re usually resistant to it, change can be good. Companies that adapted quickly to the disruption fared much better than those playing catch up.
Don’t worry, though. There’s still time for you to make changes to survive and end up stronger than before. Here are four ways to reinvent your business.
Click each box below to open and view the step-by-step instructions.
Conducting business online is vital in the digital age.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s to embrace technology, says Alan Tabasky, VP and GM of BEL USA, parent company of supplier BEL Promo (asi/39552) and Top 40 distributor DiscountMugs.com (asi/181120).
“Maybe as a small business, you’re working every evening on your invoicing and billing,” Tabasky says. “Is there a system approach you can take to reduce the hours you spend? Is there a software package, maybe even a free, limited version you can start with? There are many great resources to save you time and energy, but you have to step back and take a fresh look.”
E-commerce isn’t just a good resource anymore – it’s a necessity. As countries locked down and retailers were forced to close during the pandemic, 84% of consumers have since shopped online, according to Shopify. Of those who shopped in-store, 38% are doing so less often now than pre-pandemic. You have to follow your customers into the digital age, and e-commerce is the first step.
Integrate E-Commerce Into Existing Website or Build a New One
If your company already has a website, it’s easy to sell products online. Content management systems offer plug-ins that handle all of the work. If you built your site from scratch, you can add e-commerce features such as shopping carts and payment gateways into the coding. In fact, ESP Websites offer a built-in shopping tool that makes it easy for visitors to purchase products. Another option is to go through Facebook, create a Facebook Business page and press the “Add a Shop Section” button on your timeline. After you fill in the necessary information, you can connect your PayPal to the Facebook Business page for seamless transactions.
Purchase a Domain Name
Once you find the platform you’re most comfortable with, you’ll have to purchase a domain name for your online store. If your company doesn’t already have a website, then just name the store after your company. If you already have a company website, perhaps you should name the store after one of your products or services. You want something your clients will remember and potential clients can discover.
After steady gains the past few years, the growth of e-commerce shopping experienced a major rise in 2020
Add Your Products
It can be a hassle uploading photos and descriptions of all your products, but it’s worth the time investment. Use high-quality images and offer customers a zoom function so they can take a closer look. If your product comes in a variety of colors, make sure you show them all. When writing product descriptions, avoid long sentences, cliches and complex jargon. Also, keep SEO in mind – make sure you describe the products in similar fashion to how potential customers will be searching them. For ESP Websites, ASI’s Creative Labs team offers preformatted content pages with specific product categories. Users can also work with ASI to add custom products and copy to their site.
Set Up Payment Methods
There are several options for how you can collect payment. You can partner with a bank that accepts the payments via your store and channels the money into your business bank account. You could also rely on all-in-one software, which will connect your store’s shopping cart to the card processing network, or you can use a service that integrates with your store’s checkout. In this last option, shoppers won’t have to leave your site to complete a purchase.
Now that you’ve sold a product, you have to deliver to the customer. Many e-commerce solutions offer shipping management tools, drop-shipping, printable labels and pre-setup shipping providers. Partnering with a preferred courier gives you access to discounts and real-time shipping rates.
Broaden your client base and minimize your risk.
Promotional products firms know all about diversifying their business. It was the story of 2020 as the industry collectively pivoted to manufacturing and selling personal protective equipment (PPE) at the beginning of the pandemic. Sales of masks, hand sanitizer, face shields and other PPE cushioned the blow of canceled events and government-imposed shutdowns. “I never thought we would have sold over a million masks and developed new opportunities with other businesses, but staying resilient and focused helped us succeed,” says Jesse Goodwick, founder and principal owner of San Diego-based Team Phun (asi/342550). “Acknowledge the changing markets and adjust your business model to adapt.”
Examine Existing Relationships
Take a step back, go through your Rolodex and determine who you really want to do business with. “Don’t worry so much about who has spent the most,” says Lucas Guariglia, CEO and co-founder of Chicago-based Rowboat Creative (asi/313715). “Sometimes, those occasional big spenders are the ones who drive our sales reps crazy and have our production team running ragged. Our best clients are those who are respectful and appreciate everything we do to service them. When the sh*t hit the fan last year, those were the people easiest to have conversations with.”
Define Your Ideal Buyer Persona
While you examine your existing relationships, you should be figuring out who your ideal client is. Conduct surveys and engage in meaningful conversation to gather information on their background, needs, budgets and goals. Once you determine the buyer persona you’re after, you can easily market to them. “Sometimes, you need to freshen up your client mix or start working more with the types of clients that are the best fit for your business,” says Joseph Sommer, owner/founder of Whitestone Branding (asi/359741) in New York City. “You’ll ultimately start working on projects you enjoy and for people you like. It will give a whole new outlook and perspective on your business.”
At Your Services
Distributors have pushed hard to diversify themselves in recent years leading up to the pandemic with a wide array of services beyond promo.
Counselor 2019 State of the Industry
Infiltrate New Markets
As many distributors learned during the Great Recession of 2008-2009, it’s important to diversify your client base. That was reiterated in 2020 as even traditionally recession-proof industries experienced upheaval. “If all of our eggs were in one basket, such as the touring musician realm, we would’ve been belly up last summer,” Guariglia says. “We don’t try to bring in everybody as clients, but we aim to have ones across different industries.”
