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Beyond Virtual: Building a Profitable Hybrid Business
Written by John Hernandez05/13/2021

Beyond Virtual: Building a Profitable Hybrid Business

These last few years have been a season filled with unprecedented challenges, new opportunities, and sink-or-swim situations for small businesses. The businesses who did the best during the pandemic and economic shift already had virtual solutions in place.

If they didn’t, they quickly changed operations and made the best of the situation. It’s those who are prepared to innovate early and quickly pivot when necessary, that last throughout the years.

By now, virtual businesses should have been built yesterday. It’s no longer an added feature, but necessary. Customers expect it now and with the way the world is today, anything could happen.

Today, hybrid solutions help safeguard your business. By implementing them, you build a stronger customer base by fulfilling their needs, protect your company from challenges beyond your control, and you attract better talent to work for you.

For companies to thrive, they must look beyond what is necessary and think of the future.

The Evolution of Business Models

Customers and employees have formed new habits and new expectations. These virtual solutions are here to stay, but as the economy continues to open up, a new reality sets in on us.

Traditional Business: likely a brick-and-mortar company, or service business, that physically interacts with customers.

Virtual Business: a company fulfilling traditional needs but through technology, no (or fewer) points-of-contact, using software and virtual technologies to interact with customers.

Five years ago, many businesses did one or the other. They sold goods at a physical store, likely had a website and maybe online ordering, but it was still very manual and location-based. Or the business operated fully online, catering to the world.

After the shift for all businesses to have some sort of ability to serve their customers and employees through virtual solutions, it no longer became about business categories. It became part of everyday interactions.

For a business to grow in the future, they have to seamlessly combine both strategies.

Hybrid Business: the integration and intersection of traditional and virtual business.

But what exactly is a hybrid business? The easiest way to picture it is by imagining an event business.

Picture This: A Hybrid Event Company

A traditional conference requires a big center, breakout rooms, merchandise, and more. It's a huge event that will host thousands of people from all over the country and the world.

In 2020 and 2021, these types of events had to shift.

Tools like Zoom allowed for companies to create a virtual version of the typical conference. A speaker would speak to everyone on video.

After, they could join breakout sessions on different Zoom links and rooms. They had access to digital resources. Depending on the industry or type of event, they might have had collaborative tools to work and experiment together in real-time.

But Zoom fatigue is a real thing, and today, virtual will not be a singular solution for most businesses.

A hybrid event would cater to all people in all circumstances.

Imagine hosting a conference that could double or triple in size because location and occupancy limits do not matter anymore. Most people in the industry would want to join because they could go physically if they prefer it, or virtually. It’s for everyone.

Now imagine you go to a hybrid conference.

You hear the speaker, who is talking to you and others in the room. You then join a physical breakout room but then after, you join a virtual one too, right from where you are.

For those who need more accessibility, like captions, you can get everything you need from where you are because of virtual and digital resources. Whether you are home or carry a tablet with you at the event.

You walk past vendors and see something you like. With a scan of a QR code, they could get it shipped right to your house or business.

Want to make a deal with a supplier? The representative could set you up with a virtual video call right now with one of their specialists to answer your more detailed questions.

When you go home, you can get all your notes, digital resources, and everything emailed directly to you.

You can get access to all the sessions and breakouts you attended because it was recorded for you. The event never ends.

The event can serve anyone, anywhere, and at any time.

A Study of the Workplace and Customer Habits

Thanks to the popularity of coffee shops and shared workspaces, workers and customers envied the open layout. They loved the space and public interaction. That's when we started using it for the office and our customers.

Fast Company reported that “fewer than half of offices with fully open plans expect to keep that layout in the post-pandemic era”. Companies were forced to switch to virtual business until social distancing resided. Now, the economy looks different and continues to cement a new version for all industries.

In the article, “These Architects Popularized the Open Office. Now They Say ‘The Open Office is Dead’”, Nate Berg lays out the future workspace. He points to multiple spaces that provide for many different needs.

“The Library” functions as the open office space but like a home study designed for minimal talking. It’s an unassigned, collaborative workspace.

