Since early 2020, Canadian small businesses have had to think on their feet to survive during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many enterprises operate without a website or the ability to take online payments, leaving them unprepared for the rapid economic shift left by the pandemic’s wake. And while many industries—restaurants, mechanics, construction companies, boutiques, and barbershops—have figured out a game plan, business owners should prepare for a post-COVID world.
Businesses could emerge from the pandemic stronger with the right planning. The best way for owners to prepare for the post-pandemic world is to overhaul their business model to accommodate agility—they must reposition themselves as more digital, more virtual, more flexible, and more mobile than ever before.
Here are five ways to prepare your business for a post-pandemic world:
For your Canadian businesses to stay relevant, you need to think through how you are blending the online and physical worlds to increase sales through additional channels. According to a recent McKinsey survey, 15% of US consumers have turned to e-commerce for staple purchases like groceries. While some will return to in-store purchasing, for many going to the grocery store will become a thing of the past.
A boutique that introduces e-commerce, a nail salon that develops a strong online presence, or the corner restaurant that launches a strong delivery service will likely benefit from a consumer base that continues to eat, shop, and choose service providers from home. Allowing customers to access products, services, and your brand online can help your business attract a broader audience while giving them a convenient experience. Adding digital solutions to your company’s toolbox isn’t a bad idea either—they can help you manage or improve your business.
Let’s face it, there is a significant worldwide gap between what traditional banks are prepared to lend and the working capital needs of small and medium-sized businesses—a $5 trillion funding gap according to the SME Finance Forum. The pandemic has created new demand for financing yet it will be some time before the economy fully recovers, meaning the funding gap isn’t getting smaller any time soon. Access credit to support you through to a more stable time through various government relief programs. Check application deadlines, as some end soon.
Businesses aren’t the only ones feeling the financial pressure these days. With record job losses and many Canadians spending cautiously to save for emergency funds, your customers are feeling the pressure, too. Consider ways you can help your customers manage their finances with responsible credit or buy-now-pay-later options or the opportunity to pay with a credit card, check, or whatever method is easiest. Restaurants and bars, coffee shops, and beauty salons can offer discounts and weekly deals, loyalty programs, punch cards, and more. Helping your customers save money in new and creative ways creates customer loyalty, trust, and keeps them returning and referring.
The first step in preparing for an unknown future is to look back on where you’ve been and where you are. Take inventory of the past 12 months from your expenses, income, and workforce to marketing efforts and the company’s mission and vision. Identify any potholes or potential roadblocks that may turn into larger problems down the road, like inventory surplus or late customer payments. Appoint someone to manage balance sheets and cash flow to increase liquidity so that the business can endure future challenges. Revisit your business plan, long-term goals, and the purpose of the company—is it still relevant in a post-pandemic world? If not, outline the minor adjustments or radical changes that need to take place. Spring clean your business and head into the post-COVID market organized and ready to tackle fresh opportunities.
Adjusting your business model to a post-pandemic world can seem overwhelming, but you aren’t alone. Call on your connections and established relationships—payment partners, marketing services, suppliers, and independent contractors—for help with addressing new challenges. They may have unique and effective solutions of their own and if they don’t, they may be willing to create something new.
For example, a General Contractor needs a more polished and professional website to compete in a post-pandemic world where online presence drives sales. He needs a way for past clients to upload photos of the beautiful bathroom tile or kitchen cabinets he remodeled. His website vendor offers to create an online portal that helps him display his handiwork, and she has a new website product. Don’t forget about support and government programs such as the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, the new Black Entrepreneurship Program, or connecting with business associations like the Canadian Federation of Independent Business or the Women’s Enterprise Centre.
Business owners are resilient and despite the uncertainty of a post-COVID world, 40% are ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ optimistic about the future of their business, according to Scotiabank’s New Path to Impact Report. As we prepare to emerge into the open market, businesses must continue to explore new revenue streams, use digital channels to reach new and existing customers, and adopt flexibility.
The best way forward is with a well-thought-out plan. Lean on your network, secure your finances, support your customers, get online, realign, and be ready to pivot – it’s the best chance to future-proof business.
Advice and research for Canadian small businesses from our expert team