Add Strategic Partners
Don’t just beef up your client base – foster trusted relationships throughout the supply chain, too. In 2020, Team Phun added strategic partners in manufacturing and services to increase efficiency and expand its network within the industry. “I find that delivery services are an extension of our business model,” Goodwick says. “Having concrete shipping partners makes our business go round, and our contract decorators are just as important. We operate on a fully functioning business ecosystem, and it shows in the output of work and results.”
Expand Product Offering
In addition to repurposing its inventory to develop PPE, Top 40 supplier Showdown Displays (asi/87188) shifted its manufacturing and printing capability to expand outside the promo space and into the world of home décor. “Our products are now ending up in people’s homes through places like Wayfair and other online resellers,” says John Bruellman, CEO of Showdown Displays. “For example, we’ve come up with a line of holiday decorative covers and banners for garage doors. You have to look for other products and channels to diversify your offering.”
If your employees aren't happy, your customers won't be either.
Achieving unity is harder than ever.
Many employees are still working from home, communicating with their coworkers through screens. Social distancing measures are also in place, as people are isolated from their family and friends. And this is all on the heels of a divisive election and a time of social unrest.
Companies need to overcome all these obstacles to rejuvenate their culture, reminding their workers that they’re valued members of the team working toward a common goal. By lifting employees’ spirits, that positivity will come across in their interactions with customers.
Hire New People
Every time you add an employee, your team dynamic changes. “Bringing in new hires, whether it’s one at a time or several over the course of a year or a couple months, will reinvent your company,” Sommer says. “They each bring something fresh and different to the table.”
In order for your employees to care about their roles and the company, they need to feel like a valued contributor rather than merely a cog in the machine. Education is one way to do that, says Stephanie D. McKenzie, lead coach of both The Relationship Firm and The Healing Firm. “Teaching employees how to use social media, audio platforms, Zoom and YouTube can prove to be valuable in this new normal,” McKenzie says. “Expanding that to include coaching of each other is an additional opportunity for team building.”
Companies need to be creative to engage employees during the pandemic. Weekly Zoom meetings aren’t enough. Plan a family-friendly event like a drive-in movie night to give your employees’ children something to look forward to and to get them out of the house. Schedule some socially distant competition like golf, kayaking, softball, kickball or whiffle ball. If people are trepidatious about meeting in person, think outside the box for virtual events. Set up an at-home cook-off, Chopped-style, where you pick four ingredients and are judged based on presentation and creativity. Play party games over Zoom like Jeopardy! or Quiplash. Let your imagination run wild – the goal is to entertain your employees, keep them connected and thank them for their hard work during such an unstable time.
In 2020, Team Phun began offering health and wellness incentives. Each employee received either a membership to a gym, cycling or rowing center or another health alternative. “It has really increased morale and productivity,” Goodwick says. “We’ve really focused on taking care of our employees because they’re the lifeline to our growing business.”
Improve Your Company’s Reputation
Don’t just focus on your company’s internal culture. Make sure you’re respected throughout the industry, too. After all, more companies will want to do business with you, more people will want to work for you and more customers will want to buy from you. “The promo industry is too small – once you get a bad rep, that doesn’t leave very quickly,” Guariglia says. “We all really need each other and we’re here to help each other.”
The road less traveled is paved with opportunity.
Josh Frey, founder of Geiger (asi/202900)-affiliated On Sale Promos and the Swag Coach Program, reinvented his coaching business during the pandemic.
Expanding from one-on-one consultations to group coaching calls, Frey launched Distributors Helping Distributors, a community of promo pros sharing best sales practices. In addition to free webinars and monthly workshops, groups of five distributors from around the United States hold monthly accountability sessions where they each share if they’re on track to achieve their goals. With so much disruption over the past year, Frey has encouraged his members to target niche markets.
“Niche markets give sales reps focus and direction,” Frey says. “You have to be organized to be successful when breaking into these areas. They’ll help you drive your business as opposed to your business driving you.”
Analyze Your Current Markets
Instead of reinventing the wheel, look for a niche that’s a natural extension of a market you already work in. For example, if you sell to companies in the automotive industry, perhaps you should target dealerships who have added online car buying as one of their services. After all, you’re already knowledgeable about the industry in general, which will make building relationships with prospects in the new niche easier.
Sometimes, the best opportunities are just outside your door. Scour your community for thriving niches and leverage your established relationships to enter those markets. “The key to niche marketing is to find markets in your area or something that you know about because the more comfortable you are in a certain market, the better your chance of succeeding in it,” says distributor and sales trainer Danny Friedman of Danny, inc.
Consider Your Hobbies and Interests
You know how they say if you love your job, you’ll never work a day in your life? Well, that applies to sales, too. If you target a niche that’s tied to your interests and hobbies, you’re more likely to succeed because you’re passionate about the space. Also, you probably have knowledge of the market, familiarity with the products and common ground with your prospects. “As long as you work with one company in the niche, you’re now an expert,” Friedman says. “You can win over similar customers based on your experience.”
Niche Your Email Marketing
Create custom lists by industry to target your email marketing campaigns. Here are average open and click rates by industry.