The global pandemic of COVID-19 has impacted nearly every facet of human existence and has radically challenged the world. Governments are attempting to control its spread, borders are closed, millions are out of work, small and large businesses alike have suffered; some closing permanently, while others continue to operate with a much smaller team. The entire apple cart has been upended, so to speak.
Economists have recently said that (at least within the US) the economy has, after the longest period of expansion, now contracted into a recession. While experts continue to debate whether this new slowdown will be short and painful or long and drawn out, what is true is that businesses have had to immensely overhaul themselves nearly overnight. Weighing options and other contingency plans while attempting to navigate a once in the lifetime event can leave even the most seasoned CEO floundering for a plan on how to best move forward.
The issue now is how can businesses, both big and small, begin to emerge out of a post-COVID-19 world. How do they adapt to a huge shift in consumer behavior? How can one’s business become more agile and fluid? Does that mean giving employees more flexibility to work-from-home? Will the day-to-day operations of business become more decentralized and move from brick and mortar to online shopping? How will COVID-19 affect consumer spending? There are almost too many variables to take into consideration.
While it seems like all doom and gloom, the pandemic has now opened new possibilities and avenues of how businesses can continue to function in new and unique ways. These avenues would have never even been considered just a year ago.
Businesses that used to not heavily invest in online or e-commerce are now moving in this direction and expanding their services and options with some even finding it hard to keep up with demand. Businesses that provide internet services like video conference app Zoom have seen a boom in demand since lockdowns began to start in March.
Small businesses have also begun to turn to social media and live-streaming to establish openness and a look inside how their business operates to develop relationships with their customers that exist outside the buying cycle.
In addition to attempting to keep up with demand and creating transparency, small businesses have shifted their operational models to remote options as well as operating with reduced staff as COVID-19 has forced businesses to rapidly adapt, finding that a more cross-trained workforce can operate just as efficiently and that major operational decisions can be done without being physically present.
This moment now affords business owners an opportunity that has never existed before. Given this opportunity, we at The StampMaker decided to reach out to small business consultants and marketers to ask them their opinions on how this moment in time is affecting business and ways to potentially capitalize on the scenario.
“These are difficult times for sure. Many businesses are dealing with layoffs, furloughs, or even bankruptcy. But it’s important to remember that business is a marathon, not a sprint. So keep your sights set on the long-term prospects, not the short-term disruptions. By keeping your eyes on the horizon, you’ll be able to stay centered and focused. Another thing to keep in mind is that your choices are more important than your circumstances. In other words, the decisions you make today are more relevant to your long-term outcome than the circumstances you’re in today. So, stay focused, try to minimize your stress as much as possible, and move forward judiciously but decisively.”
Jamie Turner is an internationally recognized author, speaker, and management consultant that operates 60 Second Marketer which provides super helpful tips, tricks, and advice for marketers the world over.
“It is a time for small business to “burn their boats”. Normal is not coming back. They need to figure out how to reimagine their business. The market is now a place where people rarely leave their homes and safety is the new luxury they are willing to pay for. Small businesses need to determine what assets they have that can help customers where they are right now!”
Barry Moltz is a nationally recognized leader on small business matters and entrepreneurship. On his self-titled website, you’ll find tons of useful advice and other sage wisdom on how to grow and manage your small business.
“Firstly, ignore the self-appointed marketing soothsayers who tell you we're going to be living in a new, more socially-conscious world post-COVID. You know as well as I do that, once our daily lives begin to resemble something like normality, few of us will bother making our own sourdough starters. We're going to buy what we want to buy, probably from the same places we've always bought it. Human behavior doesn't pivot on a dime after just a few weeks.
Pretty much every economist agrees one mother of a global economic recession is going to hit us (economists agreeing with each other? Wow, that's a first). However, I think they'll be a brief period of time between commerce resuming and economies tanking. The good news is that, if you look at the data, recessions are getting shorter. Since we can be pretty sure the black clouds are on their way, now's the time to prepare your business for 1) the strong - but brief - economic bounce back, and 2) the tough times that will undoubtedly follow.
What I think is key is to focus marketing messaging on the value being provided to customers, rather than solely the product or service you're selling. Even during the dark times, some people will buy whatever it is you're selling. Yes, there are fewer of them. Yes, you'll have greater competition for each sale. Which is exactly why - right now - your small business needs to position itself differently and uniquely in the minds of your prospective and existing customers. There's plenty of empirical evidence showing how businesses that invest in marketing efforts before and during a recession, bounce back higher and faster than those that don't.