“The Plaza” acts as a social place for food, interaction, and community building.

“The Avenue” replicates the same feeling of a hallway and how you can communicate casually with others passing through. With nooks and benches to work on the way, employees fulfill their need for communication and focus.

These concepts solve for community, privacy, and creative inspiration. While these needs exist for employees, it’s also an evolving need for customers.

Depending on your industry, customers will seek ways to communicate, trust in their privacy, and fulfill their needs through your offer. It explains the booming rise in brands investing in virtual community programs.

In an article published on Salesforce, Ari Bendersky states, “We now know the work-from-anywhere model works, but many still want flexible access to collaborative offices… This helps create a balance between working from home and going back into offices, where hybrid models can offer better work-life balance.”

This is where technology becomes vital. Post-2020, customers, and employees expect virtual and physical solutions at the same time or when they need them.

As companies invest in hybrid models, they can benefit from getting ahead of the shift and grow for the future.

Benefits for a Hybrid Company

Bigger Audience Reach

Physical space is limited because of occupancy regulations, logistics, geographical location, and practical limitations. A virtual event also has its limits depending on the technology and operational staff. Combining both removes many of these limitations by diversifying options and potentially doubling or tripling your audience potential.

Not only is it a benefit for space. It gives customers the freedom to participate regardless of location or time limitations.

If you sell coffee but emphasize community in the lounge, during a busy hour you can now offer pickup with the option to meet people in a virtual room. Or hold events at the coffee shop and broadcast it live with a virtual host.

When the event is over, everyone who physically visited or virtually participated can get a recording of the video through email. At the bottom of the email, they may get a virtual gift card to redeem in-store or online.

This also helps you expand beyond your current product line.

Let's say you sell hot coffee but now want to sell bags of coffee beans, you can build a global community built around your brand. You have a local presence but an international audience that purchases your products.

A bigger audience reach increases your sales potential.

Better ROI with Hybrid Solutions

Whether it’s a retail business, an event, or a professional service, you have the potential to increase your ROI.

With more customers, since you can meet physically and virtually, you have the potential to sell to more people. Also, location and time barriers are removed thanks to virtual solutions.

It's important to make sure that everything works together seamlessly.

Evergreen Assets for Continual Revenue

It can be an event your business held, a financial literacy course an accounting firm developed for their clients, a how-to book for a pool supply shop; digital assets can live long after you first sell it or create it.

A hybrid solution would have a few of these assets that customers could purchase online or easily access in-store with a QR code.

The more product offerings you have in the digital arena, the more you can grow your revenue potential.

Benefits from Leading an Economic Change

Ultimately, it’s better to be at the head of an economic shift than at the end when it is too late.

Think back to the pandemic in 2020.

When businesses shut down, the ones who withstood the challenge already had a virtual system in place. Hybrid solutions are built to thrive in a healthy economy and one that’s uncertain.

How to Start a Hybrid Company

Every business is different. Whether you’re a B2B or B2C company, and if you’re in a traditional or more innovative industry, your solutions will be different.

When memorial homes saw restrictions in 2020 and beyond, many of them provided hybrid solutions out of necessity. An industry that rarely changes was able to innovate from day one.

They held small intimate services with possibly three people or a few more but also held live services accessible online. If the family wanted to, they could have a recording of the service and share it with friends and family.

Today, many funeral homes continue this hybrid process. Now, someone can honor their friends no matter where they are or what obstacles they face.

Here is a quick checklist you can use to get started.

  1. Refine your current in-store operations. If it isn’t smooth yet, don’t expect it to be smooth in a hybrid context.
  2. Invest in virtual solutions first. How can your business offer virtual options?
  3. Go hybrid: as customers get used to virtual, strategize how they can integrate with physical interactions. Everyone. Everywhere. Anytime.
  4. Keep it simple. Offer hybrid for the essential. Too much adds complexity.

Do you have great ideas for your business? Test them out with Profit Frog with a simulator that helps you envision what you have in mind. Minimize risk, map out your plan, and execute your vision.