Due to the coronavirus pandemic, millions of small business owners across the U.S. are either unable to operate as normal or dealing with diminished demand. In some cities and states where lockdown orders remain in place, it’s unclear when things will return to business as usual.
There are few upsides to this situation. Many businesses are suffering, and small businesses—many of which were operating without much of a financial safety net before the pandemic—have little recourse but to apply for government-backed financing and hope for the best.
One potential silver lining does exist. Collectively, businesses have been moving into a digital-first future for years. Ecommerce has skyrocketed, direct-to-consumer brands have flourished, and digital marketing tactics like social media and email engagement often lead the way for building buzz and capturing leads. If any company has been slow to embrace the power of technology to grow and sustain their business, the pandemic will change that.
In these socially distant times, businesses that leverage digital tools and practices and pivot their operations to better capitalize on new opportunities faster will improve their chances of short- and long-term success.
Although every business and business model is different, there are a few upgrades that nearly every venture can take advantage of, right away:
Create or Build out Your Digital Footprint
How robust was your online presence before the pandemic? Did you have a well-designed, mobile-responsive website? Did you have an ecommerce arm where you could sell your wares 24 hours a day? Was your business information up-to-date and available on Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Google?
If the answers to these questions is no, now is the time to start creating or building out your presence online. The more platforms and websites your business is featured on, the more opportunities you’ll have to connect with prospective customers, as well as loyal customers who are currently wondering whether you are open, what your new business model looks like, and so on.
Google for Small Business recommends updating your Google business profile with information like new hours, accurate contact information, posts on the current status of your business, and attributes like whether you offer delivery.
Set up Your Ecommerce Arm
Businesses that were already selling online and did not turn off their marketing spend at the beginning of the pandemic are reportedly seeing stronger-then-expected results. That may be because while general spending is down, some consumers are spending less on things like travel, eating out, and childcare, freeing them up to spend more on non-essential items like clothing or meal prep kits.
Some industries simply won’t be able to pivot in this way. Travel companies, for example, will be hard-pressed to turn booking your dream vacation into any other salable product.
But if you have yet to open an online store for your business, now is the time. This can look different for many types of businesses. For retailers, it might mean opening a shop through an ecommerce platform like Shopify or Volusion. For cafes, it might mean creating a way to let customers order online, then collect their drinks at the storefront or via curbside pickup minutes later.
Move to Contactless Payments
At some point, you may decide to re-open your brick-and-mortar location to customers while following guidelines on maintaining a clean and socially distant environment. That doesn’t mean you should return to business as it was before the pandemic.
In particular, upgrading your point of sale system so you can accept cashless payments such as credit cards or, even better, mobile wallets will reduce your need to handle cash or break distancing guidelines. Quality POS systems also come with loyalty programs, email marketing capabilities, the ability to sync with your ecommerce arm in order to keep your inventory up-to-date, and more.
Upgrade Your Online Banking and Accounting
When the Paycheck Protection Program was created and rolled out to small businesses affected by the pandemic, we here at Fundera saw many business owners struggle to produce clear payroll and business banking documentation. Because PPP loan amounts were predicated on having a clear look into the businesses finances, this often resulted in delays in approvals and some businesses receiving less than they could have in funding.
If you haven’t upgraded your financial tools to digital solutions—to automatically track and perform accounting tasks, keep a handle on your business’s finances, and easily create and share key documents like payroll reports—now is the time. There are many free and low-cost digital banking and accounting tools that you can sign up for and start trialing today.
Normalize Using Online Communication Platforms
Your team may be working remotely, or you may have employees working on staggered schedules in order to reduce in-person interactions, for the first time. At this point you’re probably familiar with, or have at least heard of, tools like Zoom, Slack, and Google Docs.
The end of the pandemic, whenever that may be, doesn’t have to herald the end of using these communication and collaboration platforms. You may find that working remotely actually works best for your team. You may find that frequent Zoom check-ins with people at other locations—out in the field, or during business trips—improves morale and provides greater transparency into progress.
That being said, now is the perfect time to test drive using these platforms to work out bugs and normalize the practice. We may all soon be using video meeting services, or collaborating in the same Google Docs, more than we ever thought previously.
The Bottom Line
As a country, we still have a long way to go to regain a sense of normalcy. In some ways, we may never return to the days before the novel coronavirus. But when it comes to shifting our businesses to be more digitally savvy, contactless, responsive, and flexible, that may not be a bad thing.
For businesses looking not just to keep their heads above water but think long-term about what their business will look like, following some of the steps above may help them take some long-delayed steps into what we used to call “the future of business.” That future, like it or not, has arrived.