How to Rethink Competition.

Pay attention to competitors, sure. But to catalyze innovation, pay attention to more than the usual suspects.

It’s the perception that can really be a differentiator,” says Katila. “It might matter who you think is your competitor.”

 

When England beat Germany 2-0 in a June 2021 European Championship match, it was a major upset. But in the Washington Post, writers Karla Adam and Loveday Morris suggested that there was more at work than just luck. “England views Germany as one of its biggest rivals,” they wrote. “But it doesn’t apply so much the other way around, with German fans focused on other more tightly fought European rivalries.”

When Stanford professor Riitta Katila read that article shortly after the match, the idea that the outcome of a competition could be impacted by how rivals view each other — or whether they consider their counterpart a serious rival at all — made perfect sense. In fact, it lined up with a new research paper she had just published with Sruthi Thatchenkery, her former PhD student and now an assistant professor at University College London.

In that research, the two professors examined how firms in the highly competitive enterprise software industry thought about each other, and how those competitive dynamics related to new product introductions. Just as athletic competition drives individual athletes to new heights, they observed, business competition can (not too surprisingly) drive technological leaps. However, as in sports, the mere existence of competitors doesn’t necessarily boost an organization’s performance. Instead, Katila and Thatchenkery found clear evidence that the most innovative firms tended to be the ones that were paying attention to the right competitors.

“It’s the perception that can really be a differentiator,” says Katila. “It might matter who you think is your competitor.”

The most simplistic model of business competition looks something like this: Company A and Company B both produce Widget X. The primary ways they compete with each other are by seeking out lower-cost materials and labor, and by engaging in R&D to improve their products. Because of that competition, consumers end up with better products at lower prices.

On the other hand, what if Company B decides to innovate in a more radical way, and creates a new and improved solar-powered Widget Z that renders Widget X obsolete?

Once you introduce radical innovation, competitive dynamics become much more complicated. The ultimate source of innovation is nearly impossible to pin down, and the sheer number of failed high-profile startups demonstrates that innovation isn’t simply a function of the amount of VC funding invested multiplied by the pedigree of the management team. Why did Company B, rather than Company A, envision and create the game-changing Widget Z? Executives from those companies would probably give dozens of different answers.

However, by examining this question from an empirical rather than anecdotal lens, Katila and Thatchenkery hoped to reduce the noise and surface some clear data. To do that, they conducted deep interviews with 21 prominent executives who were active in the enterprise software industry between 1995 and 2012, asking those executives who they viewed as their main competitors. How did they identify competitors? How did they keep track of competitors? What mistakes did they think they had made related to perceived competitors?

In addition, Katila and Thatchenkery amassed a comprehensive dataset of 8,502 new software product introductions during that same time period, and constructed detailed competition relationships, taking advantage of publicly available 10-K forms filed by 121 enterprise software firms.

In their paper, Katila and Thatchenkery refer to a firm’s mental map of its competitive landscape as its competition network. (If you need more academic precision, they define a competition network as “a relational structure that emerges from aggregation of a firm’s perceptions of its relevant competitors rather than symmetric relationships defined by market overlap.”)

The most innovative teams…tended to view competitors in creative and even unusual ways.

Katila and Thatchenkery found that particular approaches to competition networks resulted in increased product introductions. The most innovative teams, it turns out, tended to view competitors in creative and even unusual ways.

“Overall, to find novelty, firms should look to the frontiers of the competition network, not the well-worn middle,” Katila says.

To make the importance of this sort of competitive modeling more concrete, Katila and Thatchenkery point to the competitive dynamics between software rivals Cyberguard and Axent. “Although both faced the same objective competitors in their product markets, Axent had a unique view of competition,” they write. While Cyberguard mostly paid attention to obvious rivals, Axent was paying attention to more peripheral competitors. In the end, it turned out that Axent was able to introduce new products at a fast pace, while Cyberguard struggled to launch new products and scaled more slowly.

One significant implication of their research is that leaders and technology innovators may have much to gain from being more intentional and explicit when it comes to mapping their competitive landscape.

If you’re Germany, in other words, you might benefit from paying more attention to a team like England.

