Kick-starting small business success in 2021

5 minute read

While cautiousness still dominates, there are definitely glimmers of hope for Canadian small business owners and operators. Many are writing new chapters in their stories by revamping their business models or finding new ways to engage their customers and prospects.

This optimism is buoyed by Canadians’ continued support of the nation’s small businesses. Research shows that consumers recognize the importance of businesses like yours in more ways than one. Your contributions to the economy, health and vibrancy of local communities are evident – and appreciated by the customers you serve daily.

We know you still may be faced with challenges, but in this article, we’ll share insights and advice on how you can continue to adapt your business to changing consumer shopping habits and preferences. Our goal is to inspire you with some fresh thinking.

Keep your small business top-of-mind for Canadians

According to our latest research, since the start of COVID-19, roughly half of consumers have indicated they are making an effort to support Canadian small businesses, Canadian businesses in general and Canadian-made products.1

Finding the right consumers for your business and then grabbing their attention is still vital – maybe even more so with increasing online competition. Here are some interesting facts to consider as you plan – and tweak – your business strategy.

FACT: In order to help small businesses, 33 per cent of Hyper Elite shoppers (who make 41+ purchases online per year) intentionally purchased more from small businesses due to COVID-19.2

Takeaway: Finding ways to reach and engage Hyper Elites requires precise targeting in your marketing campaigns. Consider shifting some of your marketing efforts to target this highly desirable group.

FACT: 85 per cent of consumers who bought more online from small businesses say they will continue to support them as much as they can after the pandemic.3

Takeaway: By expanding your selling channels, you’ll be able to reach new and existing customers, meet their evolving shopping expectations and build customer loyalty.

Many smaller businesses have instinctively put marketing on the back burner during the pandemic. But with many experts anticipating a slow but steady economic recovery, this may be the time to put your brand and your message back in market.

Keep up with changing customer behaviours and expectations

FACT: Since the start of COVID-19, 48 per cent of Canadians say they have bought more items online than they had before.4

Takeaway: The shift from brick-and-mortar has been one of the major business stories of 2020. Launching an online store, or leveraging an existing online store more effectively, is a necessity to reach both current and new customers.

FACT: 33 per cent of consumers anticipate that they will be shifting even more of their shopping online in the coming months compared to just 7 per cent anticipating a shift toward in-store.5

Takeaway: Many retail industry experts believe that these new shopping habits will not go away anytime soon. Not surprisingly, younger generations report more online shopping compared to older shoppers. Similarly, younger families report a higher proportion of their purchases are being made online.

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Gain momentum from the local focus and the shift to online

The two prominent trends we’ve discussed so far – the transition to online and a renewed commitment to small business support – come together to generate opportunities beyond immediate bottom-line results.

Get a pulse on your customers

Building or transitioning more of your business online will help you determine the needs and preferences of your customers. An online store is like a gauge of consumer expectations, in real-time. You can continually enhance your service(s), product(s) and promotions to reflect their preferences.

Want to know what’s even better? Ultimately, you’ll be able to use everything learned to optimize your marketing efforts and the in-store experience post-pandemic.

Receive valuable, decision-empowering feedback

It’s also an opportunity to receive ongoing input from your customers. Consumers tend to share their viewpoints more openly online. They’ll tell you things that they wouldn’t say face-to-face (that applies to compliments as well as complaints). The insights you gain will help you fine-tune your business operations. But there’s another benefit: you can leverage what you’ve learned to find and appeal to similar customers beyond your local customer base. Like birds of a feather, consumers tend to flock together.

Showcase your story as well as your products

The challenges of last year have rekindled Canadians’ interest in, affection and respect for small businesses. Seize this opportunity to highlight the human side of your business.

Consider sharing your personal story and what drove you to start your business – how and why you sell the products and services you do. What makes your business unique? Explain how your business has adapted as a response to changing consumer behaviour and the evolving retail landscape.

All of these elements can help you establish a unique voice in the market, one that will define your business and boost brand awareness and relevance. Your current customers will recognize that voice and potential customers may be inclined to find out more.

Drive sales and build customer loyalty through marketing and promotional tactics

Marketing and promotions can help you achieve any number of business objectives. Your goal may be to primarily drive traffic to online or to your physical store. But when planning your marketing approach, think about the entire journey your customer will take. Here are some ways to stay in touch with them:


  • include a special promotion with their online purchases;
  • thank them with an email or direct mail piece;
  • request feedback on a recent transaction;
  • motivate them to follow you on social media.

Post Post-Purchase

One of your goals is to have a customer make repeat purchases from your business – building their loyalty. Consider tactics such as

  • updates and other notifications: new products, website updates;
  • frequent buyers program – the more they buy the more they save;
  • exclusive birthday or holiday promotions;
  • member-only events;
  • e-newsletters – this works really well with highly-engaged customers.

Turn loyal customers into advocates

Satisfied customers can help you spread the word to their friends and families. With so many Canadians actively supporting smaller businesses, it may be as simple as asking them to tell others about you. Plus, targeting similar audiences can help you generate more sales and build a larger customer base.

  • Ask them to share their customer service experience in the feedback/comments section of your website.
  • Include a tell-a-friend offer, such as an exclusive discount, with the purchase.
  • Extend an offer to their friend or family member (example: “You and your friend will save 15 per cent off your next purchase”).
  • Encourage them to share their recommendations on social media channels.

Invest in multichannel marketing to stand out and connect with customers

While small business marketing dollars are always precious, you should strive to stand out in as many media channels as you can – both digital and physical. Canadians are ‘consuming’ information in more ways than ever, social media being only the latest in a growing list of media.

Here is a shortlist of media leveraged by small businesses:

  • Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and others;
  • display digital ads on websites focused on local news and activities;
  • pay-per-click digital advertising;
  • SEO (search engine optimization);
  • community newspapers;
  • sponsorships of local sports, hobby groups and events;
  • outdoor/out-of-home media (transit stop posters, billboards and so on);
  • radio
  • direct mail (addressed and unaddressed).

If you’re thinking of an integrated marketing approach – that is, using multiple channels to share your message – remember to feature one consistent message across everything you do. You’ll amplify your message in a way that a single channel cannot do on its own.

For example, you could use social media to encourage customers to visit you online or in store and then follow up with a physical direct mail piece.

Target and reach customers at home with direct mail

Canadians will likely continue to spend a considerable amount of time at home, so reaching your customers there makes sense. Research indicates that the physicality of direct mail still outweighs other forms of communications:

  • Four in 10 Canadians agree that mail is a good way for online stores to advertise.6
  • Thirty-seven per cent of shoppers preferred to receive promotions from local small businesses in their mailbox over other forms of communication.7
  • Consumers spend 39 per cent more time with integrated direct mail and digital communications than with digital-only communications.8

Direct mail can leverage precise geo-location targeting, making it both effective and efficient. You can send a message to a specific neighbourhood within the vicinity of your business and then complement your campaign with digital advertising in the same geographic area.

Start planning for the future today

While COVID-19 has forever altered the retail landscape, it has also brought new opportunities for small businesses to find, engage and motivate customers like never before. This new reality doesn’t require you to change your brand or what you represent. It does mean, however, that you’ll need to adapt to how customers are buying and how they’re consuming marketing messages. Now may be the ideal time to lay the groundwork for the next phase of your business success.

1 4 5 6 Canada Post. 2020 Fall Survey, 20-214, October 2020​.
2 3 7 Canada Post. 2020 Spring Survey, 20-208, June 2020.
8 Canada Post. Connecting for Action, September 2016.

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