What does that look like? That depends on your particular business, industry, and customer base. Maybe it's about having a better, more customer-centric website that doesn't just talk about what you sell, but provides regularly-updated, valuable information on topics or concerns that impact customers' lives. Maybe it's allowing customers to pay online where they haven't been able to before. Perhaps it's opening up your business to customers in another town, state, or country. Maybe it's offering free - or even same day - delivery. Maybe it's about strengthening bonds in your local community by providing a valuable service - education, training, entertainment - for free, or at cost.
It's also the perfect time to address all those parts of your business you've neglected over the years because you didn't have the time. It may be time to restructure the entire business - killing unprofitable product lines, implementing a more digital-focused business model or infrastructure. Think of your business as a car that's pushed to its limits day after day, year after year. Over time it gets old, rusty, and inefficient because the engine never gets a chance of a service and tune-up. Right now is the time to fix all those things before you restart.”
Gee Ranasinha runs the French-based small business marketing agency Kexino who’s blog section is an amazing library of information on small business and marketing and how to marry the two in ways that support each other.
“One of the benefits of dealing with a crisis is how it reveals realities that are often hidden during easier times. COVID-19 is no different. When it comes to post-pandemic recovery, the businesses that have lived values around continuous improvement and growth will not just survive but will thrive because they know how to dig deep and adapt to the market changes. And the ones that don’t make it isn’t because this pandemic was too much for their business model. It’s because the pandemic exposed and exacerbated key elements that are required for long-term sustainable growth: remaining true to their core purpose and values and be in a constant state of stimulating progress and responding to change.”
With over 20 years of business consultancy work under her belt, Betsy Jordyn finds businesses their voice to help them stand out from the crowd. Her website provides spectacular resources for small businesses, consultants, and entrepreneurs alike.
Lynne Beverly Strang
As a writer who provides marketing and communications support for business owners, I’m especially interested in how the pandemic affects the way small businesses communicate with their employees, customers, and vendors.
For managers and employees who weren’t used to working remotely, COVID-19 has meant learning to communicate in a whole new way. Thankfully, video conferencing lets us see each other, a comfort during this time of social distancing. Now that they’ve experienced the convenience and time savings associated with video conferencing, I think it’s reasonable to expect small businesses to continue using this type of communication going forward.
Still, video chats may not be enough to stay in touch with everybody on your team. Email, text messaging and other written forms of communication will remain essential for providing updates and sharing information.
Lynne Beverly Strang and her website, Late Blooming Entrepreneurs, provide resources and tools to entrepreneurs who are older and have just entered the market. With a natural talent for writing, Lynne’s advice is easily understandable and actionable.
While the world seems to be changing faster than ever before, there are a lot of opportunities for growth for small business owners. It's a great time to take a step back & assess all the aspects of your business that are (and aren't) working well. Be realistic and ask yourself how you can fine-tune a few of your current offerings to make them more easily accessible for your audience.
Here are a few ways to adapt your business to quarantine life:
1. If you're a brick & mortar business, do you have an online presence? Regardless of the industry you're in, it's essential to have a website that is mobile-friendly and cohesive to your brand.
2. Post regularly on social media. A lot of people are stuck at home all day, which means they have more access to their phones than ever before. It just takes a second to update your followers with a quick message, and it's an effective form of free marketing.
3. Take a few minutes each day to reach out to a few friends or fellow business owners to see how they're doing. It might not add immediate dollars to your bottom line, but sharing kindness & empathy is something we could all use a little more of right now.
Rose, who runs Design by Bitter Sweet, understands branding and helps photographers and other creatives with website design and branding, however, her design principals can be easily applied for any small business looking to level up their marketing and branding.
Covid-19 has been good for some small businesses, but really bad for others, depending on the industry. For those not faring as well, the ones who will likely rebound are the ones who are actively using this time to either pivot for the 'new normal' - like yoga schools that have moved classes online, restaurants who implemented pop-up grocery stores, and marketers who used this time to put together Black Friday plans or new service offerings. The business landscape might be different for up to a year or longer, with people staying home more, not spending as much money, and if the spread of the virus isn't contained, we could even see additional shelter-at-home orders. Like any business that survives with changing times, flexibility and adaptability are key.
