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What Small Business Owners Need to Know to Survive

Small businesses have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, but they’ve also learned how to use, and gained access to, a wealth of technology and tools that will help them grow into the future. We asked our panel of experts about which of these technologies is most vital to small business success.


Gary Vaynerchuk

CEO, VaynerMedia, Chairman, VaynerX

What is the top challenge facing small business owners today?

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 break it up 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.

I think the No. 1 thing a lot of small businesses are struggling with is not knowing how to actually grow their business. Hearing things like “social media works,” but then not knowing exactly how to make it work. So I think there’s a huge divide right now in the small business space between the group that knows how to use creatives and content, and then the entire other group that does not. 

For small businesses, social media marketing is so important because you don’t need millions of dollars or hundreds of thousands of dollars to be in the game. The problem is almost everybody attacks social media organically, and they think you just post some stuff on your account and go to sleep. And the reality is for a small business selling a pizza pie, getting somebody to sign up for your dog walking service, getting a new client for your hair salon, it really does require knowing how to spend the media on these platforms. 

And I’ve come to kind of have this wake-up moment that that combo is not being had, and that’s the biggest myth. Do you know how to make pictures, videos, and written words, and then run media on these platforms? When I say run media back to small business talk, it can be as little as a $500 media spend against that. But then that actually drives your business. And that’s why you have; this group of people that are obsessed with social media. And then another group that’s like, “It doesn’t work.” We don’t break out the combo of media spending within it, versus not spending media within it.

What would your advice be to small businesses looking to work on their brand purpose?

I think they have to focus on truth. Don’t focus on where you think the world’s going, whether it’s the environment or this or that, or the other thing. What do you do that runs a small business? What do you care about? And then that truth becomes the brand purpose.

What are some of the technologies you feel can help elevate small businesses?

If it’s a B2B small business, it’s LinkedIn — pictures and videos, but then spend media behind it. If 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.

Do the same types of messages work across all of these platforms? How do you know if something will work on TikTok and not on LinkedIn? 

Like anything in life, you have to be good at it. You could tell me right now that cooking meals is the most important thing in the world for your business. And then I would have to start the process of learning how to cook. And that’s my analogy for social.

Somebody looking at your picture or video on Pinterest is a very different person that someone looking at it on LinkedIn. Their mindsets are different when they’re on a different platform. It’s no different than when you’re at the office, versus being at home, or on the golf course, or on a vacation with your best friends. There’s different context. 

And I would argue as much as I’ve talked about content, the context of where you’re making these pieces of content is almost the most important variable of success. 

What qualities do you think successful entrepreneurs have in common?

They lack the fear of judgment of others, and the successful ones are wildly patient in the macro but extremely efficient in the day-to-day micro. They think about things in a 10-year window to be successful, not a 10-day window, but on a daily basis, they’re making every hour matter.

What questions will every investor ask an entrepreneur before investing in them and their small business?

There’s two really, which is like projected finances, which I think is a complete waste of time because everyone’s guessing. I think the smart investors will ask, and what really has worked for me, is a question about who that entrepreneur actually is and why they are actually building this business. I have found looking back at my successful investments versus my not-successful investments, that question, answered more properly, has led to a lot more success. 

Why is it important for small businesses to create an effective digital experience for their customers?

Because digital is actually the primary world society now lives in, not analog. Even some young entrepreneurs and business people have had success analog-wise, and then, because of that, don’t value or recognize that they’re vulnerable by not having digital. 

I know of an incredible 30-year-old entrepreneur who’s got a physical barbershop business with no social presence. He would think that’s wild but he was actually a second-generation barber, and just understood the business and built a great barber shop business with multiple locations. 

But what he didn’t realize that ended up happening with COVID was that by not having the virtual presence, once analog kind of got hurt, which is an extreme case with COVID, it rendered him useless. And he couldn’t really reach out and have relationships with his customers. What digital does is it lets you be omnipresent and have that relationship point, and everybody needs to build that.

What role do you think social media plays for small businesses?

