The COVID-19 pandemic quickly derailed 2020 for a whole lot of folks. For business owners, staying afloat while people are staying at home is a primary concern, reflected by a downturn in the economy and a rising unemployment rate. For a small business, the key to surviving a crisis like a pandemic is an ability to pivot from its current offering to one that’s easily provided and highly desired given the circumstances.
We’re seeing examples of this everywhere right now. Businesses are resilient in light of the challenges COVID-19 creates, finding creative opportunities to not just survive, but thrive. In our “COVID-19 Creativity! How to Pivot Your Business” we’ll discuss:
- Government programs – Which ones are available to you? Which make the most sense to pursue?
- Cash flow – How can you make sure that you stay afloat?
- Getting online – Will “going digital” open new markets for you?
- Virtual services – Can you provide your product or service online while you can’t offer it face-to-face, or add products or services that are available exclusively online?
- Manufacturing Pivot – Can you pivot to manufacture products that are in high demand during the pandemic?
- New supply chains – Can you create new supply chains to get products to customers?
- Customer loyalty – How can you use your time to strengthen relationships with your customers?
Most governments have infused money into the system during the COVID-19 pandemic to assist struggling businesses. Assistance includes:
- Wage subsidies – Emergency Wage Subsidy, Canada Summer Jobs
- Rent support – Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance
- Loan programs – Business Credit Availability Program, Canada Emergency Business Account, BDC Co-Lending Program
- Export support – Grants
Speak to a representative at your financial institution to see if your business fits the criteria for any of these programs!
COVID-19 Cash Flow
Cash is still king! You must have enough money left in the bank account to cover expenses each month, even if your storefront is closed to flatten the curve. Here’s how some businesses do it:
- Gift cards – $25 is $25, whether you’ve sold someone a meal or a gift card for a meal. The restaurant doesn’t need to be serving food in order for you to sell a gift card for a meal, though. The gift card’s allure of giving people money to spend (so to speak) in your restaurant when lockdown is over may keep revenue coming in while lockdown is on.
- Memberships – Use your creativity to keep your membership program going while you can’t offer the services you regularly do. Maybe the members at your gym get online classes while they can’t access the physical gym, or their money refunded at a later date for every day that the gym was unavailable to them. What matters is that the cash you get from memberships remains available to you now, when you need it.
- Reduced Operations – Sometimes consolidating operations saves time/money in the long run and lets you plan better. There’s a good example of this involving an irrigation company in the webinar. As a social media manager, I like to schedule as much posting as I can in advance so that I have to spend a minimal amount of time on it each week.
- Getting Online – Plenty of businesses have shops on their websites filled with their products, but you don’t even have to get that specialized if you don’t want to – Etsy, Yahoo, and Amazon are all existing online markets where you can sell products. However, some companies that already have an ecommerce presence chose to use it to meet a need created by the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, GoJava.ca opened a website to take grocery delivery orders in addition to their primary service of helping offices operate in an environmentally conscious manner.
Speaking of getting online, some businesses pivoted during COVID-19 from offering face-to-face services to offering services online through video-teleconferencing once lockdown began.
- Mental Health – Counselling services delivered online help people to deal with the mental health stressors that come with the lockdown situation
- Exercise – Classes and/or personal training delivered via Zoom let people work out at home and gyms continue to collect money from memberships.
- Education – What can you teach over Zoom? Art classes? Writing seminars? Computer skills? Quilting or sewing? Depending on the popularity of your classes, perhaps you won’t even have to charge that much to make them profitable!
Consider what services you already offer and how you can adapt them to offer them online – the work could be minimal for significant reward!
Manufacturing to Meet COVID-19 Demands
If you’re in the business of making things, consider whether you’re equipped to pivot at this time to make vital supplies for dealing with the pandemic that are currently in short supply.
- Masks – More and more, people want masks to wear when they’re out in the community, and retailers can’t keep up with the demand. We need to be sure that masks are available for them, so that they’re not buying up the more specialized masks required by front-line workers who put themselves at risk all day, every day. Businesses that work with fabric materials for which demand has dropped have pivoted to making and selling cloth masks.
- Disinfectant – Hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, and cleaners (household and industrial) are very difficult to find right now because people have been hoarding them. Some companies that specialize in handling and mixing chemical have pivoted to making hand sanitizer, to help out with the need.
- Other PPE – The World Health Organization has said that the global stockpile of PPE, or personal protective equipment, is deficient – there are not enough gloves, gowns, and N95 respirators to protect front line medical staff treating COVID-19 patients in hospitals.
Is it feasible for your business to do a manufacturing pivot at this time? What can you provide? If you’re a Canadian business, let the government know that you can help.
New Supply Chains for COVID-19 Times
Being in lockdown sometimes makes it difficult to get what you need, whether you’d like a bottle of wine or some beer after a hard day of Zoom meetings or you’re out of something that you need for the evening meal or you shouldn’t be in grocery stores because you’d be a high-risk case if you got infected with COVID-19.
Can your business create new supply chains that make products easier for people to get?
- Wine and beer delivery from Toronto restaurants to customers became available through third-party company soon after the pandemic began, making it unnecessary for people to have to leave the house to buy alcohol.
- Pop-up grocery trucks that visit food deserts and communities low access to food help people meet their nutrition needs while keeping them out of the grocery stores.
- While libraries are closed in Ontario due to the pandemic, food banks have been using the buildings to store donations.
What else might people need during the pandemic to which they might not want to dedicate a trip to the store? Is there a way that you can create a new, safer supply chain for them?
Customer loyalty can see your business safely through a crisis. Stay in touch with your customers and let them know what you’re doing to ensure their safety during this time.
In general, after any sort of social crisis, focus on the following in your communication strategy:
- Connection – Touch base with your customers as soon as possible and reassure them that you’re there. You cannot over-communicate at this point.
- Safety Updates – Tell people the measures you’re taking to preserve their safety and give them clear instructions about any measures regarding your products or services that they must take. Depending on your business and what products and/or services you offer, you may be required to offer information in multiple formats. Consult the accessibility laws for your province or country for more information.
- Loyalty – Think about how you might build loyalty even if you can’t offer your customers all the services during lockdown that you can face-to-face. How can you demonstrate to them that you’re thinking of them and the challenges that the pandemic creates for them, that might set you apart from other businesses in your community offering the services that you do? Customers remember companies that treat them as more than numbers and are more likely to become and stay return customers.
Steer into the COVID-19 Skid
When Sarah took Driver’s Education, many years ago, she learned that the best way to get out of a skid on a slippery road is not to slam on the brakes, as people reflexively do.
To increase your chances of getting out of the skid safely, you must keep steady pressure on the gas and steer in the direction that the skid. If you slam on the brakes, you’ll lock them, and lose control of the vehicle.
Ask yourself how your business can steer into the skid of COVID-19 – pivoting your business to take advantage of potential opportunities it creates – to increase your chances of safely getting out of it. Don’t slam on the brakes and lose control of the direction in which the pandemic takes you!