We've been fast tracked to see we were working as we were out of habit, and not out of necessity. There are so many correlations between decentralization and higher employee morale, productivity, and efficiency. As top executives are reminded that giving staff autonomy and more control is beneficial for not only people, but for the bottom line, decentralization will become the rule. Covid-19 is forcing that change.
We saw the benefits of decentralization back in the late 90s, but we didn't have the technology to really do it well. Working in start-ups, we also had more of a focus on programs linked to employee happiness and saw measurable results in work satisfaction, accountability, and creativity. Current research shows Americans are sadder than ever, and I think that decentralization, coupled with efforts to help employees manage the new working environment, like mindfulness training and yoga, will allow businesses to not only adapt to the changing landscape but to come out ahead.
If a company does go back to the pre-COVID way of working, they should take into consideration what we've learned from our quarantines, and allow opportunities during the day for employees to focus on reducing stress and clearing their minds to facilitate more presence and focus and make the most out of working hours.
Melanie Downey is an award-winning Brand and PR coach who helps businesses cultivate an image that gets noticed and crafts messaging insights that demand attention. Her self-titled website is a gold mine for knowing how to craft messages and how businesses can put their best foot forward.
A lifetime working in online business has taught me that there's always a way to HELP PEOPLE—as long as you're willing to ditch the traditional way of doing things, and try a unique approach, instead. One that'll lift everybody up. More than ever, you should not be selling yourself. Don't sell. SERVE.
Ash Ambirge is writer, entrepreneur, and public speaker that motivates, elevates, and encourages all those who are looking for something a bit more than just the 9-to-5. Her website, the Middle Finger Project compels us to stand up and do rather than wait for it to happen.
Small businesses are having a fairly mixed time during the pandemic although none are trading normally. Some supplying food are even doing better (like my local butcher).
All businesses will need to change their way of thinking to survive. No longer can they just ‘sell the things they make’. In order to survive, the customer must really come first, not just be given the celebrity service when they step through the doorway.
Think about who is the customer, what will they buy and why, who/what else is competing for their money and how can we better serve them with additional products?
A simple but effective example of this is the humble milkman. Not just milk, but doorstep deliveries of all kinds with a smile (oh and environmentally friendly too). Think about it, a flexible delivery network on a small (local scale). What could you do with it?
Derek Cheshire encourages both large and small business owners to rethink deeply how they are doing things, and by digging deep they themselves can reshape and better themselves personally but their business in the process. His self titled blog is chock full inspirational nuggets, deep thoughts, and other great small business advice.
If you're a small business, how you'll fare during and after the pandemic is really up to you and how you approach any major disruption. You have two choices; you can blame the circumstance and ultimately go out of business, or, you can embrace this as an opportunity to create something AMAZING.
Of course, creating something new is "hard" and that is completely normal. Here are a few tips (that I've been doing with my clients) that will help you stay in business. First, commit to contacting your customers as much as you can. Get into a conversation with them, ask them how they would prefer to receive your product or service. Consider re-structuring your product or service so that you can deliver it either online or in a safe way. Keep your website updated and make it easy for people to make purchases online and meet with you online.
The key to your success is to keep building TRUST! Show customers you care and look for opportunities to serve them better. There's an old saying out there "Some people sell things so they can have customers. You have customers, so you can sell them things.
Ivana Taylor is the brains and brawn behind DIY Marketers, an indispensable blog for marketers and small business owners looking for low-cost solutions to really move the needle.
By now, it should be abundantly clear that we have not quite returned to “normal” yet and some businesses (big and small) are adapting. Most have made the switch to working from home, at least for those that can. The implications of decentralization and businesses becoming increasingly agile have yet to be fully realized. That being said, the longer and deeper society goes into “shelter in place”, the possibility exists for this practice to become more normalized over time.
For businesses that rely on in-person interactions, the challenge is greater, but those businesses that have shifted in unique ways have proven their resilience and fortitude such as restaurants, gyms, and yoga studios. Whether its leveraging remote video apps like Zoom to fulfill services, shifting towards online ordering, or to more physically control spaces by allowing a certain number of people into physical spaces and other safety protocols, each presents an avenue for how to move forward.
While it’s still up for debate how businesses will best explore different avenues of how to remain both safe and operational, what is abundantly clear is that COVID-19 has exposed deeper fault lines that existed within businesses already and only exacerbated them. To remain “in the game”, businesses need to truly serve their customers in ways that do not take them for granted.