Courtesy Stanford eCorner Monthly Newsletter August 2021

Advice from Entrepreneurship’s Best

Gary Vaynerchuck (aka “Gary V”*) and CEOs Ben Richmond and Joe Walsh are experts in small business venture who formed a panel to answer how to use and access technology and tools to help small business grow in the future.  Ben is U. S.manager of  Xero and Joe CEO of Thryv.  Their thoughts:

“What is the top challenge facing small business owners today?” Gary V:  It’s a tricky question because you have the people that were affected by COVID, much more than others in the small business world, so to breakout into a subset, one group is just looking to survive, because the rules of COVID are unfortunately not in their favor.  And then the other group is in the macro, more general; it’s how to make marketing money drive their business.

“Why is I so important to support America’s small businesses and entrepreneurs?”  Ben R: The United States is one of the largest small business markets in the world.  Almost half of the American workforce is employed in small business.  We all know of someone who runs a small business -whether they are a sole trader, a gig economy worker, or a business with a staff of, say, 50 people.  We buy goods and services from our local businesses, some of us have family members who work in a small business, and some of us are business owners too.  We’ve all watched over the past 20 months or so how small businesses have struggled in the face of a global pandemic that forced many to have to adapt their business model an adopt digital tools in order to keep operating.

Joe W: The pandemic was a bucket of cold water in the face for a lot of independent businesses.  This came at a time when national and regional companies were coming into their local markets and bringing sophisticated, professional, mobile tools.  Small businesses are the backbone of America, and they have realized they better modernize their businesses, or they’re not going to be here.  In the last decade -2010 to 2020- we saw enterprise businesses moving computing into the cloud.  2020 to 2030 is the decade of adoption for small businesses as they begin harnessing the cloud.  Through the pandemic, they’ve woken up and realized they really need to do this, and it’s finally taking off.

“What are some of the technologies you feel can help elevate small businesses?”  Gary V: It it’s a B2B small businesses, it’s LinkedIn -pictures and videos, but then spend media behind it.  It it’s a consumer product, YouTube, TikTok, Twitter, Facebook are where to go.  You can’t think that social networks are changing the world through democracy and politics, and not also then recognize that they are the massive driver of business today.  And we continue to have a large percentage of the world underestimate social media as a nice little thing, versus the fundamental force of communication, which leads to business.

“What would your advice be to small business looking to work on their brand proposal?”  Ben R: My advice is to think about why you started your small business and what you stand for.  At Xero our purpose is to make life better for small businesses, their advisers, and communities around the world. One of our core company values is “#human”, which allows us to put our  people and customers front and center.  Our values help create our unique culture.

“Why is it important for small businesses to create an effective digital experience for their customers?”  Joe W: People’s attention spans are razor thin at this point.  If you’ve got them for even a minute, you need to somehow connect with them and make it easy to complete business with you so they can draw a lines through their to-do list, everyone loves that.  Fingerprint those connections and stay with them throughout their journey.  That’s what the most successful, fastest-growing businesses do.

*Gary V is Gary Vaynerchuk, an entrepreneur, investor, author, public speaker, and internet personality known in entrepreneurship circles.

Courtesy of Media Planet 12/2021 Future of BusinessandTech.com

Americans Turn to Small Business for Holidays.

https://www.nbcnews.com/nightly-news/video/americans-turning-to-small-businesses-for-holiday-shopping-129414213927.     –   1:44 minute video

Americans turned to small businesses as shipping delays led to backlogs for major retailers across the country. For some businesses that are able to source their materials locally and not be dependent on the foreign supply chain, business is booming.

 

The State of New Business Building

Business leaders predict that by 2026, half of their revenues will come from products, services, or businesses that haven’t yet been created. Here’s how new-business building can help bridge that gap through sustainable, inclusive growth.

Business leaders expect half of their companies’ revenues five years from now to come from products, services, or businesses that do not yet exist, according to the latest McKinsey Global Survey1 on new-business building.2 Given the ambition to develop these new revenue streams, many of which respond to sustainability goals and technological change, it is no surprise that a majority of respondents say business building is one of the top strategic priorities at their organizations—double the share of recent years.

