When talking about digital transformation and the impact of the covid-19 pandemic, we think about companies like Zoom or e-commerce and delivery companies like Amazon or DoorDash, but equally important is the more subtle and “hidden” digital transformation happening with some micro-entrepreneurs during the pandemic. I’d like to tell the story of a small business, owned by Renato and Veronica. This Brazilian couple came from Santa Catarina, a state in the south of Brazil and had prior experience in cleaning services in the United States. They felt they had reached a point at which they wanted to build their own residential cleaning business. Their timing was challenging though, because a month after that decision the covid-19 pandemic showed its force and lockdowns started to take effect.
Renato’s and Veronica’s challenges and opportunities were part of a broader trend we saw happening in the services space. Companies that didn’t have a workflow that involved digital tools and presence were struggling during the pandemic. Many client-facing trends were accelerated during this unprecedented situation. For instance, according to research by Hubspot, 60% of smartphone users have contacted a business directly using the search results. According to eMarketer, 82% of customers read digital reviews for local businesses. Finally, according to a Mastercard poll of 17,000 consumers in 19 different countries during covid-19, it was found that consumers found contactless payments as “the cleaner way to pay”.
The companies that were able to systematize and digitize their day-to-day were able to grow while many of those that stayed with pen and paper ceased to exist. The digital mover sought to find more efficient ways to run their businesses and to implement ways to improve their digital presence and digital forms of interactions with their clients and prospects. When Renato and Veronica reached out to us with the challenge to start a cleaning business during the pandemic, the most important theme that we agreed on was to ensure they were on the right side of the these digital trends.
We helped the couple by creating a systematic process of acquiring customers, managing their work, and delivering their service by assembling together several tools they could use directly from their phones. We ended up using 9 different tools: Facebook (pages) for digital presence, Google (Voice, Forms, Sheets, and Calendar) for workflow and client management, WhatsApp for internal communication, Zillow to adjust estimates, and Venmo/Zelle for contactless payments. By combining these different tools, even though there were inefficiencies because there was no one intuitive mobile-friendly tool with all these features in one place that would also fit their budget, we helped Renato and Veronica build an integrated workflow of client outreach, quoting/estimating, scheduling, reminding, invoicing, and client communication, also reducing miscommunication due to language barriers by using automatic translation features from Google.
In less than 2 months, the couple was able to create a $5000/month business that was also growing efficiently in number of prospects and having an easier time to up-sell customers on additional services. A striking statistic during the same time was that, according to a survey by the National Domestic Workers Alliance, 72% of residential housekeepers reported they had lost all of their clients by the first week of April. When we talked to many micro-entrepreneurs about their challenges during the pandemic, they explained that clients were choosing not to continue with services due to safety concerns, but also that clients were switching to services they deemed “more professional”. Diving deeper into this second argument by interviewing end-customers as well, we confirmed the overall trend we initially saw in the statistics: the weight on quality that was given to businesses that had digital presence. While Renato’s and Veronica’s business growth can’t be all attributed to their digital-first approach to running their business, we believe the feedback they received from impressed clients, the word of mouth and increased reviews, and the ability to track and organize their business efficiently definitely helped.
Just as we saw with large companies and tech startups on how they adapted and were able to leverage some of the accelerated trends during the pandemic, with others not being quick to change, the story of Renato and Veronica prove that these digital transformations can be seen throughout many businesses, big or small, and in many sectors. The future of many an industry will inevitably favor the digital player.