How to Keep Your Business Growing in Unprecedented TimesEditorial Team
Maybe your business hit a bump during the pandemic. Or maybe you figured out how to go with the flow and maximize your profits in the midst of a crisis. Either way, the past year and a half has required small business owners to adapt.
As the pandemic continues and the economy responds, it’s still not perfectly clear what might happen next. That means you’ll have to stay on your toes as economic and health conditions keep shifting.
Nothing is set in stone. That never became clearer than when the pandemic hit, but there’s still the temptation to see the current situation as the new normal and become complacent.
The truth is that there is no new normal. Circumstances are constantly in flux.
At one point, the CDC said masks weren’t helpful. Upon further study about the virus and how it spread, it changed that position. When it appeared the pandemic might be easing, it loosened guidelines. Fully-vaccinated people no longer needed to wear masks indoors. Then vaccination rates stalled, and along came the delta variant. Suddenly, that guidance was reversed.
Successful companies expect the unexpected, and they plan accordingly. As situations changed regarding the virus, Apple postponed a planned return to office work until October. Lyft and Asana announced a similar delay, pushing it back until February. Meanwhile, other companies are facing demands from their employees to continue remote work, regardless of the health situation.
It’s important to look at trends and plan for the future, but it’s just as important to remain nimble so you can change or even reverse course when need be.
Establish a Safety Net
Having a cushion is an important part of being prepared for any business. Seasonal companies already know this. Take a look at how ice cream shops, tax preparers, and snow-removal services budget. They know they’re not going to have the same level of income in July and January, so they plan accordingly.
They set a baseline budget, then build a cushion during peak season so they have enough reserves to make it through lean times. In truth, this isn’t a bad idea for any business. Even if downturns are less predictable and less pronounced, you should still do what you can to plan for them.
You may not know when tough times will hit. (That’s what happened with COVID). Luckily, the strategies that can help you prepare are evergreen. Start by cutting back where you can and spending strategically to help maximize your rainy day fund.
Having good credit should be part of your safety net, too. The ability to borrow money when you need it can make the difference between getting through a crisis and having to close up shop. It’s important for small business owners to monitor their own credit as well as your company’s, since they are interconnected.
Building good credit can also save you money – more than $11,000 per year in interest alone. That money can be set aside or reinvested in your business. Then you won’t just have a safety net, you’ll have a resource to draw upon when it comes time to make crucial investments in your business.
Pleasing shareholders and staying on top of the bottom line are important, but the customer is still king. Unless you keep your customers and clients satisfied by providing them with the products and services they need, they’ll go elsewhere.
During the pandemic, some companies shored up customer service by providing expanded online ordering and delivery options. Others catered to customer needs by creating new products, like personalized masks and hand sanitizer with cool logos that made staying germ-free fun.
Retail stores have changed over the years to meet customer needs, too. In the early 20th century, department stores were one-stop downtown palaces with everything you could possibly need and service that ranged from elevator operators to tailors. Later on, as price became a greater concern, discount retailers focused on do-it-yourself shopping.
Pleasing the customer may look different from one era to the next, but a good customer experience is always imperative. If you’re operating a brick-and-mortar retail business, a good store layout can help boost sales, drive flow patterns, promote new products, and increase engagement.
The same is true online. An easily navigated website can make selling easier, while a confusing one can drive customers away before they reach your shopping cart.
Businesses are being asked to do two things in the COVID and post-pandemic era: respond and anticipate. You can’t always know the specific challenges you’ll face. However, if you’re prepared for crises and market shifts in general, you’ll be better able to adjust at a moment’s notice. Then you and your business will be positioned to grow through it.
Jessica Larson is a married Midwestern mom and a solopreneur. She creates online courses for students, and has started and run several other businesses through the years. Her goals are to support my family while still actually spending time with them, to act as an entrepreneurial role model for her two daughters, and to share what she’s learned through The Solopreneur Journal.