The coronavirus outbreak in the United States has changed how millions of Americans work, shop, worship, you name it. Certainly, COVID-19 has forced many small businesses to think about transforming to adapt to those new circumstances. As a small-business owner, that can feel unsettling. But there’s a good reason to forge ahead.
John Adams, the second president of the United States, once said, “Every problem is an opportunity in disguise.” In other words, business is all about taking the difficulties you’ve been given, flipping them around and finding how you can work them to your advantage. You may not like the problems COVID-19 has forced on you, but you can more than overcome them. By taking time to rethink your tools and approaches, you can make your business stronger so you better weather the next crisis and thrive in the coming economy.
Abruptly shutting down the economy along with multiple extensions to the shutdown have been a systemic shock to businesses of all sizes. No one had time to adequately prepare, and planning for what comes next is tricky at best.
Among the COVID-19 implications for small businesses are several operational changes that you may have faced suddenly and all at once:
You may need to rethink your whole operations with some dynamic post-COVID-19 business planning. It won’t be a matter of simply snapping back and being resilient. Systemic change requires you to examine the basics in terms of customers, finances, regulations, employees, systems and operations. You’ll need to look at risks and opportunities in each area.
It’s human nature to resist change and yearn for a return to “normal.” But by thinking boldly and creatively, you may find post-COVID-19 business opportunities that create a “new normal” that’s less risky and more profitable for your business.
For many small businesses, technology has been the glue keeping things together. Connectivity and access to data has allowed staff to work remotely. Automated processes and online interaction with customers keep business moving. Cybersecurity is more important than ever.
As you evaluate your operations from the ground up, consider post-COVID-19 business ideas, including digital transformation. The months of shutdown might have uncovered weaknesses in some of your digital tools and systems. Now is the time to address any or all of the following:
Many companies are changing the way they source critical inputs to their businesses. Global supply chains were a great way to find the lowest-cost supplier, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced the realization that such supply chains can be risky.
Disruption to your supply chain can be devastatingly expensive. Reshoring is the name of the trend toward domestic suppliers. Near-sourcing (placing business operations near the place where your products are sold) and multisourcing (diversifying your suppliers) are ways to buy from local partners and to keep your supply chain running smoothly.
It wasn’t long ago that lean inventories and just-in-time inventory management techniques were considered the smart and efficient way to go. Many companies are fattening up inventories to reduce risks. The cost of stopping everything to wait for a critical input could be much more expensive than tying up cash in a little bit of inventory cushion.
Your business may face new customer expectations. Customers may want certain new protections and may actually report your business if they perceive you’re not taking their safety seriously. Keep a close eye on official regulations and talk to your customers about their expectations and how you can accommodate them.
Many small businesses faced a sudden and unexpected decline in demand for their products and services. An important post-COVID-19 strategy should be making sure that your business is ready if another disruption happens. Expect the unexpected. Take a look at how other businesses adapted. For instance, restaurant suppliers started developing packages for sale directly to consumers. Gyms started offering online trainers.
Perhaps there’s something done by a completely different kind of business that could work for you. Creative thinking that goes beyond the norm is good for situations that are outside the norm. Talk to customers about what they’re thinking and what they need. You may be able to find highly profitable new opportunities.
The economic shutdown has renewed attention to sustainability as a post-COVID-19 small-business strategy. Being smart with your money is always good business, but especially during difficult times. Adopting sustainable, energy-efficient practices now can make the difference when profit margins are at risk and under pressure. You might even be able to secure subsidized financing options for energy efficiency projects.
Given the current health crisis, some employees may want to permanently work from home. If your work-from-home systems are going smoothly and productivity remains high, you may be able to cut costs and increase employee satisfaction and retention by maintaining these new arrangements. For jobs that require workers being on-site, you may need to change how people work, including reducing the use of shared equipment, rearranging work stations to accommodate social distancing and staggering work schedules. And you’ll definitely want to communicate company policies on hygiene, safety, sick leave and other topics.
Increase productivity and remove bottlenecks as part of your post-COVID-19 business planning to strengthen your operations. Look at various procedures in your organization and work with your staff to take out the speed bumps and failure points. Empowering your employees to improve the efficiency of how they work — through work at home, flexible scheduling and new ways of getting the job done — can make them happier and more productive.
The stress the coronavirus outbreak has put on the economy has sent unemployment soaring, meaning many good people are out of work at no fault of their own. If your small business is looking to hire, you have the potential to attract top talent that may have been otherwise out of reach before the pandemic. Even so, take care to hold on to your high-performing staff members — especially the ones who stepped up during the crisis. Your best employees, together with strong new hires, can form your dream team to help your business recover and prosper into the future.
Innovation takes clever thinking, hard work and the willingness to shoulder risk. Prospering in the next economy will require fresh post-COVID 19 strategies and ideas. Business as usual is actually a risky way to operate when nothing is operating as usual. Risking change may, in fact, be the safest course of action.
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