How to survive - and even thrive - in an altered business world

Small businesses adapting to meet economic challenges and customer needs


With many states starting to ease restrictions set to limit the spread of the coronavirus, small business owners are awakening to a dramatically different business world – one that’s unlikely to return to pre-virus norms for some time.

A vaccine is likely many months or even a year away, and many consumers are adjusting to reduced or lost income – and fear about re-engaging with society. Others, relishing the newly discovered time savings and convenience of e-commerce, are changing their retail habits permanently. All that means most small business owners will need to shift their business model to meet these strange, new times and welcome customers back.

Technology is a natural partner in ensuring both your customers’ sense of security and access to your business.

Let’s look at some ways it can work for you, now and into the future:

  • If you haven’t already done it, get a website and – if your service or product is conducive to it – an online ordering system.

You’ll find lots of free options for website building, or you can search for a website designer.

You can also build your own online store, no hammers or sheetrock required. Do give some thought to design, however. Online competition can be stiff, and a well-done website can set you apart from your competitors.

  • Communicate with your customers.

Even if your business is closed or only partially open, keep up regular and relevant communications via email and social media. Make sure those communications and your website include, at least, an acknowledgement of COVID-19 so your business doesn’t appear tone deaf to today’s world.

    1. Update the way customers get your product or service.
  • If you sell a tangible product, that means not only online ordering, but delivery and curbside pickup. Even if your home state is easing restrictions, plenty of customers won’t be comfortable entering a store for a long time. Don’t ignore them, or their dollars. These time-tested delivery methods go far beyond restaurants. Clothing, hardware, landscaping materials, gifts – almost any item can be delivered to a customer’s door or to their car.

This guide to curbside pickup may help you decide if it’s right for your business, and if so, how to make it happen.

  • Take good care of your customer base.

Putting your customers first is not only the right thing to do, it inspires customer loyalty – and never has that been more important.
A recent study showed more than a third of consumers are trying new products or services during the coronavirus crisis because the products and services they normally use aren’t available. So, ensuring your customers keep your business top of mind is key, even when you’re not generating a lot of revenue. In your regular communications, offer discounts or ask customers for suggestions. Getting customers involved ensures you’re giving them the products and services they need, and keeps them connected.

  • Show you’re a company that cares.

If you have a product or service you can give away to help others who are struggling, do it.
It can be something large or small. One restaurant, for instance, is donating $1 with every takeout order to a local food bank. A baby food company is donating its product to mothers who’ve lost their jobs.

Then share on social media and in customer emails what your business is doing to help. It may not generate revenue today, but your customers will hopefully remember your kindness and return it with their patronage down the road.

  • Don’t be afraid of change.

The times are changing fast, and your product or service needs to change with them. In this unprecedented business environment, a dramatic shift could be the key to staying relevant and to setting yourself apart in the competitive landscape. Thinking outside the box will be key to staying ahead.
Need more? The U.S. Chamber of Commerce offers a wealth of information, including state-by-state guides to reopening, worker safety, expected trends of the post-coronavirus business world and stories from other businesses about how they’re moving forward.