How Has Covid Changed the Small Business Landscape? was written for Playlouder by Cristina Par. Please note that contributing opinions are that of the author. They are not always in strict alignment with my own opinions. –Joe.
There’s no question that the pandemic brought about seismic changes across society, and that the true ramifications of this crisis will take generations to appreciate and unpick.
That said, we are already at a point where it’s possible to review the state of play for businesses and determine how things are different for them today than they were prior to 2020.
So where do small businesses fit into this picture, and what new challenges and opportunities are out there because of COVID-19’s emergence?
Digital marketing is more important than ever
Prior to the pandemic, there was the sense that smaller firms could afford to stick with traditional marketing tactics to a greater degree than their larger counterparts.
However, in a post-covid world, this is no longer the case. Today, digital marketing monopolizes more of the total promotional budget than ever before, and social media in particular is seen as the most impactful and influential platform for building a brand and connecting with customers.
Even for organizations that only operate within a small geographic area, digital marketing is crucial. People who’ve been through quarantines and lockdowns spend more time staring at their phones, especially if they’re aged 35 or under. This means that they aren’t as likely to catch TV ads, see billboards or encounter marketing in print media.
Regardless of the industry you occupy or the niche you cater to, digital marketing has to be a priority. The return to relative normality now that the worst of the pandemic appears to be over has done little to alter this trend.
Remote working and flexibility must be used to attract and retain employees
When COVID-19 infections were at their peak and before vaccines had been developed, working remotely was the reality for billions worldwide.
Now that team members have got a taste for it, there’s no way for businesses to put this particular genie back in the bottle. And so to get new hires onboard, and keep current employees happy, offering remote working is something small businesses have to do.
Luckily it’s possible for remote workers to remain effective and productive. In fact, for many people it can actually improve their productivity and job satisfaction levels as well, especially when combined with flexible scheduling.
So the traditional office experience has started to be dismantled, and it’s understandable to see this as scary and even a backwards step. But for companies of all sizes, the clock cannot be rolled backwards, and so it’s necessary to adapt.
The government has stepped in to keep small businesses afloat in various ways, e.g ERTC
Another unprecedented aspect of COVID-19 is that it saw politicians step up and extend vast amounts of financial support to companies across the spectrum, from startups to multinationals.
This included the employee retention tax credit (ERTC), which encouraged businesses to keep workers on their books rather than letting them go when the pandemic was peaking in 2020.
You can still file your ERTC claim today and retroactively reap the benefits of this scheme, even if you didn’t do so at the time.
Of course plenty of small businesses were already willing and able to make use of government grants and other forms of support before the pandemic. But now many more will have experienced this, and will have a greater awareness of similar schemes as and when they’re rolled out in future.
Diverse funding options are more appealing in a less stable era
Government support can only go so far, and another thing that small businesses have been forced to get to grips with is the myriad other ways to fund their growth which are available right now.
Traditional business loans were made less attractive because the prospects of actually being able to repay them, at least in the short term, were dampened by COVID-related loss of revenue.
On the other hand, things like peer-to-peer lending and crowd-sourced funding looked a lot more viable when companies had to think outside the box in order to survive.
This was arguably one of the perks of the disruption caused by coronavirus. Companies which had previously been content to tread water and stick to the old school ways of doing things suddenly had to think on their feet and adapt, or fail to act and fall by the wayside.
Automation is central to accelerating growth and sustaining momentum
The technological leaps necessitated by the pandemic continue apace for small businesses, with automation rising to prominence as the solution to a number of core conundrums facing up and coming companies.
When resources were stretched thin, being able to automate processes as varied as payroll management and customer support was a lifeline that many firms grabbed a hold of.
Artificial intelligence (AI) and big data tools are not just the preserve of giant corporations, but can be exploited in certain ways by small businesses as well. And if you can automate, that means you don’t need to worry about giving team members tedious tasks, instead allowing them to get on with other responsibilities that are more stimulating and satisfying. So it’s a win for employee retention, as well.
Customers are also better served when automation is at play. Rather than waiting for emails to be answered, or putting up with a user experience which is not personalized to their needs, modern users can expect their every whim to be catered to by small businesses, because AI solutions are on hand to help out.
Planning for continuity and recovery in a crisis will be expected at all levels
The final shift for small businesses that’s worth discussing is how the pandemic has reframed the kinds of dilemmas that organizations will be expected to have encompassed in their disaster planning.
We now know that in the event of the outbreak of an infectious, often deadly disease it is possible for significant disruption to take place at all levels, and it’s not possible for companies to ignore the repercussions that they’ll face in this scenario.
Things like policies on remote working and flexible scheduling will be part and parcel of this brave new approach to ensuring that continuity is achievable.
There is also a much greater awareness surrounding how employee health factors into business productivity and profitability. This isn’t just about physical health, but also mental health, since this was one of the side effects of the COVID-19 crisis; the unmasking of major flaws in how psychological issues are handled in the workplace, and more widely in society.
The resilience of business IT resources is also under greater scrutiny. Infrastructures need to be stress tested to ensure they’re up to scratch when faced with extraordinary workloads, or else they won’t be an investment that makes sense.
The bottom line
Small businesses looking out over the market at the moment will be very different from those that did in the pre-pandemic epoch.
Established organizations have needed to adapt, and new enterprises are striking out into a brave new world where the old ways are melting away into history.
An approach which puts employee and customer satisfaction over profits seems best suited to this, and it’s also worth remembering that we are still a long way from the threat of COVID-19 disappearing completely, so more disruption may be on the horizon.