In contrast to an M&A-only strategy (in which corporations buy or merge with established companies) and corporate venturing (in which they invest in external start-ups), new-business building makes the most of your core organization’s existing assets and capabilities to create separate but linked businesses offering new products, services, or business models. These often address new markets and geographies. Moreover, and unlike M&A or corporate venturing, new-business building generates organic growth, which often creates greater excess returns to shareholders than deal making does. Examples of new-business building include Telkomsel’s by.U, which provides prepaid cellular service aimed at Gen Zers, and the Lab at RXR Realty, which reimagines the tenant experience across residential, commercial, and mixed-use properties.

Our annual survey shows that the more new businesses you build, the better you get at building them; there’s an experience curve that may explain why only a small segment of companies capture most of the growth from new-business building. Joining their ranks requires learning by doing. This year’s survey examines the successful approaches of leading business builders, providing insights to get organizations up the learning curve more quickly. These include the crucial role played by the CEO of the parent company, the tricky balance between autonomy and centralization, the rationale for bolstering the new business through acquisitions, and the true depth of customer insight needed to succeed. Leadership matters, of course, and not just at the parent company: our survey found that new businesses led by women are more likely to succeed.

New urgency. Companies are more likely now than in previous years to concentrate on building new businesses. More than one-fifth of surveyed business leaders name building new businesses as their companies’ top strategic priority, and 55 percent consider it a top three priority—nearly double the share who said it was such a high priority for their companies between 2018 and 2020. CEOs are now twice as likely to say it’s the top priority than they were in previous years.1 This new urgency is a global phenomenon: a majority of leaders in every region say the topic is a top three priority.

New revenues. The urgency for building new businesses directly reflects survey respondents’ belief that today’s products and services will be insufficient for addressing disruptions and meeting a sustainable future. More than 80 percent of respondents say new-business building will help them respond to disruption and shifts in demand, while 62 percent of respondents are prioritizing new-business building to generate one or more new revenue streams. Respondents foresee that five years from now, half of their revenues will come from new products, services, and business models. Some of these new revenues may be driven by large-scale efforts to address sustainability issues, but the rapid pace of technological progress is surely another factor. No matter the reason, respondents across industries consider new-business building critical to companies’ financial health: 24 percent say it will be their companies’ primary source of new revenue growth.

New-business building is difficult. It may surprise few observers to hear that new businesses often fail to scale. Four or more years after launch, at least 80 percent of all new businesses haven’t scaled beyond $50 million in annual revenue, according to respondents. More than half of new businesses have fallen short of $1 million in annual revenue—or have been shut down entirely.

Courtesy McKinsey & Co. 2021 Global Report

8 Tips to Grow Business on LinkedIn

These days, “business as usual” can feel like an oxymoron. Whatever “usual” used to be has gone out the window, and we’re all collectively finding our footing in a landscape that has been (and continues to be) drastically reshaped.

With nearly 800 million members in over 200 countries, B2B marketers today recognize LinkedIn for what it is: a trusted, credible platform where business professionals go to network and find solutions to the challenges they face day in and day out. Case in point: Did you know that nearly three professionals sign up to join LinkedIn every second?

As B2B marketing continues to evolve in the digital space, it’s increasingly critical to meet audiences where they’re at, sparking meaningful connections and building fruitful relationships. It’s no longer a question of if you should be on LinkedIn — 96 percent of B2B marketers now use the platform to distribute content, according to CMI  — but how you can stand out and gain an edge.

These eight tips will help your brand do just that by taking advantage of key tools and techniques:

1. Help your LinkedIn Page work harder.You already know that the audience you want to reach is on LinkedIn. So do 55+ million other companies (give or take). Here are some methods to help your organization’s LinkedIn Page differentiate and drive growth:

  • Complete your Page: We’ve found that pages with complete information get 30 percent more weekly views. Be sure to add your logo, lead with an overview of key terms and phrases that LinkedIn members can easily find in search, and add a call to action button to encourage next steps.
  • Boost your Page: Amplify your best content getting the most reactions with a boost to extend your reach. Boosting can help connect you with people who are not following you (yet) but might be interested.
  • Invite people to follow: Prompt your first-degree connections to check out and follow your Page by selecting “Invite connections” within the Page admin tools.
  • Spark the conversation: Companies that post weekly see double the engagement with their content. Bring people into your conversations, and join others on LinkedIn. Highlight your brand by re-sharing posts where your business is @mentioned. And expose your brand to a wider audience with 3-5 hashtags when it’s relevant.
  • Activate your employees: Add pictures, videos, and give your employees a voice with the new “My Company” Tab to help expand your brand’s reach in a credible, authentic way.
  • Schedule a Live Event: In 2020, 6.3 million members attended virtual events on LinkedIn.  You can bring your professional community together via a public and discoverable Live Event, too. LinkedIn Live Events allows you to build deeper connections with your community with, on average, 7x more reactions and 24x more comments than native video.

