8 Takeaways for Small Business Owners from the COVID-19 Outbreak

Takeaways for Small Business Owners from the COVID-19

Is your organization preparing to shift into the next phase of pivoting on the opportunities a “new normal” may present after COVID-19?

The challenges to small business and the economy due to COVID-19 are undeniable, yet, as several states enter this next phase of re-opening, there are some hopeful signs.

Although it may be challenging to see a silver lining, there will no doubt be innovative, and newly discovered ways to bounce back from this event. And for many, exceed expectations.

The COVID-19 outbreak itself can even provide a few takeaways to help boost resilience and future-proof your business as we move forward.

Here are a few:

1. Business Continuity Planning is Your Blueprint During a Crisis

Many business owners plan for brief emergencies due to weather or other local events. Yet, few small companies considered the possibility of a government-mandated shut down for weeks or months. Take this time to review your business continuity and disaster recovery plans:

  • Look at response times and communication gaps.
  • Consider which functions were affected during the shutdown.
  • Survey affected staff and clients. Ask questions to gain insights.
  • Identify third parties who can help with staffing, supply chain, or customer support.

Once you complete a review, then reassess your strategy and brainstorm ways to mitigate risks. Use the COVID-19 event to strengthen your response and prepare for future disruption.

2. A Seamless Transition to Remote Work Supports Continuity

Was your business able to shift to remote work quickly? A total digital transformation takes time. The COVID-19 outbreak forced companies to choose between closing or moving to a work from home model. With an uncertain future, it’s critical to evaluate and refine your remote work strategy.

Talk to staff, stakeholders, and department leaders to gauge your current situation. Explore what’s working and who needs extra help. If you’ve used a piecemeal solution to get through this event, then it’s time to set clear goals and create a strategy to efficiently shift to a Work from Home environment if the need arises in the future.

Small business owners and staff need to be able to:

  • Shift to remote work quickly.
  • Communicate effectively with customers and employees from remote locations and mobile devices.
  • Access essential data and processes via the cloud.
  • Continue to support clients without a lapse in service.
  • Reduce employee isolation and increase engagement.

Apply solutions that support your remote work strategy, like unified communications. Invest in training and tools for video conferencing, real-time chat technology, and cloud-based back-up storage. Plus, review integrations with your existing project and customer management software.

3.  Cloud-based Collaboration

A culture of teamwork and collaboration is key in almost all successful organizations. Whether your employees are working in multiple business locations or remotely, providing them with the right tools to remain connected and productive is essential. Fortunately, cloud-based, remote collaboration tools are more widely available than ever before, providing an unprecedented ability to connect and interact virtually, either by necessity or design.

One of the significant takeaways from COVID-19 is to establish a remote work strategy that is streamlined and cohesive, not a patchwork or collection of tools and processes your employees aren’t accustomed to using. Familiarity is important. Training on a new platform or set of tools can take time and impact productivity even further.

While there are several platforms to choose from, one of the most widely adopted during the COVID-19 outbreak has been Microsoft Teams with Office 365. It’s familiarity, adaptability to both home and office use, and variety of collaborative tools, including groups, chats, audio and video meeting capabilities, shared documents, and more, has set it apart.

Explore collaboration tools that meet the needs of your business and ensure your employees have experience in using them in a variety of work scenarios. [will add link to new Office 365 landing content]

4. Fast Access to Financial and Business Documents Matters

Are the documents you need to apply for loans and grants updated and available? As we’ve seen with the current loan and grant programs, speed is vital. Business owners who promptly pulled together required documents and submitted complete information had a better chance of getting their application approved.

Many small business owners may not have a full-time accountant, lawyer, or payroll provider on their bankroll. While requirements differ by lender, standard documents for government programs don’t vary much. Place all of the materials in a secure cloud environment to ensure you have access when needed, from any location.

Create a numbered checklist of documents.

  • Label forms by a number.
  • Keep a list of documents in physical storage and the cloud.
  • Include instructions about where and how to find updated information.

5. Telehealth Benefits Improve the Employee Experience

Do you offer telehealth to your employees? Business owners don’t want folks coming to work if they’re sick. But, staff and owners can’t afford to take off and isolate for 14-days after every sniffle. Yet, getting an on-site appointment is more difficult during a public health emergency.

Consider your virtual care options and weigh the costs against long-term savings. Access to remote healthcare improves employee’s lives and may lead to more efficient workplaces. By offering telehealth solutions, you address an immediate need and prioritize staff health. This goodwill translates into higher employee retention and morale.

6. Staff Engagement and Development Programs Engage and Retain Workers

Are you surprising and delighting your employees while they work remotely? Staying connected is possible, and small business owners should look for ways to interact with staff. Increased engagement leads to more productive workers while opening the lines of communication.

A small reward, or recognition that we’re all in this together, goes a long way. Consider a specialty food or coffee basket. Or give out gift cards for lunch after your weekly virtual meeting ends. And make sure that top leaders interact with each staff member regularly. This top-down approach supports an open and compassionate business culture.

Plus, don’t forget that people are looking for guidance in navigating new workflows or upgrading their skills. During the pandemic, many places offer free webinars, courses, or virtual events to further professional development. Curate a list of resources for your staff. Offer these courses as part of your professional development and retention program.

7. Pivoting to New Products or Services Means Staying Open

Perhaps the most significant takeaway during COVID-19 is the importance of flexibility. Companies that moved fast were better equipped to adapt to the changing environment. Going forward, it’s vital to consider ways to future-proof your business. For instance, hair salons and distilleries, like Tamworth Distilling in New Hampshire, now produce and sell hand sanitizer. Other business owners and manufacturing facilities, like Ortho Mattress in Phoenix, Arizona, shifted to making face masks.

Restaurants moved to curbside pickup and delivery to avoid a total shutdown. Eateries with delivery systems and technologies in place, like online ordering, were able to move quicker and recapture some revenue. Other restaurants created a marketplace to sell fresh vegetables and meats while following social distancing rules.

Fitness studios and dance centers went digital, offering everything from yoga to Zumba, online. Even plumbers added new services, like sanitizing features, to their list of services.

Adding extra revenue streams during a crisis is tough. Use your time now to look for ways your company can adapt to changing customer needs and expectations. Build these ideas into your business continuity and remote work plans.

8. Optimized Budgets Deliver Peace of Mind

Small business budgets are always tight, and an emergency leads to hard decisions. However, this allows you to see the actual value of your tech stack, marketing flow, and overhead. It’s not about slashing everything. Instead, it’s time to make strategic decisions that ensure you’re operating as efficiently and effectively as possible. Key considerations include:

  • Discover extra savings in telehealth options like cost savings from keeping healthcare claims down and reduced employee absenteeism.
  • Review changes to tax laws for net operating loss (NOL) provisions, payroll credits, and business expense deductions.
  • Consider diverting funds from your events and out-of-home advertising budgets toward high ROI digital marketing efforts.

While not all companies are well-suited for permanent remote work, certain aspects may lower your expenses. Look for ways to save money, create extra revenue streams, and integrate systems.

Stay Resilient, Flexible, and in Business

Weathering any storm is tough on small business owners. Those who take steps to improve operations reduce risks from future emergencies. The COVID-19 outbreak proves that flexibility, cloud migration, and communication strategies boost your chances of keeping the doors open when the crisis passes. By adapting to the changing environment and supporting staff, you’re building a stronger and tighter business.