Social media is the most democratic place to get business. And small business, for me, that’s the most exciting place, because they get outspent in print, or radio, or television, but in social, even though they will be outspent, it still has the biggest upside for democracy. I believe social media is oxygen for any small business.

In your opinion, why are small businesses the backbone of the American economy?

I just think it’s data, the amount of jobs created. A stunning amount of our Fortune 500 big businesses started as small businesses. So for me, it’s not only the sheer amount of job and local economic impact it has mathematically, I tend to remind people that almost every big company in this country started small. 


John Cumbee

General Manager, SurePayroll

Why is it so important to support America’s small businesses and entrepreneurs? 

One of the biggest reasons is that small businesses employ roughly half of the American workforce, accounting for up to 65% of net new jobs annually. Helping small businesses grow and prosper also benefits local communities because the majority of the money spent at these businesses stays in the local economy. 

According to a November 2021 survey commissioned by SurePayroll, a leading payroll, human resources and employee benefit services provider, 84% of Americans agree that small businesses are vital to their community. Americans feel their money is better spent at a small business and prefer to shop with small businesses even if a large chain is closer or more convenient. The survey also found the average American is on a first-name basis with six local mom-and-pop owners or employees, and that Americans crave the quality, in-person experience and connection to community that shopping with local small businesses uniquely provides. 

SurePayroll is an essential partner with America’s businesses. We help small business owners simplify back-office operations and save time on administrative tasks so they can focus on marketing, employee engagement and customer service to grow their business.  

What is the top challenge facing small business owners today?

Time is a perennial challenge for small business owners, and there are not enough hours in the day to accomplish the disparate tasks required to successfully operate a small business. Hiring and retaining employees has quickly escalated to a top business challenge, making it more important than ever for small business owners to build and sustain a network of reliable, affordable, and trusted professional services providers who can help alleviate stress, ease their workload, and help them create capacity to do the things that will help their business prosper.  

Automating back-office tasks—like payroll, tax compliance and benefit management—is table stakes in today’s competitive environment. Processing employee payroll is an increasingly complex task due to changing regulations and rules, tax credits, and COVID-19. It is key that business owners focus on serving customers and not trying to memorize tax code. Establishing a relationship with an online payroll provider, like SurePayroll, offers small business owners peace of mind. The relationship ensures compliance with IRS guidelines and that employees are paid accurately and on time—allowing small business owners to remain focused on customer service and innovating and growing their business.

What would your advice be to small businesses looking to work on their brand purpose?

At SurePayroll, we believe a Brand Purpose is a customer-inspired statement that defines the why behind every decision a small business owner makes and every action a small business owner takes. In short, a Brand Purpose is the very essence of why a business exists. 

The SurePayroll Brand Purpose is to empower the dreams of small business owners. Our Brand Purpose strikes a balance between aspiration and precision, can evolve as the business grows, and is ambitious, inspiring, and memorable. Author Afdhel Aziz, a member of the Forbes CMO Network, says a Brand Purpose is “A higher-order reason for a brand’s existence that goes beyond making money and adds value to society.” 

With that in mind, we encourage small business owners to consider the following questions when conceiving or affirming their Brand Purpose:

  • Why were you inspired to start your business? 
  • Why does what you do excite you / bring you joy?
  • Why are you best at what you do?
  • Why did you accept the risks associated with starting your business?
  • Why is your business uniquely equipped / qualified / experienced to solve a customer or marketplace problem? 
  • Why will / why do customers choose your business over the competition?

What are some of the technologies that you see having the biggest impact when it comes to elevating small businesses in the coming year and grow their bottom line?

The systems and processes that helped a business five, ten, or twenty years ago may no longer offer an advantage in today’s online environment. It is important that small business owners explore and invest in technology to future-proof their business. Even if the initial cost is more than a business owner would like to make, the return on investment in terms of time saved, inventory management, and future growth is well worth it. For instance, converting to an online payroll or inventory management system, creating a virtual marketplace, and maintaining a relevant website and user experience contribute to savings and growth opportunities. 

