The Covid-19 pandemic is changing trade and markets all over the globe, and strongly affecting small business owners. All the dynamic and movable businesses are being transferred to the online realm; this demands investment and adaptation to e-commerce platforms and remote work. But this solution does not apply to every sector, leaving professionals from some industries (travel, tourism, personal services, etc.) struggling to keep their jobs.
Small businesses do not possess the same resources to adapt and resist as big corporations, but there are some key decisions you can make to protect and preserve your trade. It will not be business-as-usual, but a clever management can get you through the menacing and long-standing Covid-19 crisis. You can even use this time to re-think your processes, eliminate waste and plan for growth and better times.
Manage Your Staff Remotely
Many or at least some of your processes may be adapted to be performed from home. Even if you work in a presential business, there are support functions that can be done and even optimized while operating remotely. This requires a lot of imagination and flexibility from the employees, who must learn to use new tools and find new solutions. You can expect a decrease in productivity, at least during the transition period. And though it is not easy to successfully manage a remote workforce, there are some ways in which you can simplify the transition.
It is important to set clear instructions and goals, so that no one feels lost about what to do and how they should do it. Online meetings, even if not strictly essential for the realization of everyday tasks, are extremely relevant to keep your employees motivated and engaged, and you should encourage video conferences both involving you and between work colleagues.
Keeping an online, shared daily record of the duties completed by the team – a kind of travel journal – helps everybody follow the workflow and share achievements. A complete management system allows you to keep an updated log, interact with other users and assign tasks.
Every team member should be equipped with appropriate gear, from devices to internet connection and software. This can be costly, but there are some free or low-cost options to help the business owner reduce the load, and ultimately this allows the business to stay alive and healthy. If you have the means to do it, you can and should offer formation, both in disciplines related to remote work, but also additional and relevant subjects.
Finally, you should keep one-on-one contact with your employees and ask about everyday life aspects, related to health, family, etc. Suggest get-togethers, exercise sessions and other online social events that bring some normalcy to Covid-19 days.
Be a Safe Port
Everybody is working and living on edge, faced with a new problem, never experienced within our lifetime. When you turn on the news, there are very few positive stories, and in most areas of the globe there is no sign of a turning point – at least not without great changes and sacrifices. Your business should be a safe port and a sign of recovery. The posture you want to adopt in the coming times is one of optimism and confidence.
When dealing with employees and partners, share how you are dealing with hygiene and health issues. Presenting control measures and a planned strategy to avoid contagion and risk in the workplace reassures your staff and leaves them more comfortable with the daily tasks they must perform. Do not forget that not only your employees’ health is at stake, but also their families’.
Your outside stance can also be one of care, optimism, and preparedness. During this period people are increasingly using the internet to buy the commodities they need and search providers. This is in some ways the perfect moment to expand your reach, invest in social media marketing, and build an image and an audience for your business. And the best way to do it is by being a calm and reassuring presence.
Consider Other Business Models
No one wants to commit to permanent changes on their business style. We are all waiting for the day in which we can go back to our normal lives. But if your business is currently not sustainable, do not stay in denial. Adapt to the present to reach that idyllic day in the future. There are many changes you can make to adjust your business to the Covid-19 reality. There is not a one-size-fits-all solution, so you must consider the adaptations that have the best fit with your sector and company.
One of the solutions being adopted by manufacturers is selling to the government or official entities. Many companies in the textile industry, as an example, have started producing face masks and other protective equipment to make up for the sudden high demand. There are several products that must be supplied, such as emergency equipment, medical supplies, hand sanitizer, and ventilators. Everyday services, such as accommodation, food delivery, laundry, etc., are also being requested for medical staff and local authorities (police, military, and firefighters).
One of the most obvious changes you can make, but that you might have not been ready to implement, is increasing and varying your sales outlets. If you were not selling online before the pandemic, you should definitely consider doing so now. If you sell unique products, creating an online store to place them and investing in digital marketing is a safe and effective way to boost your sales. Nowadays, the creation of e-commerce websites is cheaper and faster, thanks to all the technology available, so why not start taking good pictures of your products and make them available through the web? If you are reselling goods, you can opt for creating a storefront and a partnership with a supplier, directly selling and shipping goods without holding inventory – increasing your margins and helping you stay competitive. You can also ally with other businesses and develop a sustainable marketplace.
If your business has a vast intellectual property, you can consider the creation and administration of online courses and formations as a font of revenue. You can also keep working as a consultant or business advisor remotely.
Check-In with Your Suppliers and Vendors
When you were choosing your suppliers, good quality and price were your main concern. The third factor, although already relevant in the past, has now become essential: reliability. And your customers and vendors probably look at your business and ask themselves the same question. Are you able to keep supplying without disruption during the Covid-19 crisis?
If you want to get through this pandemic with a good image and reputation, it is important to keep the business flowing and present the same offer of products. Check-in with your suppliers to find out what is happening on their side. If they are small businesses, they could be struggling, leaving you with the need to timely find new or additional suppliers. They might also need your support and flexibility with payments if you can do it – and the same applies down the supply chain. This is the time to be understanding and supportive, without overlooking your priorities and revenue. And since safe is better than sorry, align a list of potential suppliers to contact in case of disruption.
Make the Most of Social Media
Social media are a modern and personal way to spread awareness concerning your business, reach a new audience, and avoid being forgotten or discarded during the pandemic. If your business is open during these trying times, you can use social media platforms to announce the safety measures that are being implemented, changes to the opening hours, and others adjustments that may have been taking place. A solid presence in social environments is important to maintain clients, create bridges and propagate some sense of dependability. People are spending more time navigating the web now, so it is also the natural place to meet and connect.
If you own a small business that is somehow shifting and adapting to the new market, this is the right place to share information. A good customer service that quickly answers queries on social media platforms, can result in more sales and enhance client engagement.
As we cross this crisis, small businesses are being severely hit, but are still essential. It is important to carry on, adapting but bringing your customer’s the usual services, without ever completely stopping. Some decisions will be challenging but must be embraced quickly and wholeheartedly in order to help your business persevere. Focus on the priority measures that allow you to keep making some revenue and get some cash flow, and work together with your team to envision and deploy innovative solutions. Learn about government initiatives and support funds to which you may apply. And above all, keep your employees and families safe and healthy.