This last year’s pandemic and uncertainty have drastically changed the face of small businesses and the way of life for everyone across the globe. Social distancing, washing hands thoroughly, wearing masks, and sanitizing every surface have become part of daily life, and it does cause stress for business owners.
There is a link between business and COVID-19, particularly when non-essential businesses are forced to shut their doors and other businesses are mandated to follow health and safety procedures.
Many small and medium businesses faced challenges long before the pandemic, and COVID-19 only exacerbated these issues. Listed are seven business struggles for the small and medium business owner and tips for handling these challenges.
How long will the pandemic last? No one knows for sure. How will it change our working businesses? Most small business owners realized that the pandemic would interrupt their business for a time, but they didn’t anticipate this dire situation to last for over a year.
In a survey of 5,800 small businesses, researchers discovered that 75% of businesses did not have enough cash on hand to last more than about two months. These businesses knew they would suffer considerably and possibly close their doors if the pandemic lasted for over four months.
Now, after more than a year, your business may be going through cash flow problems, and you are wondering how to get help. Consider applying for loans like SBA loans, including the Paycheck Protection Program, work with credit card providers, discuss your issues with your bank or credit union.
Health and Wellness
Are you worried about employees who just don’t come to work or who have tested positive for the virus? Is your stress heightened when customers refuse to wear a mask? Are you concerned for your family and friends? All this stress and worry can cause you to become ill and your immune system to break down.
Amy Tirsema, the co-owner of a corporate wellness company, has succinctly stated that “We’re in crisis mode. We’re not thinking about ourselves. We’re thinking about everything else. If you’re not taking care of yourself and your stress and your wellbeing, your leadership skills are not going to be top-notch. You have to be the best person yourself and take care of yourself to be the best for your employees”. (7 COVID-19 Struggles Small Business are Facing and How to Overcome them, Devin Partida, September 3, 2020.)
Keep to a regular schedule, get enough sleep, and eat healthily. Exercise and maintain positive thoughts and attitudes. Invest in yourself, and you are investing in your business.
Businesses struggle with decreased revenues during times of challenge and uncertainty. For example, you have a small restaurant and need to reduce the number of diners allowed in your business. Reduced customers cut into your profits. Or, you have a brick-and-mortar store and see online retailers taking much of your business as former customers now order goods online.
In May 2020, 62% of small businesses experienced a decrease in revenue. These businesses claimed that their revenue losses were between 10 – 30% percent, and 41% of these businesses indicated they lost over 30% of their monthly revenue. Even more drastic, about 13% of small businesses state they had total revenue losses.
A small change in your revenue could hurt your business. To combat this possibility:
- Become proactive.
- Diversify your revenue streams and plan new ways to meet customer needs.
- Send out a survey to your customers asking them how they feel about your company and what you could offer to make uncertain time easier.
It is time to realize that many transactions are going through the internet, and an investment in a website or internet marketplace would boost your bottom line. For example, some agricultural businesses opened a virtual marketplace and allowed customers to browse and shop for fresh produce on their website. Farmers offered options to customers for pick up and delivery of their orders.
Supply Chain Challenges
Another concern of business owners during these uncertain times is supply chain difficulties. Businesses who rely heavily on goods shipped face interesting challenges. About 30% of U.S. building supply imports come from China, and China’s supplies have been severely decreased.
A survey of over 100,000 business owners says that COVID-19’s impact on their supplies has resulted in supply chain disruptions. Statistics list that 65.8% of retail, 61.4% of healthcare, and 49.6% of businesses’ manufactured goods have experienced supply chain shortages resulting in sales loss.
Business owners are concerned about the pandemic and subsequent business shut-downs due to employee safety, psychological well-being, and even employees worrying about layoffs. There are several tactics employers can take to alleviate the stress of their employees.
- Review sick leave. Employees need to minimize their risk of infection. Immediately review sick leave policies to enable employees to do the right thing, including staying home when ill and take care of their families.
- Avoid layoffs. Work out a cooperative program for all employees and management to keep people working. Workforce reduction should be made when you have no other option. Handle layoffs equitably and fairly.
- The best thing you can do is to communicate with your employees. Let them know what is going on and allow employees to be a part of decisions and discussions. Employees will keep a more responsible mindset, and their fear and uncertainty can be reduced if you are open with them.
- Listen to employees. Communication is a two-way street. Ensure that management, H.R., and employees are in sync with what is happening with the business. Keep the channels for communication open.
A Second Wave
Businesses are concerned about a second wave of the virus. It is possible. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top federal infectious disease expert, stated, “People keep talking about a second wave, but we are still in the first wave.” (Is the Second Wave of Coronavirus Coming? L. Jacobson, PolitiFact, June 23, 2020).
According to research, the coronavirus does not have a significant seasonal characteristic. Influence worsens in cold weather and eases up during warmer months. However, there is no seasonal drop-off for COVID-19.
COVID-19 is not affected by climate. Mumbai and Indonesia have warm and humid climates, and they are continually struggling with the virus. States like Arizona and Florida in the U.S find that cases are rising. There is also a rise in Covid-19 in colder states like Alaska.
COVID-19 peaks and falls because of population concentrations, commercial aviation, and more social activities. A letdown of social distancing, mask-wearing stopping, and other preventive measures being relaxed will cause a second wave of COVID-19.
Will your best customers return after your business is opened? Often businesses focus on acquiring new customers, but you should give more attention to returning customers. Some loyal customers have helped you build your business. Your marketing department should be looking at ways to keep customers returning.
A successful business can keep customers returning by having an online presence, allowing customers to enter the brick-and-mortar store with masks and social distancing, and offering perks. Some businesses offer to return customers free shipping, discounts, perks, and different methods to entice customers to buy more and return to hard and online sites.
SumAll states that 25 to 40% of the profits of most businesses come from returning customers. Study customers help your business overcome economic uncertainty. If you can keep at least 40% of your repeat customers, you will keep your bottom line growing.
It is stressful to be a business owner during uncertain times. It is most important is to keep yourself upbeat and to avoid anxiety. Several psychologists suggest keeping a journal, ground yourself in the present, and take care of yourself. Understand the present and give yourself credit for what you have accomplished or can accomplish during times of uncertainty. Try and maintain a stress-free environment and focus on you, your family, and your business.
Learn to manage your customers, keep a handle on your resources, and communicate with supply chains. Prioritize safety and take extra efforts to implement CDC recommended precautions. Encourage employees to stay home when sick, emphasize the importance of sneeze and cough etiquette, and perform routine and thorough cleaning.
Look for ways to increase cash flow. There are additional resources available for small businesses affected by the pandemic. Change marketing strategies and look for the tools, resources, and support to help you navigate uncertain times. Research the economic injury disaster loan program, any Chamber of Commerce helps, and enlist assistance from banks, credit unions, and the Small Business Association.
Grow your business with online marketing and online stores. Offer returning customers spiffs, rewards, and incentives. Follow Amazon’s marketing concepts – don’t let your website fall in the cracks and disappear.
With ingenuity, help through business websites, and ideas from your employees, you can stay afloat and reopen after the pandemic has passed. What have you learned? Keep a journal of what went on during the pandemic, and don’t allow yourself to fall back into the trap of laying off employees, closing your doors, and not taking advantage of today’s marketing, advertising, and loan programs.