Key lessons to help Scottish businesses thrive

Happy New Year! And good riddance to 2020 too! I think we’re all glad to see the back of a year defined by the tragic spread of a new disease and the consequent restrictions that so upended our lives.
If there’s one positive thing that’s come out of 2020, it’s a heightened sense of local pride.If there’s one positive thing that’s come out of 2020, it’s a heightened sense of local pride.
If there’s one positive thing that’s come out of 2020, it’s a heightened sense of local pride.

But even the darkest times have something to teach us. 2020 has been a huge stress test for all types of businesses, and the results of this unsolicited experiment have certainly been informative. We’ve identified a few key lessons from businesses from 2020 that will help you get ahead of whatever 2021 may bring.

1. Local matters

Thanks to limits on non-essential travel, we’ve all got to know our neighbourhoods a lot better over 2020. If there’s one positive thing that’s come out of 2020’s grim exigencies, it’s a heightened sense of local pride and identity.

As the UK’s leading publisher of local news, JPIMedia Local can attest to a rise in local feeling this year. Our local news websites quickly swelled with readers over the height of the first wave, during which time our audience rated JPIMedia Local the second-most trusted source of information about the coronavirus, beaten only by national TV (JPIMedia Lockdown reader survey, May 7-11, 2020).

Britain’s surging local spirit has important implications for businesses. 94% of our readers have told us they believe it's vital to support local businesses, with 50% reporting that they’ve actively been doing so (JPIMedia Lockdown reader survey, 26 Jun - 7 Jul 2020).

Businesses who can use their marketing to articulate their local pedigree will put themselves in good stead for 2021.

2. You need to stay top of mind

Here’s a reliable yet surprising fact of business life: the companies that continue advertising during a downturn tend to see sales recover faster than those that pull their investment. This is because they’ve used this time to build and maintain their brand.

At a time when your doors can be shut by government decree almost without warning, keeping your name on people’s minds is more important than ever. If we still have to endure such restrictions over the course of 2021, you need a way to ensure your business remains relevant to your customer base even while trading becomes a lot harder.

Here’s an example of one business that did just that. Independent Yorkshire estate agents Simon Bylth continued advertising over lockdown with their local news title, and remained very busy throughout.

3. Agility is the watchword

We’ve been astonished by the resourcefulness, pluck and adaptability shown by Britain’s businesses this year.

Faced with stringent restrictions that made normal trading impossible, many enterprises turned on a penny and refashioned themselves. Chippies opened delivery services and pubs became pop-up grocery stores, while Butlins even went the extra mile for its local community, housing some of Bognor Regis’s most vulnerable people.

It’s hard to predict what the next few months might still have in store for us, so it’s worth considering your own ability to swiftly adapt to circumstances.

4. Communication is key

When asked about the greatest challenge facing a government, Harold Macmillan is famously alleged to have replied with “events, dear boy, events”. Over 2020, businesses have learned that the same rule applies to them too.

When events move at such dazzling speed, you need to keep on top of them. More precisely, you need to communicate to all stakeholders what’s going on at each stage, from employees to customers to suppliers.

A strong, regularly maintained infrastructure of digital channels will help your business navigate shifting situations while keeping everyone up to date. We’d recommend paying particular attention to ensuring your Google My Business listings are accurate, keeping customers up to date via social media, and using sponsored content to convey your most relevant marketing messages to a wider audience.

5. Video advertising rules the roost

In a year in which more of our time than ever was spent bored at home, it’s little surprise that the number of hours watching video content boomed. Average video views of YouTube rose 10% in Europe over lockdown, while Smart TV use went up by a whopping 54%.

As you’d expect, the amount of money spent on video advertising followed suit, rising by 15% in 2020. Given that 84% of people say they’ve been convinced to buy something after seeing a video ad for it, we’d say that’s a pretty sensible investment. Once the preserve of large megacorps with the cash to pay for TV spots, businesses of all sizes are discovering the value of video thanks to cost-effective online solutions.

JPIMedia Local is proud to be helping that process with our own video advertising service for small businesses. Our experts can create a stunning video that showcases the best of your business at a price that works for you.

6. Digital-first is much more than a handy slogan

Many businesses and organisations have put a lot of time and money into digital transformation programmes over the last decade. Manual processes have been supplanted by more hi-tech solutions across the board, from internal communications to marketing to accounting.

In 2020, we’ve learned just how important this investment has been. As offices emptied out and people retreated into their homes back in the Spring, we found ourselves working on cloud services like Google Docs, keeping in touch with our teams via Zoom and relying on digital advertising to reach customers.

As we predicted back in the summer, digitisation is here to stay. Any investment you can make in improving your business’s digital capacities will be money and time well spent in 2021.

This has been the most challenging year in living memory, whether you’re a business owner, a furloughed employee, or just someone struggling with being cooped up in a small flat.

But as we finally break into a new year and its brighter promises of mass vaccination, at least we can put the business lessons learned in 2020 to good use, and look forward to a smarter recovery.