How to Make the Most of a Hybrid Business Model with or without PPP Relief
Small businesses are vital to our global economy, yet they are disproportionately vulnerable to the economic fallout from COVID-19. In fact, more than 70 percent of small business leaders felt a moderate-to-large negative effect from the pandemic, according to an October 2020 U.S. Census Bureau Small Business Pulse Survey.
While 4.9 million PPP loans were issued this summer to provide relief for small businesses, it is uncertain how many businesses will benefit from this next wave of government relief. During the waiting period, small businesses are using their scalability to their advantage.
Many are getting creative by increasing the accessibility of their products and services and rolling out new opportunities for customers to engage.
Some businesses are succeeding during COVID-19 by adapting and staying open to agile business opportunities. Restaurants are turning to takeout and delivery options, and brick-and-mortar stores are building online offerings to expand customer pipelines.
Other organizations, such as the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) in Salem, Mass., are creating online experiences for would-be visitors since closing in the spring. As PEM rallied its resources to develop a trove of digital content for its virtual museum experience, staff relied on technology solutions to manage the transition and back-office processes, including burdensome administrative tasks.
Technology enables organizational resilience
Technology has helped many small businesses persevere by conserving resources — like cash on hand and time to manage other mounting responsibilities — and generating new revenue streams. It has enabled small businesses to adopt new ways of working and staffing, reach customers through new channels, and apply more efficient ways of reducing spending.
For those that are still adjusting, here are three strategies that can support a hybrid business model until the next phase of relief, and widely available vaccine, whenever that comes.
1. Digitize back-office operations
Automated software is no longer reserved for large companies with big budgets and IT departments. SMBs should use automation to replace tedious administrative tasks that monopolize employees’ time. Digital solutions also create an instantly accessible database for essential documents, allowing businesses to scrap filing cabinets and save costs on stationary goods.
Automation is also invaluable for enhancing spend management. Automated expense and invoice management solutions help leaders optimize operations, manage tight budgets, protect cash flow, and save costs. For instance, CODE42 Software, a data security provider, saw up to 50 percent time savings after automating its expense and invoice management workflows.
The road to recovery, whether in a post-pandemic world or in the face of any other disruption, requires accurate and instant access to key business information, and the ability to keep business operations going, even remotely.
2. Build a digital community
Finding new customers has always been a crucial step for small business growth. It’s no secret social media and other digital channels can help small businesses reach new consumers. However, building a strong customer community can help boost brand loyalty and consumer referrals.
As SMBs juggle lockdown restrictions and safety guidelines, many are turning to digital platforms to grow their community. Examples include consistent customer engagement through social channels and website content and media.
Other organizations are offering virtual meetings with their experts or organizing online events to help their customers connect and share their experiences. For example, Ultra X, which hosts ultramarathons, started producing more online videos and blogs, and they also hosted virtual races, which have been attended by hundreds of people around the world.
Technology can help foster international communities for small businesses, opening the door for global customers and potential partners.
3. Foster trust with your talent
Right now, employees and those who have been furloughed are likely worried about what is to come — the future of their company, their role or compensation, and what work even looks like moving forward. According to a Qualtrics study, 47 percent of people report they have felt burned out since the beginning of the pandemic.
Talent and staff are a company’s most valuable asset, and rebuilding or continuing to grow employee trust will be vital to long-term success. Small business leaders should connect with employees to understand how they are doing and which areas of their business could benefit from investment in digital solutions. For instance, the same Qualtrics study found 61 percent of small business employees are interested in working remotely some or all of the time going forward.
Technology can help organizations establish or enhance flexible working options, address and ease concerns about safe office re-entry and in-person sanitation protocols, and enable transparent communication with their workforce. Knowing what employees need right now and what they may need next month or next year can help small businesses align their resources with the most critical priorities and improve employee satisfaction and productivity.
As we navigate a new phase of uncertainty, technology and digital tools are helping small business leaders identify revenue opportunities and keep their businesses afloat. It may take time for additional stimulus relief and vaccine access to help economies fully recover from the pandemic. However, small businesses have proven how uniquely adaptable and resilient they are when faced with new challenges. And until relief does arrive, we can all expect to continue seeing this fighting spirit.
Val Blatt, Business Head and GM of Global SMB, SAP Concur
Valerie (Val) Blatt joined SAP Concur in January 2020 as the Business Head and General Manager of the global Small to Medium-sized Business (SMB) division. In this role, Val leads a sales organization of nearly 1,000 employees throughout North America, EMEA, and APAC. Prior to leading the SMB team, Val spent 14 years with SAP Ariba. During her tenure with SAP Ariba, she ran the Ariba Network team and most recently served as Global Vice President and General Manager of Cloud Services. Val holds a BA in English from Westminster College, Pennsylvania.