The pandemic may not yet be behind us, but everyone from small businesses to international organizations have had to quickly adjust to the disruption and the way business is now done.
Amid the chaos and uncertainty, our priority is of course the health and well-being of our families, our employees and ourselves. Beyond that, we all need to continue to think about the health of our economy. In Manitoba, that means taking core of small business.
Most of us play a dual role here. We are all consumers and our spending habits have a direct effect on small business. Secondly, those people who also earn their livelihood in the small business sector need to look for ways to adapt to this new reality, rethink how they engage with consumers, suppliers, lenders and government.
From a consumer’s perspective the response is simple. When you spend your money, keep it local. We used to think of eating out as enjoyment or convenience. Lately, it has increasingly been seen as opportunity to create some economic flow. Many restaurants were able to eke out revenue through take-out and delivery services, but not all businesses had such an obvious and already established lifeline available.
How do you support the local coffee shop, or the corner grocery store? From a small business perspective, the ability to adapt, innovate and be creative has never been more critical. Once thriving businesses are now facing significant economic hardships. They have been told to shut down at least once and implement costly safety measures on top of managing reduced revenues. How do they manage the mountain of costs? How do they pay their suppliers? How do they pay the rent? How do they make their payroll? As of mid-February, at least 37 businesses have closed for good in Winnipeg’s downtown according to Downtown Winnipeg Biz.
The advice for small business owners is to write down your priorities. It will help you organize the chaos. What is your number one priority? Safety has to be at the top of your list. Running a small business is stressful at any time and COVID- 19 has amplified it.
Many people are still working from home, so on online presence is more important for your business than it’s ever been . If you don’t have one, this is the time to build it. Explore the use of digital tools to serve your customers.
Government support programs continue to be available and, in many cases, under used. The programs themselves may not be as simple as they should be, but they remain an important financial lifeline for many small business owners. If you haven’t already, you should find out what is available and how to access them. There are many webinars, articles and resources scattered across the internet and with your local chamber of commerce.
Beyond those immediate needs there are longer term considerations to make. Has your business strategy permanently changed? Survival has meant that many companies made cuts in order to run a more focused business. Scenario planning can be a useful tool for small business owners to sort through the uncertainty they are facing. What are some possible future scenarios that will impact the business in this new operating environment? This is a challenging question for some businesses, especially those whose strategy may not have changed much over the years but faced rapid evolution during the COVID- 19 pandemic.
As we begin to enter the post pandemic phase, businesses will shift from simply trying to survive mindset. Have the necessary changes to your business set you up to succeed in this way? Or does a strategy need to be developed to transition back to a more positive outlook. For example, businesses that restructured in response to the realities of COVID-19 may find that their current makeup is more efficient in the long term. This may be especially true if the business itself has evolved or a permanent business strategy has occurred. Others may realize that the changes they were forced to rapidly make to survive no longer make as much sense as they did. Knowing how and when to transition will be key. Especially considering many businesses that face this decision are not likely to be in the most advantageous position after weathering the economic fallout of the pandemic for so long.
Ultimately, this next phase will be a time for innovation and business agility. If we think of all we had to go through during the pandemic, the amount of work, mental fortitude and business ingenuity we will need as we come out of it is just as daunting . The reality is there will be for less of a spotlight on that work and likely fewer resources made available to business owners once restrictions begin to lift for good. For most, a careful approach is probably the most logical although the temptation will be there to declare a much-deserved victory and ramp back up as quickly as possible.
Although much has changed, at least we can be assured that best practices and good business principals often endure. While there may be again uncertainty in this next phase, we can be comforted in the fact that we’ve been through worse before and come out the other side.