Many small business owners established new or honed existing social media strategies over the past 20 months to showcase new products, pop-up specials, workshops, and highlight special occasions like business anniversaries and customer birthdays to connect and build community. Fully leveraging these digital marketing strategies is critical to building a detailed customer database and maintaining customer connections as the world establishes a post-pandemic rhythm. 

Why would you say it’s important for small businesses to create an effective digital experience for their customers?

Consumers have more options than ever to research a purchase decision, with the majority reporting they always or frequently take time to learn about a product or service prior to heading into a store. Online reviews and company websites are primary research sources for consumers. That makes creating a digital footprint to strengthen connections with current customers, engage prospects, and influence the perception of both an imperative for small business owners.

Content marketing is an umbrella term for creating or curating information of interest that drives traffic to your online channels from social media to online search to website visits. 

If you are not already, consider the following:

  • Nurture online reviews. Regularly send current customers a link to review sites and ask for their favorable review. 
  • Leverage data. Track website visits, views, interactions, engagement, and conversions with digital channels for valuable insight into how your brand resonates with the marketplace.
  • Eliminate geographic barriers. An effective digital footprint means everyone is a potential customer—or employee. The first time many prospective employees experience a business is online. A strong online presence can help attract remote employees and offer a point of pride to existing employees. 
  • Rise above the competition. A strong digital presence depicted through pictures, videos, favorable online reviews, engaging social media posts, and interesting content helps define and differentiate your brand.

Do you have a piece of advice when it comes to small businesses adopting to the new workforce?

Workers across all industries are experiencing burnout due to demanding hours, staffing shortages, low wages, and being in the unenviable position of enforcing pandemic guidelines and ordinances. Many workers are simply unwilling to give up the benefits of working from home. As a result, 52% of survey respondents indicate they plan to look for a new job in 2021, up from 35% the prior year.

While COVID-19 delivered a shock to the collective system, small business owners—who have long been marketplace innovators—are discovering new ways to attract and retain employees. Many small business owners are taking a fresh look at employee compensation. 

Employees are interested in more than just competitive pay, and package enrichments like medical, dental, and vision insurance are now considered table stakes. Compensation differentiators include 401(k), tuition reimbursement, professional development stipends and sabbaticals, lifestyle / wellness benefits, generous life insurance and retirement packages, paid time-off for volunteering, flexible scheduling, and even an annual budget for pet insurance or doggy daycare. 

Also important to many employees is the corporate social responsibility vision for the company, and the role they play in defining and implementing that vision. For small business owners, social responsibility doesn’t always have to take the form of a financial contribution. It could be as simple as organizing an employee-led community outreach program, a charitable fundraiser like a fun run, or mentoring students in the immediate or neighboring school districts. Socially responsible businesses enjoy a 50% reduced employee turnover rate which also saves time and money on hiring, onboarding, and training. 

Ultimately, small business owners who align hiring practices with their Brand Purpose will attract the right employees and increase retention. 


Ben Richmond

U.S. Country Manager, Xero

Why is it so important to support Americas small businesses and entrepreneurs?

The United States is one of the largest small business markets in the world. Almost half of the American workforce is employed in small businesses. 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 and adopt digital tools in order to keep operating. I believe this is the right time to be talking about how to support small businesses. Small businesses are a key driver of our pandemic recovery, and at the heart of making them more successful will be giving them access to tech tools that help them operate their business more efficiently.

What is the top challenge facing small business owners today?

About one-fifth of small businesses don’t survive even one year in business. And around 50 percent will fail within five years. Cash flow is the lifeblood of any business and not managing it well is a leading cause of small business failure. 

Furthermore, small businesses owners are time poor, juggling many demands as the CEO, head of sales, marketing, or other functions. They don’t have the time to be “experts” in digital technologies, so many aren’t aware of how easy it can be to get an app that automates a mundane task like invoicing that’s sucking time out of their day. 

At Xero, we aim to help address this issue for small business owners. By working with our accounting and bookkeeping partners, we encourage small business owners to trade in their DIY approach and start working with online tools and, where possible, get more advice from the experts and take a “do it together” approach to gain a competitive edge. 