2. Enhance your efforts with LinkedIn Marketing Partners.

A little added support, consultation, and integration can go a long way. One hundred percent of top brands grow their marketing with LinkedIn partners, and 58 percent of leads are automated by a partner solution.

  • Strategy planning: Ideate and create better content, use data to build ad audiences, and leverage audience insights to become more targeted in your efforts.
  • Execution: Learn how to grow your organic following with enhanced functionality, manage your campaigns to scale, and automatically route leads to the platform of your choice to foster the all-important conversion.
  • Measuring your marketing impact: Know that you’re on the right track with reporting and ROI, and track your leads through the entire funnel.

Connecting with partners can be the quickest way to tailor the solutions that best fit your business, helping drive focused and consistent growth on LinkedIn.

3. Activate thought leadership on LinkedIn.

Thought leadership content is not just fluff to fill social channels — it has evolved into an essential cornerstone of a content marketing strategy. Moreover, it’s a way to establish a consistent voice, vision, and most importantly, trust with your audience.   On LinkedIn, professionals have the platform to reach a wider audience seeking leadership insights and narratives to achieve their organizational goals.

But what tangible outcomes can be achieved? Setting goals and expectations for thought leadership — and measuring them through the lens of audience growth, content views, and profile views — can translate to concrete business results, such as:

  • Brand and Reputation
  • Market Consideration
  • Demand Generation
  • Talent Attraction
  • Employee Engagement

4. Evolve customer engagement strategies.

B2B customers today need more than a sales pitch: they need to know you know them. Understand their journey better with a buyer first approach, and how your product or services can help solve their challenges.

In a blog post from earlier this year, we cover 5 New Customer Engagement Strategies to Activate on LinkedIn with helpful tips, insights, and activation ideas to:

  • Position for the long-term
  • Know your customer’s customers
  • Revolve around the customer journey
  • Strengthen your sales and marketing collaboration
  • Earn trust through thought leadership

Another simple place to start? Hear what your customers need directly from them, in a setting that centers on them instead of your brand. Consider hosting a LinkedIn Live Event where you can bring your customers together, safely and in real-time, to glean insights straight from the source.

5. Get a hand with campaign planning.

Campaign Manager offers a wide variety of tools, features, and options. To help you understand which are best for which situations, and stay tightly aligned with what you’re trying to achieve, we’ve developed this easy-to-use campaign planning template that can assist in creating and launching campaigns that contribute to a full-funnel marketing strategy.

With this template you can input your own variables, and follow the guide for best practices and tips to tailor your LinkedIn campaign depending on the ad type you intend to use, from Single Image Ads, Carousel, Video, Message Ads, Text Ads, or Lead Gen Forms.

6. Invest in creativity to differentiate.

Let’s face it: B2B marketing has been stuck in a funk for years, caught in a monotonous loop of the rational sales-pitch first content. Just the facts. But as research indicates, 75 percent of B2B creative is ineffective. Buyers today demand more.

One way to reverse that trend — without overspending — is to embrace the creative renaissance now taking place. Many B2B marketers are taking a page from the B2C marketing playbook, aiming to connect with buyers on an emotional level where the majority of decisions are made. And with the massive shift to digital that the pandemic accelerated, there’s never been a greater need to cut through the online clutter.

In short, to get noticed it’s time to become a “thumb stopper.” Aim to be disruptive, interactive, and inspiring. As an example, use LinkedIn Carousel Ads and Conversation Ads to create more

Rethinking creativity doesn’t mean throwing out all the previous content you’ve created. If there are still valuable messages to share, consider ways to give them new life, like turning them into videos or infographics that catch the eye of a scrolling member. And be prepared to embrace evergreen content that has the power to stay visible and reach new audiences without being specifically time-bound.

