There is no doubt that the past year has been challenging for businesses across the globe, with the most carefully laid strategies for 2020 essentially tossed out the window. Suddenly, the goals we set for the year were no longer relevant in the face of uncertainty, and, as a result, we pushed these strategies aside and learned to be flexible in more ways than we could have ever imagined. As 2020 draws to a close, it’s increasingly clear that planning for the future is going to look a little different for 2021 and beyond. Nevertheless, it is essential that we develop business strategies and set goals for the upcoming year, utilizing the valuable lessons we’ve learned in 2020.

1. Identify KPIs and Prioritize Them

Right now, many businesses are shifting what they view as the anchor of their brand. For example, many organizations had to close their physical locations and turned instead to e-commerce due to the pandemic. By continuing to focus on this digital transformation in the new year, both KPIs and priorities need to change.

Take stock of the business’s performance in 2020. What has worked with your online store? And what has not? Then, base your new goals on these metrics. Is your website fast enough? Easy to navigate? Are your customers able to find the information they need? Have you refreshed your FAQ and installed a chatbot to handle an increase in customer questions?

Once you specify 3-4 goals, it is time to identify key performance indicators (KPIs) for each of them. It’s worth restating that the SMART framework – specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound – is a great approach for setting concrete goals that will help you grow your business. Once you’ve put your KPIs in place, don’t forget to keep the pulse on how the situation is developing to adjust your initiatives and goals (should the climate affecting your business change again).

2. Digitize Your Business (If You Haven’t Already)

The past year likely showed you where the weak links of your business are and what aspects need to be transformed to continue meeting customers’ needs in 2021 and beyond. One of the biggest challenges in 2020 for businesses across the world was their lack of complete digitalization. Whether it was adopting remote work, coordinating tasks, ensuring the business operations were continuing to run smoothly, or just having fully responsive websites and online ordering, many businesses had to face the fact that their digital adoption left something to be desired.

If you still have not entirely digitized your business, now is the time to do it. Your website must contain all the information your customers or users need, be fully responsive, user friendly, and able to deal with customer questions. With the holiday season coming up, it is best to consider software solutions for a better customer experience and support. Your team, although adjusted to the remote work by now, should be using organizational boards such as Trello, Notion, or other similar options. These tools will help prevent things from falling through the cracks and keep your team organized.

3. Let Your Employees and Customers be the Champions of Your Brand

We all know that employees and customers are the best brand ambassadors. In the early stages of the pandemic, loyal customers kept ordering takeout from their favorite restaurants and easily transitioned to buying from their favorite brands online. By continuing to focus on providing high-quality products and services and personalizing the buying experience, businesses that saw success in those early months have ensured customers keep coming back now –nine or ten months later. Do a short survey to key in on their preferences and what they think the essence of your brand is. By putting your customers first and devising your strategy around them, you can easily communicate to them how important they are to your brand.

Another important segment you shouldn’t ignore is your employees, as they know your brand inside and out. The first step to turning them into brand ambassadors is to provide all the support you can as an employer in these uncertain times. Check in to see how remote work or changes to the office have impacted them and help them overcome any challenges they’re facing. Without empathetically listening to them and working to resolve their issues, there shouldn’t be a second step.

Once you’ve ensured your employees are taken care of you from a management standpoint, pull those who are willing into your social media strategy. Real-world, behind-the-scenes content or employee takeovers might be refreshing in the sea of perfectly curated content or images that don’t seem to fit into the current landscape. In 2020, your social media audience prefers – and requires – relatable content with real people. Again, the most important piece is taking care of your team first, since they are the essence of your organization.

4. Focus Your Efforts on What You Can Do: Adjust

As business leaders, we had to adapt over the course of 2020 in more ways than we can count. Suddenly our teams were no longer brainstorming at the office together, and Zoom meetings replaced our quick touch bases and coffee dates. Remember, your target audiences have changed their behavior, too, and it’s unclear whether any of us will go back to the “old normal” once this is all over. Yet, we are still unable to define exactly what the “new normal” really is or will be. As 2021 approaches, we need to focus our efforts on the things we can do and be prepared to continue adjusting throughout the year, working to perfect a more agile approach.

As we set goals for the new year, we should also show kindness and support to our neighbors, partners, customers, and coworkers as we continue to learn and experience growing pains together. But, when it comes to your business strategy, don’t forget everything else you have learned in the past year. Looking at 2021, we can’t say for sure that the new year will be (or won’t be) as volatile as the past one was, but we are all more experienced, more adaptable and smarter for all we had to endure this year. Remind yourself of that as we embrace the adversity we faced in 2020 and welcome the uncertainty that 2021 brings.