What would your advice be to small businesses looking to work on their brand purpose?

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 — they’re part of our DNA and have a great level of resonance with people, and serve as the basis for many of my guiding principles as a leader. 

What are some of the technologies you have seen elevating small businesses in the coming year and growing their bottom line?

We know that there are few things more precious to small business owners than time. Running your books on a cloud-based accounting platform like Xero allows you to have access to data, and machine learning insights that streamline processes and deliver the right nuggets of information at just the right time. Additionally, with cloud-based accounting software, workflows that used to take hours are completed in minutes — smart features like invoice reminders or automatic data extraction from bills and expenses make it faster and easier to collect and transact on information. With real-time insights, small businesses can run their business more efficiently and collaborate with their accountant or bookkeeper to make smart business decisions. 

With tax season around the corner, using the right combination of cloud accounting software and integrated tools will prevent reliance on spreadsheets or outdated software with old data. When it comes to tax planning, you need accurate information. Leveraging real-time data from your cloud accounting software combined with advice from your accountant can put your business in a good position to fix any problems that may arise before the tax bill arrives. Digital tools help create better workflows and drive business success, and Xero helps make this possible for business owners. 

Why is it important for small businesses to create an effective digital experience for their customers?

Looking at how quickly technology adoption advanced during the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 became 2025. There’s no better opportunity for small businesses to get online and in the cloud.

Creating an effective digital experience for customers goes beyond having a website or social media presence. Consider what apps you can use to enhance your business’ operations. For instance, if you are a retailer, there are apps and technologies available that you can implement to support logistics, point of sale, inventory, customer service, and more. You can build a customized experience and get a full system of record for your business and financial data so you have the full picture of your retail operations. 

What should small businesses do to adapt to the new workforce?

For small businesses navigating the post-COVID hybrid model of working, I believe face-to-face is still a powerful way of connecting to build relationships, context, and empathy for others. 

When supporting flexible ways of working, it’s important to acknowledge that flexible working can mean different things to different people at different stages of their life. For instance, I personally work best in a hybrid environment. I enjoy getting back more time in my day from the commute and not being on a plane every week, but it’s important to refuel the relationships you have with co-workers and customers. 

As we get back to the new normal, I’ve enjoyed getting face time and grabbing lunch with colleagues who I was previously seeing on a screen, and think people are looking forward to the balance a hybrid environment provides.


Joe Walsh

CEO, Thryv

Why is it so important for technology companies to support America’s small businesses and entrepreneurs? 

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. Twenty-twenty 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 is the top challenge facing small business owners today?

COVID forced us to learn technology, like Zoom for instance, that many of us never experienced before. For small businesses, it especially forced familiarity with contactless sales and delivery, digital and contactless payments, and even the ability to work remotely.

All those adaptations forced people to get closer to technology. Depending on their background, in the past, they may have said, “I know you’re right, but I’ve got enough business. Maybe I’m not the coolest, but I’m gonna make it.” That may not work anymore.

What would your advice be to small businesses looking to work on their brand purpose?

It’s important that they be authentic and personal. They need to put themselves in the shoes of the person buying their service or product. Interview your current customers and ask: What are the three to four most important things to them? Speak to those topics in your messaging and through your website.

Plus, make it as friction-free as possible for customers to do business with you. Things like pushing a button on your website to book an appointment or buy online, or making it easy for them to communicate with you by text message or whatever their preference may be.

What are some of the technologies you have seen elevating small businesses in the coming year and growing their bottom line?

The most important technology for small businesses to take advantage of is a cloud-based customer relationship management (CRM) tool where they keep all their customer records. 

Your CRM has got to be in one system where you keep a detailed record of all your customer interactions; every touchpoint, every purchase, every payment.

This allows businesses to efficiently market to that base, and not waste any marketing money. With Google and Facebook owning every inquiry in their ecosystem, it costs so much to get a lead today. So anytime anyone ever touches your business, you have to grab that information, and market and re-market to them. 

Why would you say it’s important for small businesses to create an effective digital experience for their customers?

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 for them to complete business with you so they can draw a line 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.

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