7. Use LinkedIn Measurement to track and improve results.

Data doesn’t lie — yet only 37 percent of marketers feel “very confident” in their ROI metrics.

Knowing the effectiveness of a campaign — or where it’s falling short — will inform the next steps you take. Marketers who are able to harness the full breadth of reporting and analytics capabilities at their fingertips are more nimble, ready to press forward or pivot, and are swiftly moving ahead of the pack.

Courtesy of Entrepreneur.com, Article/397530

Trends Shaping the Gig Economy

New Opportunities for Direct Selling (from Directsellignews.com)

That the Gig Economy is growing at an ever-increasing rat is an irrefutable fact.  With more than 57 million Americans involved and $1.4 trillion+ changing hand annually, the gig economy reflects people’s desires for more flexible work opportunities and grater freedom as to how, when and where work is performed.  For the past few years, we have been observing the gig economy and it workers in considerable detail, focusing on exploring the nuances that exist in gig economy work and the similarities and differences among gig workers.  Our most recent research has undercover broad trends that may portend the future of the gig economy;  the trends have specific implications for direct selling.  We discuss here four trends we discovered through extensive, nationwide survey research conducted in July 202 and October 2021:

  1.  We found a tendency for more individuals to pursue multiple gigs in 2021 than in 2020.  More specifically, people entering the gig economy over the past year were more interested in pursuing multiple gigs than simply working a single gig.  Research findings relating to this trend have special meaning relevance to direct selling.  Direct selling is a retail channel used by top global brands and smaller, entrepreneurial companies to market products and services to consumers.
  2.   We also found that gigs are more likely to be carried out through online platforms in 2021 than I. 2020.  The movement, due to both technology advances and the increasing adoption of online platforms by a variety of companies -both large and small- also would seem to bode well for direct selling whose distributors work from home.  Online-related gigs would appear to have he potential to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the direct selling process if the direct selling companies can “stay ahead” of the technology curve and provide their distributors with appropriate technology tools and support.
  3. Another trend we observed is that the number of individuals calling themselves direct selling distributors declined slightly.  Overall, the number of individuals who pursue a direct selling opportunity is a relatively small percentage of “eligible” gig workers with more than one gig.  Theis suggest the pool of potential gig workers remains relatively large for those direct selling firms with viable distributor attractions and retention strategies.
  4. The final trend we discovered is a continuation of realistic earnings expectations among gig workers.  Whereas our prior research found that about two-thirds of the people entering the gig economy expected to earn less than $500 per month from a gig (and actually di so), our current research indicates that this income expectation has actually increased a bit.  About 71 percent of the gig workers surveyed in October 2021 have that same expectation.  More than 80 percent of the gig workers surveyed in 2020 and 2021 stated that paying bills, saving and investing more and improving personal lifestyle motivated their gig work.

In Summary, the gig economy and its associated gig workers are here to stay and represent opportunities for forward-thinking direct selling companies.  These many choices support the needs and desires of all segments in society -from Generation Z to Millennials to Get X to Baby Boomers -who seek an opportunity to embrace alternative ways to work and use their entrepreneurial skills.

Phenomenon Stats:  57 Million American Involved, 1.4 Trillion to U. S. Economy, 36% of Workforce involved, 40% or Workforce, 40% of Income, Up to 80% May Be Interested, Independent Workers Growing 3X, 88% Are Satisfied.

As of October 2021…TYPE OF WORK:

Professional who freelance             17% (down from July 2020 when was 26%)

Transportation.                                14% (was 12%)

Multiple Gigs.                                     4%. (was 6%)

Work Less than 4 Hours/Wk.           84% (was 80%)

Expect of Earn Less Than $1K/Mo. 85% (was 80%).

Courtesy Authors John T. Fleming, Ideas & Design Group                                                                                                and Robert A. Peterson, UT Austin Professor

 

 

The Antifragile Agency: How to Build a Business That Lasts

An antifragile business is a business that not only survives, but thrives in uncertainty. Learn how to build such a business in our new post.

A pandemic, an economic crisis, and a complete overhaul in the way we work…

As an agency, you bore the brunt of it all. Throughout it all, you believe that if you were resilient, you could survive.

But what if being resilient wasn’t enough? What if you could build an agency that doesn’t just survive, but thrives in uncertainty?

