There’s no denying 2020 was a tough year for pretty much all of us. Small business owners and staff were hit particularly hard in Australia, and if you’re like many in small business, you’re wondering how you’re going to recover over the course of 2021. Maybe the key will be finding new channels through which to reach your ideal market. Or maybe you need expert advice to help you pivot or rethink how you’ll deliver your products and services. There are many ways businesses might start their recovery, but if those two methods sound like a good fit for your business, an online service marketplace could be exactly what you need.
How do small businesses plan to recover from 2020?
According to the Small Business Counts report (2020) from the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, 40% of Australian small businesses changed the way they deliver their products and services as a result of COVID-19, and 20% will keep those modifications longer term. In addition, 22% of small businesses changed the types and range of products and services that they offer, and 11% will keep those changes. 10% changed suppliers or supply chains, and 6% will keep those changes.
Many of the businesses that changed the way they deliver their products and services were brick-and-mortar businesses that started selling online during lockdown. For many of those businesses, once they set up online sales infrastructure, it would have made sense to keep that distribution method. Similarly, pivoting to deliver different products and services, is frequently a long-term change. And due to the hassles of changing suppliers and supply chains, businesses are only really likely to transition back to previous arrangements if they feel a sense of loyalty to their original suppliers, or they changed their supply arrangements to cater for a temporary pivot of products and services and/or distribution channel.
These kinds of permanent changes are an important part of reviewing business strategies and establishing a new business plan, both of which are key steps in recovering from any rough patch. But any kind of pivot like this means businesses may need at least temporary access to skill sets they don’t have in house. Also, they’ll almost certainly be looking for new distribution channels to enable them to double-down on their pivot investments, so they can grow their business and start to recover lost revenue.
Government support may help some businesses. Given the unique nature of the COVID-19 natural disaster, however, where in-person activities became difficult or impossible, many businesses are turning online to source and deliver services. If you’re looking for ways to recover financially from 2020, pivoting your products, services, distribution channels and suppliers could be a key part of your plan. And you might be exploring delivering and sourcing services online for the first time.
If so, there are several things to watch out for, so you have the best experience.
Things to watch out for when sourcing business services online
Because there is such a low barrier to entry when it comes to sourcing and delivering services online, pretty much anyone with a computer (or smart phone) and internet connection can get started. That means the biggest thing you’ll need to watch out for if you start sourcing business services online is provider quality. Thankfully there are several things you can do to avoid having an unpleasant experience with a dodgy service provider including:
- Research several providers, including looking for reviews and testimonials of their services — this will help you spot frauds and inexperienced providers
- Don’t prioritise pricing over quality — there are plenty of places you can get really cheap services, but when it comes to online services, you really do get what you pay for
- Consider cultural differences — going online means you can buy business services from anywhere in the world, but if you’re not prepared for the different ways overseas providers operate, you could be in for constant misunderstandings and miscommunications; offshore providers may also lack an understanding of local conditions and the local marketplace, meaning they cannot tailor their services to your needs
On the flip side of the coin, if you’re offering services online, you can stand out from the crowd by:
- Making it easy for potential clients to find out what they need to know about you
- Encouraging clients to give testimonials about your services
- Clearly communicating the benefits and value of your services
- Thoroughly researching your target client and clearly conveying who that client is
Could an online business marketplace help you grow your business?
The internet opens the doors to accessing services from anywhere. But that means there are an overwhelming number of providers you could choose, and places you could look for them. An online business marketplace brings together buyers and providers, making it easier for buyers to research and compare service options, and helping suppliers reach more buyers.
If you’re looking to source business services online that will help you grow your business, instead of trawling through mountains of supplier websites, a service marketplace would enable you to access a range of suppliers in the one place. And, instead of having to reach out to individual businesses for quotes, you could post a project and have interested suppliers reach out to you. This could save you countless hours and might even allow you to find suppliers that better match your needs.
If you offer business services and you’re keen to reach more buyers, an online business service marketplace could give you access to an additional source of potential clients (in addition to say organic search traffic, paid ads and social media traffic). It also means you can pitch for work you know exists, instead of cold prospecting on the off chance a business might need your services now or in the future.
Depending on the setup, online service marketplaces can also make it easy for you to view and display verified purchaser reviews. Sometimes, they may also enable you to view and display previous client work. In this way, online service marketplaces can sometimes engender greater trust between businesses on both sides of a transaction.
How does trust impact the way businesses use service marketplaces?
That’s not the only way trust can impact on the way businesses use service marketplaces, though. Even the act of signing up for a service marketplace requires a certain level of trust. And not all marketplaces are good at engendering that trust.
For instance, some service marketplaces will reach out to huge numbers of providers claiming to be interested in buying their services, when in actual fact, all they want to do is get them registered on their platform so buyers have an incentive to jump on the platform. After all, there’s not much point in buyers using a marketplace that doesn’t have many service providers to choose from. (In that instance, they may as well continue to use their manual processes.)
Apart from the ethical considerations, the problem with this approach is that the suppliers don’t then trust the platform and won’t be willing to pay any fees to land jobs through the platform. Plus, when word gets out about such unethical behaviour, buyers then become wary of using the platform as well.
When you can’t physically meet any of the actors, trust becomes a hugely important part of the process, so it has a big impact on service marketplace usage.
As another example, putting the time and effort into signing up with a service marketplace becomes a less enticing prospect if you’re worried about the longevity of the marketplace. So, trusting that a marketplace will be around for the long haul, is another key way trust impacts on marketplace usage.
And that leads us to explore the impact of COVID-19 on service marketplaces.
What impact will COVID-19 have on service marketplaces?
So much about COVID-19 is unknown. In particular, the long-term impacts of a global pandemic in the modern era are entirely unknown. We’re certainly facing ‘interesting times’.
However, given the findings from the Small Business Counts report, it seems likely that many businesses that have tried buying and selling services online will continue to do so even when there aren’t any impediments to in-person trading. That means the COVID-19 pandemic will likely see online service marketplaces well-stocked with suppliers and well-used by buyers for years to come.
Service marketplace relevance to your business
If you’re buying and/or selling services online, there are many advantages to using an online service marketplace, from greater access to a range of buyers and easier access to a range of sellers, to far easier business outreach. If they sound like benefits you’d like to access, it seems service marketplaces could be very relevant to your business. So, it’s probably time to explore the different service marketplace options.