by Caren Waugh

The corona virus pandemic has revolutionized the ways we conduct business and socialize globally in unimaginable ways.

In an effort to save lives world leaders imposed restrictions based on directives from the Center of Disease Control (CDC) in the United States and the World Health Organization (WHO). One of the many restrictions required nonessential businesses to close their doors in 2020. Although there has been a gradual reopening of some types of businesses on a phased basis, the corona virus has resulted in severe negative impacts on the global economy.

The businesses that operate offline experienced more severe losses since customers had to obey stay-at-home orders, as a result, were not allowed to buy products or access services in person.

With the uncertainty of when life will return to normal due to the pervasiveness of the novel corona virus, with even more dangerous variants on the loose since late 2020, businesses that are still operating offline must now seek to pivot online or they will continue to suffer dramatic losses or eventually be left behind.

Here are some strategies that small businesses can adapt to function in the virtual world in order to remain viable:

1. Adapt New Business Models

For more than a decade many businesses globally have adapted a forward thinking approach, whereby, in response to the digital evolution they have sought to pivot their businesses online in order to maintain their customer base, target new customers, and provide easy access to their products and services based on customers’ demands. Although on a global scale businesses are experiencing economic hardship, those that have online presence do have a greater advantage as it relates to remaining open.

Regardless of how small your business is, pivoting online is the only way to stay open in the new normal. High costs associated to starting an online business is a myth. The internet provides a wealth of information and resources that business owners can use to educate themselves and get started if they don’t already have a virtual business

2. Train Your Staff

Many small businesses lack the skills and expertise to operate online and this accounted for many closures in 2020. It is now imperative for businesses to train their staff to function virtually, although ecommerce is not new, accessing products and services including education and doctors’ visits is the new normal wrought on by Covid-19.

When staffers are digitally literate it makes the process almost seamless for businesses to pivot online as employees can work from home or other remote areas once they are provided with the tools to do so. Working remotely presents myriad of benefits for both workers and business owners, including flexible work hours, acquisition of new and additional skills, longer opening hours and less overheads.

3. Diversify and Localize Your Business

Small businesses that are concerned about competing with ecommerce giants like Amazon, EBay, and Walmart can diversify and localize their businesses rather than doing business on a global scale initially.

  • Offer free delivery within a 5-10-mile range.
  • Use website and texting apps to take orders, schedule delivery and curb side pick-up.
  • Utilize automated banking (online) services to handle payments.
  • Use organic social media instead of paid ads to promote your products and services in a consistent and appealing way.

4. Observe and Partner with Similar Online Businesses

Business owners who are not certain how to pivot their businesses online can study how businesses in their category are operating virtually and adapt similar strategies. Some entrepreneurs will also be willing to forge partnerships in an effort to weather the choppy seas during this difficult time. This is an innovative way to share skills and resources, serve local customers, inspire community spirit and remain open.

5. Listen and Learn from Your Customers

The old adage says the customer is right. Research shows that word-of-mouth marketing has a profound impact on countless businesses as referrals from family and friends are more trusted, and influence more buyer decision than any other type of marketing strategy.

A recent Hubspot article points out that especially in this digital era social listening- track, analyze, and respond to conversations from customers is crucial for business success in this highly competitive marketplace. Listening to customers whether on or offline provides the opportunity for businesses to understand their customers and create a buyer persona in order to serve consumers effectively.

Social listening helps businesses lead to new customers, measure performance, manage reputation, develop strategies for future business development and the overall growth of one’s business.

Use This Opportunity to Create New Business Models and Evolve
Many businesses closed their doors in 2020 because the unexpected happened and they were caught off guard- unable to serve their customers when lock-down was ordered as the main way to flatten the curve. In 2021 only two choices remain available, change or close!

Businesses should use this time to change, as these changes although unexpected, will become valuable strategies and skills necessary to remain viable and resilient in handling whatever challenges come in 2021 and beyond.

Covid -19 is a learning curve – Let’s embrace the lessons being taught!

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