Small-business owners are at war with the coronavirus; not everybody is winning.
The US Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business Coronavirus Impact Poll found that as many as one-in-three small businesses have had to shut temporarily, whilst one-in-five small businesses have had to close permanently.
But despite the doom and gloom, the miserable economic forecast, and your best laid plans going askew, there is still hope. Armed with modern technology, companies from every industry across the globe have started telling their corona-survival stories. The most adaptable, forward-thinking enterprises have even started telling their corona-success stories.
Like them, this seemingly broken year can still be your breakthrough year. All you need is a sprinkle of inspiration, a reservoir of determination, and a battlepack that contains the ammunition to defeat the economic consequences of a global lockdown and to ready your small business for the immediate, somewhat foggy future. My battlepack addresses progressive, immediate, and emergency measures your small business can take to minimise the productive and economic impact of the coronavirus, and contains the technological tools and resources it needs to push to post-pandemic success.
Seek Financial Support
Money always matters; now more than ever. There are all sorts of counseling, loans, and other general assistance at both state and federal level. The Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EDIL) is a financial support package that was recently reinstated by the federal government as a response to the crisis, offering up to $2 million of financial assistance to small-business and non-profits who have suffered substantial economic injury as a result of the pandemic. While most companies may opt for financial support from the federal institutions, you may alternatively apply for the state grants and low-interest loans.
You can find out which emergency financial packages your state is offering, here.
Financial support doesn’t just come in the form of grants loans. Free, expert support services can help lift your small business out of the rut. Your local Small Business Development Center and SCORE offices provide free assistance, including disaster prevention and recovery services. The National Foundation for Credit Counseling can also help you evaluate your situation and provide options for paying back your debt. I can predict that they will all tell you something similar, however. Get your finances organised and in order to give your business the best chance of success.
Automating your financial processes
Manual processing of orders, invoices, and books is messy, slow, exhausting, and undependable. To give your business the best fighting chance, you can implement automatic technology and leave these time-consuming, inefficient, paper-based processes behind. Being slowed down by approval workflows, shoddy inventory management, slow invoice processing, inaccurate reporting, and messy document storage will hamper your recovery.
- SpendMap automated your purchase orders, keeps track of your inventory, and manages suppliers and documents.
- InvoiceBerry helps manage your cash flow, create professional, templated invoices, and calculate your taxes.
- PandaDoc effectuates order processes as an e-signature for documents.
You might believe that this is the worst time possible to invest in new technology for your business, all of the aforementioned systems are free.
Adapt Your Product
It’s necessary to make the changes that your product or service needs, in order to sell it in such a challenging environment. Be innovative. If you have the expertise, pivot your existing product into a better revenue stream or diversify the revenue sources. Brainstorm potential subsidiary products that are easy to develop and quick to manufacture.
With products and services being specific to each country, inspiration is our greatest resource. I’ve put together three examples from small, medium, and large businesses from the hardest-hit industries.
- Emirates is an airline that geared their business towards global recovery by adapting their empty passenger planes into a large cargo network. Within three weeks their recovery had begun, and they were operating over 60 flights to 10 destinations with medical equipment, sanitisers, and medicine.
- Ctrip is a Chinese travel agency that felt the full impact of a global travel ban. They innovated new technology to send their clients on eHolidays, featuring audio tours of over 3,000 popular travel destinations.
- Tony Boloney's Pizza is a restaurant with origins in Atlantic City, USA. The lockdown closed their doors, but the chefs continued working with pizza-making kits and live, online cooking classes. They used their profits to continue paying salaries for their workers and send pizza to frontline healthcare workers.
Invest the extra time you find on your hands by improving what you have to offer for customers. Be ambitious in your ideas and focus on data analytics to tell you what works or not. With automated reporting, you can easily anticipate consumer trends before they happen and make correct decisions driven by data.
Manage Your Customer Relationships
The amazing thing about the coronavirus pandemic is the collective sense that humanity is all in this together. Whilst we all hurt in the same way, we must all collectively wake up and recover together. Your customers might face a churn in their cash flow, staff shortages, and serious anxiety about their future. As a service provider, it is your job to be flexible with their request and win their trust for the future. In a crisis, it’s easy to go into short-term survival mode, and it’s easy to do things like cancel user subscriptions when they don’t pay on time.
But in a crisis, good business is continuing to think long term. Understand customers better and empathise with them; create personalised communications based on their individual circumstances. Use self-service portals to personalise your approach on a large scale. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software helps enterprises to find and develop new prospects, as well as automating processes to help them look after existing ones.
CRM software helps businesses to cut missed opportunities out of their pipeline. You can connect CRM to website forms and cultivate user-input data straight into a ready-made dashboard, automate lead enrichment and nurturing, tag customers and segment them based on their situation, personalise outreach with templated bulk emails, visualise contact data at all times to accurately address customer queries, and use real-time sales data to make decisions. There’s heaps of options on the market, so I’ve put together some that are most useful for small business.
- NetHunt CRM is a simple, but powerful Gmail CRM system. We provide a special, discounted plan for early-stage startups.
- Salesforce offers special packages for frontline healthcare workers, Bridge Connector, a pre-configured employee help centre.
- HubSpot has a free plan available with limited featurability.
I hear you screaming that this isn’t the time to invest in expensive CRM technology. But, this is exactly that -- an investment. Research by Nucleus has shown that for each $1 spent on CRM technology, an extremely attractive $8.71 return is generated. Worth it.
Manage Your Employees
Your employees are your army in this fight; the life, soul, and beating heart of your business. For their fear, anxiety, and sensitivities, they deserve transparency, respect, and empathy. Your future is their future, so they should be kept informed of any plans your small business makes. Above all, this is the time to implement a work-from-home program if your business doesn’t have one already. Clear lines of communication need to be established to bridge gaps between out-of-office employees. Messaging, conferencing, virtual collaboration, and file-sharing platforms will keep colleagues close, productive, and organised.
- Trello is a free productivity platform that helps track tasks, progress, and goals.
- Dropbox is a platform for storing and sharing files; free up to 2GB.
- Slack is a communication tool that offers a free plan for teams working on COVID-19 research, response, and mitigation.
- Loom is a free video recording and sharing service.
The coronavirus hasn’t just changed your business, it’s changed the world. Luckily, we can utilise technology to not just soften the impact, but to adapt and shape our small business around it. Your priorities should be finance, adaptation, and management. The first battle might be over; but the war has only just begun.