This is the ‘Antifragile Agency’ – a business that’s built for our ever-changing world.

In this post, I’ll explore the core ideas at the heart of the antifragile agency, and how you can incorporate them into your business.

Understanding Antifragility

Nicholas Nissim Taleb, explaining the idea of antifragility in a letter published in Nature magazine, wrote:  “Simply, antifragility is defined as a convex response to a stressor or source of harm (for some range of variation), leading to a positive sensitivity to increase in volatility”

Sounds like a mouthful, right?  If you break it down, however, it essentially means being willing to change when confronted with volatility.

Antifragility is different from resilience in that it focuses on adapting to volatility, rather than merely surviving it. A resilient organization withstands challenges and comes out unscathed; a resilient one comes out changed.

An antifragile business makes multiple bets, learning from the results, and changing its course quickly. If the external situation changes, the business is able to shift attention to winning bets.

An example would be a store that sells sports equipment. If this store only sells outdoor gear, it risks losing customers in bad weather. But if it adds indoor gaming equipment to its catalog as well, it can ensure a steady stream of customers regardless of the weather.

Antifragility is never accidental – especially in the context of creative agencies. It is a trait acquired through deliberate design.

In the next section, I’ll walk you through some of these foundational elements that can help you build a more antifragile agency.

Three Ideas for Antifragile Agencies

To understand what makes a business antifragile, you have to first understand the opposite: fragility.

Fragility is defined by two things:

  • Rigidity, i.e., limited flexibility in response to volatile events
  • Limited points of failure

The fashion industry is filled with examples of structurally fragile businesses. So many fashion brands ride trends and collapse catastrophically when the trend goes out of vogue. The collapse is often accelerated by their refusal (or inability) to adapt to new trends.

An antifragile business, by definition, would do the opposite. It would have widely distributed points of failure. And it would be constantly evolving to keep pace with changing trends.

Essentially, antifragile businesses share three core fundamentals:

Relentless Diversification

Diversification is the process of distributing points of failure. If you rely on a single supplier, a couple of high value clients, or a star worker to keep you afloat, your points of failure are highly concentrated. A single event – a client or worker leaving – can start a rapid collapse.

You, of course, know this already. A diverse order book, as we’ve emphasized in the past, makes your agency more robust.  What’s important, however, is how you diversify.

Diversification often fails because it tends to overlook sectoral risks. If your “diversified” assets/teams/clients fall within the same cohort, you still have limited points of failure.

We saw this at the start of the pandemic when companies had, on paper, diversified their supply chains by establishing multiple factories. But since all these factories were in the same country, lockdowns ruptured their supply chains all the same.

The right approach, thus, is to diversify and counter-diversify.  For example, your agency might have diversified by focusing on two tangential sectors – salons and tech startups. If there is a sudden downturn in the salon business (as it happened during the pandemic), your business would still be secure thanks to your tech startup clients.

However, this is not enough to completely eliminate risk. If all your tech clients are small businesses, any risk event that affects this cohort would affect your agency negatively as well.

Thus, your diversification exercise should always spread outside a dominant cohort.

Diversify not just across one segment but all the segment constituents as well  

 

Spread risk across sectors. And within those sectors, spread risk across client size, project duration, area of focus, etc.

Your goal should be to minimize singular points of failure. The more you can do this, the more you’ll thrive in uncertainty.

(more…)

Small Business Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).

OracleKPIs  –  Can be opened, click on blue.

The Difference Between Metrics and KPIs

While the terms metrics and KPIs are often conflated, each has a distinct meaning. Metrics are any quantifiable data a company monitors to track performance and improvements across the business. Once an organization starts tracking an important metric, it has a baseline against which it can compare future numbers

to see how the performance of various processes or teams has changed over time. As a business grows, it often starts tracking more metrics, including ones specific to certain initiatives or departments.

Key performance indicators are metrics that are particularly important to your business because they measure progress against critical company objectives. A distinguishing feature of KPIs is they usually have predetermined goals, which is not true of all metrics—a company might monitor certain metrics for years without specific targets in mind. At least a few KPIs are usually financial metrics, like revenue growth, profit margin, cash flow and customer acquisition cost.

