The pandemic has brought challenges to all businesses. Through it all, members of the Forbes Magazine Communications team have identified several themes that have enabled small businesses to adapt.
Here’s how small business owners have shifted — or should shift — to keep moving forward during the global pandemic.
Small businesses have had to shift to selling digitally.
Because of social distancing regulations, many small businesses couldn’t physically remain open and had to switch to digital solutions quickly. This included figuring out how to sell on their websites, marketplaces and social media, along with relying on third-party delivery apps.
For some businesses, the work to evolve their digital capabilities is still underway, while others have seen this as a critical lifeline to keep their doors open as consumers turn to purchase more online. As the dust settles and the new normal develops, these digital channels are likely to stick based on consumer sentiment. Evaluation of these new channels will be vital for businesses to either further expand them or eliminate ones that don’t offer a solid return on investment.
Small businesses have placed increased importance on safety.
Business owners have taken on the responsibility of keeping their employees and customers safe — a huge undertaking given that 58.9 million people work for small businesses in the U.S. Owners have been faced with the monumental task of managing the varying and evolving levels of regulations for reopening, social distancing and personal protective equipment (PPE), while also navigating consumer perceptions about health and safety. Finding ways to budget for and forecast what supplies are needed is another layer to their already long list of responsibilities.
Cash flow has become a critical factor for success.
Major fluctuations in sales and profits are making managing cash flow that much harder. Reduced customer demand in many areas and additional investments in digital channels and new accommodations — even with loans and relief grants — are impacting businesses’ cash flow, margins and the ability to stay open and grow. In addition to carefully managing cash flow, many small businesses have had to start offering touchless payment options, which typically means a shift in technology and higher fees for the business owner.
Small business owners are feeling the impact on a
Speaking with many business owners across the country, Normal stress levels have escalated, resulting in many business owners feeling time-starved and overwhelmed as they work to make the right decisions for themselves, their families, their employees and their businesses.
customers has become more critical than ever.
Frequent, clear communication with customers on all channels is more important than ever as customers seek out critical information, like whether or not a business is open and what that business is doing to adapt to Covid-19 protocols. It’s important for small businesses to take inventory of how customers search for information about their business — on social media, their website, even their voicemail or physical signage — and make sure those channels communicate critical updates. This will help set expectations for customers and provide a positive customer experience, keeping them coming back.
Business owners have had to figure out how to pivot their business models.
Owners have had to assess if their existing business model is still valid or if they’ll need to change what they sell, how they sell it and to whom they sell.
With so many obstacles facing small business owners, how do they know where to focus? Here are the group’s top seven tips for small business owners as they move forward without a clear end to the pandemic:
• Work with your lender or accountant to source grants, loans and other relief options.
• Continuously look for new revenue streams, whether it’s finding new markets for your product or new ideas to reimagine your expertise.
• Reach out to suppliers and inquire about small business programs, discounts and trials to save money.
• Seek resources for the digital shift, and identify your unique needs in reaching your customers.
• Continue to listen to your customers and your community, and seek potential partnerships with other businesses in your area.
• Reevaluate your business plan and business model: What’s changed? What’s needed, and what’s not?
• Dig into your budget, and get control of your cash flow. Review any new expenses that are the result of pivoting your business. Rework your budget, and develop a plan for the unknown.
– Forbes Communications Council, a community for executives in successful public relations, media strategy, creative and advertising agencies.