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Coronavirus: Five key steps small business owners may want to consider

Find out how coronavirus is impacting businesses, and learn how you can leverage your strengths to survive and even thrive during the crisis.
Coronavirus: Five key steps small business owners may want to consider

For small business owners, coronavirus has brought about plenty of challenges. It has given meaning back to the word ‘unprecedented’ and may have threatened your business’ bottom line, supply chain or customer base. What’s more, it may have significantly altered the lifestyles of your staff.

Some of the qualities needed by a business owner to deal with these challenges include resolve, dedication and the ability to think ahead. You also need to know your business inside out- and we mean really know your business, so that you’re able to capitalise on your strengths and adapt to changing market conditions.

Let’s take a look at some of the core ways in which businesses have been impacted by coronavirus, before identifying potential solutions to these problems.

How has coronavirus impacted businesses?


The most obvious change brought about by coronavirus is a change in consumer needs. People are spending their money on different products – with Stackline revealing a 652% increase in Bread Machine sales and huge gains for packaged foods, fitness equipment and technology as everyone embraces the shift to working from home. While these stats are based on American shopping habits, it’s likely the UK is following similar trends.

Similarly, other categories have lost out from the pandemic- with cameras and travel gear seeing fewer sales. Clearly, businesses of different sizes and product categories are seeing significant impacts upon their working cash flow. This makes it essential to assess and understand how market changes are impacting your business.

Employers and employees alike both face uncertainty over whether their ability to work, livelihoods and job security will suffer as a result of the fast-moving climate. Also, you may be struggling with a shortage of staff due to illnesses caused by the virus itself, so action may be required to reassure and protect your team.

How can I change my operations to help survive and thrive during the coronavirus outbreak?


Now that we have identified some of the key impacts the virus is having on businesses, let’s dive into some practical tips you could follow to help protect your business and find opportunities during this uncertain period.

1. Connect with your customers


In times of great uncertainty a thoughtful and helpful message can go a long way. Now, more than ever, is a great time for you to connect with your customer base and tell them not only how your products and services are affected by the coronavirus, but how you’re taking steps to protect your team. Even more importantly, you could take the opportunity thank them for their continued support throughout this difficult time. So, how might you go about communicating these messages?

Send personalised emails


Hopefully your customer research activity has included you building up a list of email addresses from engaged current and potential customers. If this is the case, you could look to send out an email to all of these recipients, in which you:

  • Explain how coronavirus has affected your business.
  • Share any relevant information they might need to know about your operations – for example, have you started selling more products online?
  • Mention how you’re taking care of your team, how you’ve adapted your services to meet customer needs, whether you’re making any discounts available to help customers (such as NHS staff) - and wish your customers well.

Even if your sales are struggling a little, it could do you more harm than good to make this a ‘salesy’ email. Instead, you may want to use it as an opportunity to show your customers that you’re a business that’s worth supporting by sending some good wishes and positive, inspiring messages.

Use social media


New research indicates that globally, 45% of consumers are now spending more time on social media following the outbreak. That’s a huge amount. If you haven’t been posting regularly, perhaps it’s a good time to use your social media platforms to connect with your customers.

You don’t have to discuss coronavirus. You could simply engage with your customers by asking them how they’re doing, running a few polls and maybe even the odd giveaway. Share content you’ve created for your website such as a news update, and see how your audience are using social media through built-in analytics tools.

If you’re wondering how often you should be posting, there’s a middle ground to be found between too much and little. Kantar revealed that ‘going dark’ during a recession isn’t a great idea from a paid ads perspective, and this could be true of your organic (unpaid) social media posts, too. After all, your customers may want to know whether you’re still open for business during the current crisis.

Similarly, customers are also being overloaded with information related to the pandemic and may boycott brands who share too many communications during this period. So, be tactful where possible and try to maintain a stable posting schedule. Media usage has increased across all platforms, so you could choose any of them as a starting point and work on a strategy from there.

Get in touch with your customers


Picking up the phone and reaching out to your most loyal customers could be a great option during this unusual period, especially for smaller businesses. Brands who connect with their customers in a personal way in times of uncertainty may benefit from this when things return to normal.

