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Don’t just survive—keep your business ahead of the curve in 2021.

  • 2020 forced most business owners to switch up their services, and many had to change their entire operating models.

  • Mike Michalowicz is no exception. Before the pandemic, the solopreneur and author saw great success with speaking engagements, but traveling and in-person events quickly became a thing of the past. Instead of calling it a day, he recognized a chance to reposition himself. He started offering videos and online classes to people who purchase his books so they can still enjoy an enhanced, interactive experience—if only from afar.

    This isn’t the first time Michalowicz has had to get creative.

    “Shifts happen. When the recession hit, I had an opportunity to be of service in a way I hadn’t before,” he says. “If you Google ‘recession response,’ I’m the most out there trying to educate people.”

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    Michalowicz believes that in times of confusion, we all have a natural tendency to seek guidance and direction. Business owners can rise to the occasion by turning outward—and following some of the guidance and small business advice he has to offer.

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    Pay attention to what customers want right now. Acknowledge that they might need you in a new capacity.

    For example, one of Michalowicz’s clients is a barber who saw a dramatic decrease in clientele when COVID-19 first hit. Men were cutting their own hair at home, but the professional stylist noticed something interesting about the people who still came in for his services. They all wore masks, and many had family members who are immune compromised. They found him because he listed his business as compliant with public health guidelines. So the barber leaned into safety, creating and promoting videos that describe his precautionary methods, including the use of hospital-grade cleansers. Now his business is back on track. He noted changing customer needs and adjusted accordingly. He also adopted another key tactic that Michalowicz advises all small business owners to embrace, which might sound counterintuitive: Don’t worry about the ones who got away.

    Look upstream.

    In other words, instead of trying to win back customers who leave when things get tough, start courting new prospects. The barber could have pursued his lost clients by providing virtual haircut tutorials or perhaps by offering discounts. Even without his new crop of safety-first clients, he could have failed to bring back his original base.

    “Ten percent of customers of any company are always on the fence. Now they use it as an opportunity to leave. The mistake small business owners make is to try to preserve those customers,” Michalowicz says. “But you should realize your competition is also losing customers.” Attract their interest by putting your marketing message in front of those customers. They’re already on the fence and considering other options, so give them educational content that shows them why they’d be better off with your products and services.

    Once you capture their interest, dig deeper.

    Surprise and delight customers by developing new ways to serve them. That doesn’t have to be a heavy lift—and you shouldn’t do it blindly. Michalowicz recommends that small business owners try a new form of beta, which is simply selling ideas. In a traditional beta test, innovators will develop a product and try it out with a small group of users. This method can involve quite a bit of upfront cost and time. Instead, float your idea to your core audience and watch what happens.

    “If you can sell someone on the words alone, you have something super viable,” he says. Back in March, he reached out to his customers to see how he could serve them, and the overwhelming response was, “We’ve lost our confidence—how can we regain it?”

    Michalowicz put in a short day’s work researching ways to resolve their problem. Within 24 hours of receiving feedback, he sent an email to his readership letting them know he’d developed a confidence course. He did not first ask if they would be interested in it. “People will say a lot of things with their words and not mean it because it’s socially appropriate,” he says. 

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    Instead, he announced, “I’m doing this course. If you want in on the first version of it, I’ll offer half off what I’ll charge in the future. Just be prepared for bumps and bruises. I’m going to let in 20 people—max. Who’s in?” 

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    By taking this approach, Michalowicz could better gauge customer interest. If no one took him up on the offer, they would be telling him through actions, “The idea sucks, dude. Don’t do it,” he says. “If they’re lining up to give me money simply based on a concept, I know I have something viable, and then I’ll go develop it. So, sell the tell. Sell them what you tell them. That’s how you come up with innovations.”


    Just don’t sell yourself short.

    Many small business owners run on passion. They started their shop because they love what they do, because they love to create things; they want to make a unique mark on the world. They aren’t necessarily focused on making a fortune. But Michalowicz says it’s a mistake to downplay profitability. “Your clients want you to be profitable. If you’re not profitable, you’re actually compromising your clients,” he says. “The number one form of marketing is price. Your price dictates perception—and most people underprice themselves.

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    When you do increase prices, clients say, ‘What
    took you so long?’ The clients that complain,
    those are the price shoppers. Do you want them?
    They only valued you for being cheap.”

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    Think like a musician.

    People still want a tactile experience. People want something beyond video and sound. We want to experience touch, but we can’t do it in person. The next best thing is creating meaningful artifacts that can help facilitate a connection between you and your customer. For Michalowicz, that means moving into wearables. He’s developed a line of merch around his slogan “Eradicate Entrepreneurial Poverty.” So while his clients can’t shake his hand for the foreseeable future, they can wear one of his shirts, drink their coffee from one of his mugs and soak up some practical business tips in a virtual learning session. Just like fans are doing while they count down the days to seeing bands perform onstage. The show isn’t over. It’s just different. The more you embrace new ways of doing things, the more likely you are to thrive in 2021.

  • Keep on innovating.

  • Learn how to rewrite the rules for your own business now.

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