The last 18 months have tested even the hardiest, most experienced small business entrepreneurs. Every day has presented a continually changing set of circumstances—lockdowns, supply chain interruptions, labour shortages, varying health and safety regulations, and work and family imbalances, to name a few.
As the COVID-19 pandemic begins to subside, small businesses will have to initiate a deliberate reset of their operations if they are to succeed, let alone survive.
Competition Will Be Fierce
Although many small businesses have unfortunately gone under, those that are still operating will face a tough competitiveenvironment. This competition will come not only from the businesses that are still standing, but from a whole new group of competitors who opened during the pandemic or who will open at its conclusion. These newcomers will have an advantage from: more favorable rent from landlords; better terms for supplies, services, and equipment leases; an opportunity to attract the best employees with more flexible working conditions; and the benefit of having learned the hard lessons of an economic shutdown or slowdown from other people’s experiences. In other words, they will have “less skin in the game” than those who have had to endure the worst of times.
Keys For a Strong Business Reset
No two businesses are the same, so it is difficult to develop a single set of strategies that will work for every one of them. But from my experience as a serial entrepreneur, accountant, employer, investor, landlord, and client, let me offer a few key requirements.
Key #1 — Cash is King
It is very important during difficult times to manage your cashflow and, if possible, build up a reserve to take you through the transition. Examine all of your costs, even the little ones, and make difficult decisions between “must-haves” and “nice to haves”. You may, for example, want to hold off painting the office, but don't neglect equipment maintenance and repairs and other business expenses that are necessary to keep your business operating.
Some business owners have had to rely on various government subsidy programs to keep their doors open. These programs are continually changing and will inevitably end. Make sure that you access all of your entitlements, and if there is any surplus, put it away into a reserve. Stay in close contact with your business advisors and the various government program managers.
Key #2 — Protect Your Staff
A business is only as good as the people working for it. The pandemic has changed the power dynamic. Formerly, the power was exclusively in the hands of the employer. But with looming labour shortages, it will be important to share power and create a more mutually beneficial operating environment through various incentives and benefits.
One of the big questions will be “work at home vs. work at the office”. More and more employees (and employers) have seen and experienced the benefit (and the downside) of working at home. Remote work may not be the best or most economic arrangement for every business or employee. This will require serious analysis of every job task and discussion with every single employee.
Should you try a hybrid arrangement (some people work at home, some in the office)? Should there be rewards for those who choose to return to the office or vice versa? What about requiring vaccinations before returning to the workplace? I strongly urge that you get a legal position on this question no matter what your personal preference may be. The bottom line–treat each and every employee as a valuable asset to your business.
Key #3 — Ensure a Healthy Workplace
Many employees, clients, and others may be reluctant to return to a pre-pandemic workplace. It is important to provide and maintain a healthy and safe workplace by making necessary physical improvements, such as larger and more private work areas. In addition, personal protective equipment (PPE) such as hand sanitizers, masks, cleaning supplies, etc., should be readily accessible. Regular health and safety updates and reminders should be provided to employees and clients as new information becomes available about potential health threats and how to manage them.
Key #4 — Increase Your Marketing
Many companies in difficult times almost instinctively reduce their marketing budgets to preserve cash. This, in fact, is not a good idea. When times are tough, it is important to keep your business and your brand top of mind with your existing and potential clients. We did this ourselves at Elite Accounting. We made a major investment in rebranding and marketing during the height of the pandemic and it is clearly beginning to pay dividends with new clients coming on board. This has put us ahead of many of our competitors who retreated into their bunkers waiting for the worst to pass. We utilized the time to improve our competitive position.
Key #5 — Build on Your Own Lessons Learned
Having experienced all the difficulties of the pandemic, do an honest and thorough assessment of what you have learned as an entrepreneur during the dark days of the pandemic.
Let me share a few of my own lessons learned:
Use Technology Smarter - We learned that we could use technology to hold most meetings, saving both time and costs to ourselves and our clients.
Widen Your Hiring Horizon - By opening our jobcompetitions beyond our own city, we were able to attract and hire qualified people who can work outside our physical office,yet still provide excellent and timely outputs.
Accommodate Your Employees - Even before the pandemic, we had a number of employees who were working remotely. As the competition increases to attract the best and brightest, it will be necessary to be flexible in accommodating individual employees because of their unique life situations (caring for children, elders, health issues, etc.)
Expand Your Contacts - As I mentioned, we are increasing our marketing initiatives to communicate with and attract clients as well as new employees from a much larger target area.
Be Transparent in Your Communication - As the pandemic moved from wave to wave, we increased our level of communication with our clients, our suppliers, and our employees to keep them up to date on what we were doing and why.
A Concluding Thought
The COVID-19 experience has shown us how important human relations are. While many new “contactless” businesses may have been created during this difficult period, many of us still crave human contact. As in our personal lives, long-lasting relationships in business are built through human contact. A Zoom™ meeting can be a very useful operational tool, but it should not be the only one. I still want to meet people face to face, at least some of the time.
As things begin to return to normal, some of the old rules may change. But certain values like trust, openness, and caring for the well-being of others will remain constant. What made you successful in the past, will make you successful in the future.
Published by Elite Accounting Inc.
© 2021 Elite Accounting
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