Showing empathy for your customer’s wellbeing and asking them how the pandemic is affecting them may reveal some insights that allow you to tailor your business to better meet their needs. Further down the line, this could also have a positive effect on your brand; seeing you develop a more loyal customer base and build a good reputation.

Over the months and years to come, people will remember which brands connected with them and supported them through difficult times- so it may be worth putting in some effort now to give you a head start when coronavirus subsides.

2. Set short-term goals


Ensuring your business survives the challenges brought about by coronavirus will be an absolute priority for small businesses. Beyond that, you could look to grow and expand while doing your best to support others.

It may be worth regularly checking in on how your business is performing; are you bringing in a consistent volume of sales? Are you noticing any dips or trends in website usage? With this information, you could look to achieve the following short-term goals.

Protect your cash flow


In all likelihood, the first step you took once lockdown begun was to create a short-term cash flow forecast. This may be an obvious step but it is a vital one, as seeing that your business is likely to have its costs covered for the foreseeable future means that you could guarantee your employee’s job security, maintain your supplier relationships, and, in the worst-case scenario, at least continue business as normal.

Adapt your business model


If your business looks like it might not be able to sustain a positive cash flow, you may want to explore the range of support options available to you (covered in tip 4. below); assessing whether you need to make any short-term changes to your business model.

Perhaps there’s opportunity to pivot in small ways and adapt to changing conditions? For example, a small pharmaceutical business may look to add hand sanitiser to their product range or at their counters; protecting their business while also doing a good public service.

You could also consider changing the way you run your team meetings. The LION meeting format (Last week, Issues, Opportunities, Next week), for example, guides your team through a meeting in a way that pays close attention to the fast-changing environment in which you’re operating. This method could help you respond quickly to sudden changes in market.

If you have made these considerations and feel like you’re on top of short-term planning, you could look to think up some bigger-picture strategies to help your business and/or your wider community. Great examples of this include vacuum manufacturers, Dyson and G-Tech, creating ventilators to support the NHS, and Salcombe Gin creating and distilling their own hand sanitiser.

3. Update or create a business continuity plan


A business continuity plan simply outlines the key parts of your business that make it operate as intended. This could include key team members, processes, suppliers, distribution networks and communication channels that make your business profitable.

Knowing your business inside-out is essential during this crisis, as you may realise that you need to pull back on some services and expenditure, while really honing in on the elements of your business that make it a success. Because of this, a continuity plan could be a great thought-exercise which could help you identify some aspects of your business that may require closer attention.

What’s more, a risk assessment created as part of your continuity plan could make you more able to respond to sudden changes in an effective and considered way. That said, sometimes no amount of planning and foresight can guarantee the safety of your business- sometimes external help is needed.

4. Find out what support is available to you


There are a wealth of resources available online to help support you and your small business through this pandemic. The government website alone contains plenty of free guides which explain how to help your employees cope with changes to their usual working practices, how to gain control of your finances, and how to get help if it’s needed.

That said, small business support goes beyond financial and technical considerations. It’s essential that you look after your team’s mental health during this crisis. Working from home is a huge lifestyle change for many, and feelings of isolation or loneliness could affect your team’s mental health - so lend a hand to them and talk to them regularly. We’ve covered some of these topics on our blog recently so make sure to check them out for advice.

5. Repurpose your quieter hours


This is an incredibly important tip. If you’ve found yourself with more free time due to having less customers or clients, you can look to repurpose that time wisely and use it to invest in improving your business.

Consider updating your marketing, checking what communications you’ve put out into the marketplace and performing some business-admin tasks that help you run more smoothly.

Train and re-train your team


The chances are that your team members are highly talented and capable of far more than just their exact job descriptions. Use the downtime created by the coronavirus outbreak as an opportunity to explore what additional talents your team members have.

For example, perhaps your secretary is a skilled communicator who could support with writing your sensitive blog posts about coronavirus. Or, it could be that one of your technical workers has a killer idea for a business opportunity that could help you capitalise on your strengths and find success.

Now is a great time to explore this possibility and, at minimum, re-train your team during downtime so that they’re both feeling a sense of progression and that they’re making a positive impact within the company.

How could Esme help?

These are difficult times for many businesses, so it’s important now more than ever, to take good care of yourself and your team. If you’re concerned about your business being impacted financially due to coronavirus, visit our website for information about how we may be able to support you.