Taking advantage of opportunities created by the pandemic
The coronavirus pandemic has proven devastating for small business owners everywhere. Bustling shops have been shuttered, orders canceled, events postponed—it seems that everywhere you turn, there is another story about the economic devastation being wrought by the pandemic. Thankfully, all hope is not lost. There are business opportunities out there for entrepreneurs or existing businesses who are willing to take calculated risks, adjust their operations and adapt to the new normal that will emerge when the quarantine is over. With some initiative, imagination, and planning, this can be an ideal time to expand operations, serve existing customers in a different way and pursue new business opportunities.
Consider expanding your existing business
Some business opportunities have come up organically, as a natural extension of the current state of global affairs. For example, commercial cleaning and sanitization services have reported substantial increases in demand. The same is true for businesses that provide delivery services; many have expanded their existing operations to a larger geographical area or have begun offering recurring, regularly-scheduled deliveries of staple goods. If you operate a business like this right now and you’re offering services that are currently in high demand, it’s a great time to consider either expanding the services you offer, hiring more employees to take on more work or both.
Rethink your relationship with your customers
Many established, successful businesses are facing hard times because their customers either can’t come into their business due to quarantine restrictions, or are afraid to do so out of concern for their health. This state of affairs presents a golden opportunity to reimagine your relationship with your customers and establish new revenue streams or operating procedures to expand your business’s footprint. Many businesses which, only months ago, wouldn’t have dreamed of offering curbside pickup now routinely advertise “contactless” payment and shopping options. There is no reason that these services should be discontinued once quarantine orders are lifted. As customers have become accustomed to and appreciative of the convenience that comes with making a purchase from their phones and having it brought straight to their cars, there is no better time to plan to make these services permanent.
Now is also a good time to reexamine what services your business offers to customers. One obvious industry where this has already become reality is the restaurant industry. Many restaurants which have instituted “limited menu” options for easy carry-out have found that most customers simply don’t miss some items which the business used to offer. Streamlining operations—even if it means removing some less-popular items from the menu—can help to reduce overhead, simplify back-office support work necessary to manage the business, and create more capacity to increase traffic and/or volume for the most profitable aspects of the business.
It may also be a good time to expand your operations to serve new clientele. Some commercial wholesalers faced with excess inventory, such as food suppliers, have begun offering direct consumer sales and found the new revenue streams so attractive that they intend to make them permanent. Other businesses, such as coffee shops, have begun experimenting with direct-to-consumer delivery of items, like coffee beans, which they previously only stocked in-store.
Whatever your business needs and obligations, take advantage of this time to experiment with new operational models like restricted hours, takeout or curbside service, free delivery, limited menus, “bespoke” services where customer requests are made-to-order and so on. Most customers will appreciate the flexibility and the convenience, and they’re also likely more willing than normal to be flexible as businesses try out new methods of operation. Pay attention to what customers are most interested in, and you can emerge from the quarantine better-prepared to deliver the precise services your clients want—while reigning in spending at the same time.
Plan for the future
It’s safe to say that most people didn’t wake up in early March and believe that our world would change so drastically, so quickly. That’s why it’s important to take this opportunity to make sure you have a plan in place for your business and its finances. Consider the following:
- Develop a savings plan to make sure your business has liquidity in the event of a resurgence of COVID-19 (or related disaster) that requires more limitations on business operation.
- Try out new products to get an idea of what novel offerings you can provide to customers.
- Finish that project that you’ve been putting off for a while. This can be anything from overhauling your website, to physical remodeling or renovation, to expanding your available services. You likely have the downtime now, so use it constructively.
Reexamine your relationship with your employees
Consider changing your expectations of your employees. The quarantine has proven that many people can work effectively from home. If your small business runs in an office, you can free up both capital and space by having fewer employees in an office setting every day. This can open up lots of opportunities. Money that doesn’t need to be spent on office space can be used to upgrade technology or roll out a new product—or even put back in savings. Employers permitting greater flexibility may find that their employees are more productive when they’re on the clock, in part because they wish to retain the privilege of remote working. All of these considerations bear discussion with everyone in your business. With planning and patience, you can emerge from quarantine with streamlined operations and new business opportunities.
Nothing can eliminate all the uncertainty that the future will bring, but with a concerted effort to provide great service and to meet your customers more than halfway, you will be better positioned to ride out this storm and find success once again.
For more information and helpful tips, visit our COVID-19 resources page.
About the AuthorMore Content by Tom Quinn