David Seidman
by
David Seidman

4 Tips for Small Business After COVID

Guidelines for doing business after the virus recedes

COVID-19’s getting vaccinated away, and we’re going back to business as usual. Or are we?

Think about previous disasters. The jets that crashed into the World Trade Center in 2001 scared businesspeople into requiring bag checks, scannable employee badges, metal detectors, and other security precautions. Those changes are still with us.

The Great Recession of 2008, which hit after banks and brokerages caved in under mortgage-related debt, pushed the government to tighten restrictions on finance. Getting loans and other funding, especially for housing, is still often harder than it was before the recession.

Calamities have consequences. If you’re not careful, you could suffer the fate of Hertz, Brooks Brothers, Century 21, Gold’s Gym, and JCPenney: COVID-related bankruptcy.

But a few smart actions could help you survive and prosper.

1. Lean into e-commerce

A rise in e-commerce is “the one thing that had to happen with COVID,” according to Joe Trimble, Wells Fargo’s small business leader for the southwestern United States. “My mom is a good example. She always went to a store [for shopping], and during COVID my sister and I tried to convince her to try Instacart for safety precautions. And then she got hooked, and now I don’t know if she’ll go back to stores.”

Trimble’s mom is typical of a big trend, according to the Small Business Administration and its “Top Business Trends for 2021”: “While e-commerce was already growing before the pandemic, a report by IBM shows the shift away from physical stores to digital shopping has sped up by roughly five years.” As a result, the agency recommends, “Fine-tune your small business’s e-commerce presence in 2021. Create a seamless e-commerce experience for your customers by making your site mobile-friendly.”

To build or rebuild your e-commerce site for the new era, you might try Wix, which has won praise from the finance-oriented sites Investopedia and Benzinga as a good platform for small business. Other popular and well-regarded e-commerce platforms are Shopify, BigCommerce, and WooCommerce.

If you earn more business from e-commerce, expect to do more shipping and receiving. You may need to beef up your mailroom or hire a service such as Exela’s Digital Mailroom to help you handle the extra load.

2. Let employees keep working remotely

Nearly two-thirds of all employees in America, according to a study by the real-estate company Clutch, have worked from home during the pandemic. The pandemic “has turned out to be the tipping point for remote work, as it is boosting morale, productivity, and savings,” says Saleem Ahmed, Exela’s vice president, business strategy, for small and medium enterprises.

In other words, plenty of employees now working remotely will probably doing it after COVID vanishes. When the cloud communications company Intermedia surveyed small businesses, “57% said they will likely maintain increased remote working options for employees in the long-term.”

This change could mean spending more. “You may need to invest in additional technology and software solutions going forward to ensure that your employees can telework,” the Small Business Administration says.

But the investment will probably pay off, and not only in morale and productivity. For instance, you may need less office space. “Companies are expected to shed as much as 15% of their real estate after work-from-anywhere becomes permanent,” says the business website Fast Company.

3. Expect customers and clients to be cautious

Just as 9/11 left Americans suspicious and alert to signs of potential terrorism, you can expect COVID to leave your customers wary of viruses – especially if new strains of COVID rise up. Reassure them that doing business with you is healthy and safe.

  • Emphasise cleanliness and health in your workplace “Reopening your doors isn’t as simple as turning the key,” says Lorraine Romano, head of business member acquisition and engagement at Affinity Federal Credit Union. “Educate yourself about what’s required by local and federal government regulations.” The Centers for Disease Control has created a resuming business toolkit and guidelines for reopening buildings after shutdown.
  • Install contactless payment. If you’ve already installed it, keep it working. “The pandemic has been the catalyst and motivation for it to become standard,” Exela’s Saleem Ahmed says. “Regulatory bodies such as Security Standards Council are in the process of making contactless payment adopted nationwide.” “Among retailers that have implemented contactless payments,” the Small Business Administration said in December 2020, “94% expect the increase to continue over the next 18 months. Heading into next year, explore touchless payment options for your small business, including online payments with curbside pickup.”
  • Prepare for more online meetings. Giving a hot sales prospect the grand tour of your offices or sweet-talking him over lunch will never go away entirely, but neither will video conferences and other online meetings. “One thing that COVID-19 has ushered in is an era where businesses actually leverage this tech to create a whole new era of location independence in terms of HOW they offer their goods and services,” says the blog of investment firm Hessler Financial. “Healthcare professionals are offering therapy and similar services over technologies like Teladoc and Apple’s FaceTime. You’re also even seeing a digital shift for professional services … holding online consultations.”

4. Revise your business plan

Did I hear you groan? Revising a business plan is no thrill for most of us. But life-changers like COVID may force it on you.

If the economy is like a glass of water – some see it as half full, some as half empty – COVID has been the cat who knocks it off the table. Whatever plans, projections, and schedules you made before COVID probably need updating.

A key part of the process is assessing and evaluating your finances. “The first step to getting back on track is determining the size of your cash flow issue,” says the finance firm Hometap. “Take a look at your financial statements and see just how far you are behind on your year-end goals, as well as where you stand compared to last year. Only when you know the damage can you come up with a solution to move forward.”

How do you come up with the solution? “Rework your budget and establish a realistic timeline for rebuilding,” says Romano at Affinity. “Your immediate need may be funding. Secure capital before you begin (re)hiring employees and restocking inventory, for example. Also, as you take steps toward your small business financial recovery and your situation begins to stabilise, remember to track and evaluate your progress. What’s working? What’s not? Consider setting incremental goals (possibly in six-, twelve-, or eighteen-month timeframes).”

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Carrying out the changes in your business plan and the other recommendations in this article may require special expertise, especially in business technology. If you don’t have that expertise, you may want to contact a company that does. Here at Exela, business tech is what we do. Feel free to contact us here.

 

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