The pandemic has changed the small-business world forever, accelerating the pace of some already existing trends and giving birth to new patterns of consumer behavior – many of which are here to stay.
Not all small businesses have survived the upheaval. The Federal Reserve has estimated that 200,000 additional businesses closed permanently compared to pre-pandemic levels.
But most of those that have survived see the outlook as bright. In a survey conducted by the Small Business Group, 65 percent of respondents who own businesses with up to 250 employees said they’re optimistic about the future of their businesses.
To make that rosy forecast a reality, economists agree that small businesses can’t stand still — they must change to meet the times. While much of the pandemic’s long-term effects are unknown, it’s clear that customer expectations will not revert to pre-pandemic norms.
What’s also clear is that an online business presence is no longer optional. Customers forced inside at the beginning of the pandemic turned to online shopping. And while retailers already knew that was the way of the future, the global crisis accelerated that trend.
According to the survey SMB Technology Directions for Changing World, more than half of small businesses already have begun a digital transformation strategy using technology to attract new customers and manage finances and operations. And about half plan to devote more money to technology in the coming years.
Tips for moving forward
If you’re among the half that hasn’t invested in your online presence yet, consider jumping on the bandwagon. If you’re already there, check to ensure that what you’ve already got is up to the task.
Start by making sure you’ve got an internet plan that meets all of your business’ needs. If you have Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software, make sure the data is high quality and up to date.
Here are a few other tips for reinvigorating your business post-pandemic:
- Take a look back and a look ahead.
Now that the worst of the pandemic is presumably past and business owners have a chance to breathe, it’s wise to assess the impact 2020 had on your bottom line. Compare year-to-year financials, changes in staff and customer counts, and determine what changes you’ll need to make to move forward profitably. Be optimistic, but don’t shoot for the moon. Consumer spending is still in flux, so take a realistic view of revenue projections and the changes they can support.
- Consider a funding boost.
While most small businesses took advantage of the government’s Paycheck Protection Program, it might not have been enough – especially for businesses that plan major changes to keep pace with the changing business world.
Investing in your small business can seem daunting. But that could be the best way to help your business grow and prosper, and ease the stress most small-business owners carry by adding staff, services, and revenue.
Check the U.S. Small Business Administration’s website for information on a variety of funding programs, from loans and investment capital to grants and disaster assistance.
- Tweak your business model in your employees’ favor.
Doing so isn’t just nice; it can help keep your employees happy and your business stable. Companies large and small are adopting a better work-life balance model for their employees, and that doesn’t require a huge investment. Consider offering greater flexibility in work hours, or small gestures of gratitude: a weekly lunch, a company day trip, special events such as bring-your-dog-to-work day, and small touches – say, providing high-quality coffee in the break room. All these things can add up to increased employee satisfaction and a productive workplace.
- Focus on customer satisfaction.
Consumer spending in many sectors hasn’t yet returned to pre-pandemic levels, so there is plenty of competition for those limited dollars. Customers expect a seamless, pleasant experience both online and in person. Do your best to provide that by offering a promotion to welcome back long-term customers and bring in new ones. Let them know you’re grateful for their business.
- Create a contingency plan.
Not many saw the pandemic coming. But now that we’re living through one, all of us – and business owners especially – can learn and plan for future disasters. Part of future-proofing your business includes moving as much of your business online as possible. In addition, minimize your financial exposure by setting aside some rainy-day funds. And, if possible, pay any debt down or off.
- Be optimistic.
Technology has leveled the playing field, giving small businesses with smart online marketing plans access to as many customers as their larger competitors.
For many consumers, the pandemic also created a new appreciation for local mom ’n pop businesses. Aflac’s 2021 Business Culture Survey showed people are united in their support for small businesses. Regardless of political affiliation, or whether they live in an urban or rural area, the majority of those surveyed said they’re willing to pay more for a product and forgo the convenience of online ordering to shop at local small businesses. For small business, that points to a bright future.