Courtesy of Oracle Netsuite,  A Cloud Business Management System

Entrepreneurship During Uncertain Times

During the pandemic, entrepreneurs opened their own businesses at more than twice the rate seen in pre-pandemic times, thanks to government support programs and improved remote technology that weren’t available during other economic downturns such as the Great Recession.

Andre Smith, a 26-year-old who lives on New York’s Long Island, found himself without a steady source of income at the start of the pandemic last year after the construction company he worked for “ran dry” from March until June. With a lot of time on his hands and the need to make money again, he was able to do something he’s been aspiring to do since he and his family immigrated from Jamaica in 2007: start his own business.

“I said to myself, ‘This is the perfect time to learn something and use this time wisely,’” he told NBC News.  After five months of conducting online research and reading notes he took over the years on his iPhone, Smith decided to create a loungewear clothing brand at a time when it was the world’s uniform. At the end of March, he came up with its name: Loungefit.

“From that moment on, I’ve been just going full steam ahead. Every single day I do something for the brand, to help grow,” he said.

Since its official launch in August 2020, Loungefit has made $35,000 in sales and acquired over 105,000 followers on TikTok. In November, Smith posted a “how-to” video for those looking to start their own clothing brand. The post helped bring in $3,000 in sales in one day and now has 370,000 views and nearly 65,000 likes.

“Honestly, it’s been an absolute roller coaster ride,” Smith said. “But, I wouldn’t change it for anything, honestly, because to come from where I came from and to build something like this is a dream for a lot of people.”

According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, business applications of all sizes nearly doubled during the first few months of the pandemic last year, jumping from 234,362 in April to 558,688 in July 2020. They remain elevated and well above pre-pandemic levels, hitting 427,842 last month. This is in stark contrast to the Great Recession, when business applications from 2007-2009 remained below 250,000 a month, according to data from the Census Bureau.

That’s partly because fixed costs are lower now, said Leila Bengali, economist at the UCLA Anderson Forecast. In addition, the availability of broadband, better internet speeds and tech savviness all mean it is much easier to get a business online.

When the cost of starting a new business is lower, “you might expect to see more and more people starting to do that,” she said.

Nearly two million sellers joined e-commerce platform Etsy in 2020, a 62 percent jump from the year prior. New store creations on shopping service Shopify grew by 79 percent in the U.S. in 2020, compared to 2019.

According to Facebook’s new Global State of Small Business Report released last week, 69 percent of small and medium-sized businesses around the globe said digital tools had a positive impact on their business during Covid. Eighty-six percent of those surveyed said they expect to at least partly use digital tools to operate their business going forward.

Raven Silas, a 27-year-old in New Orleans, found inspiration for her new business via social media. After being laid off from her job as a marketing manager at the beginning of the pandemic, she said her new anxiety led her to experiment with different coping mechanisms, including affirmations, which she discovered on TikTok. Now, the positive statements are used as the base of her handmade candle brand, Breathe Enlight Co., which she started in October last year.

“I decided to pair the affirmations with the actual candles and people actually liked it,” she said. “Something just kept nudging me to go forward and so I just went for it.”

Like Smith, Silas also turned to TikTok to help market her brand. A post from late last year that went viral helped bring in a couple of hundred orders within three days, she said. Before then, Silas said she only received orders from people who knew her.

“I opened my phone and my video had like a million views and I was like, ‘Wow!’ Didn’t expect that to happen,’” she said.

Although many rookie businesses have benefited from digital tools during this time, not all have experienced virality. For some, it’s taken more time.

Sherri Mitchell, owner of Chef Sherri Sauces, said she did not start to see social media growth until this summer, a year after she launched her business and when she was able to start meeting customers at in-person events like farmers markets.

“I leaned in to my social media, trying to share as much as I could, but again it’s building that audience from scratch,” she said. “Whereas, this year, being able to lean on all of those other relationships that I have established has been fantastic.”

Since June, Chef Sherri Sauces’ Instagram reach has grown by over 450 percent. Mitchell said sales are up 300 percent since she started setting up shop in person.

Adaptability amid unpredictability has been key for Mitchell’s small business, especially given the changing nature of the pandemic and the financial and logistical headaches that have ensued.

Courtesy of NBC Business News and Author Haley Messenger