Many around the world and in our country are experiencing the effects of this public health crisis. Economic experts are sounding a grim warning of how this pandemic can affect all businesses.
What can we do, as a small business, to counter the impact of this crisis on the economy? In this video, I explore how we can proactively respond to the impending effects of this crisis. My goal is to encourage everyone to start having this conversation today and begin finding answers to the question: How can a small business owner respond to the effects of this crisis and support each other in these uncertain times?
As of this video’s recording, there are hundreds of thousands of reported cases of COVID-19. Many health experts are comparing this crisis to the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak in 2003. At that time, Australia was not severely affected as we only had 6 reported cases and no fatalities. Many of us have not experienced a crisis of this scale in our lifetime, and we, as Australian businesses, are treading unchartered waters.
We’re feeling the impact of the coronavirus in the world economy, as many nations are closing or have closed their borders to mitigate contagion risks. Businesses have shut down by order of the government and hundreds of thousands of people are now unemployed seemingly overnight. Even if many of these businesses have shut down, quite a few of them have chosen to retain their presence online.
If your business is still trading, you still have the opportunity to adapt to the current environment. That, in turn, puts you in a position to prepare for recovery once this crisis is over. Just as it did in 2003 during the SARS crisis, this crisis will also pass. Your business just needs to be in a position to take advantage of that.
If this is the time to be proactive, what can we start doing today?
Communicate with your clients
Everyone is likely to be feeling the effects of this health crisis—some more than others. This is the best time to get in touch with your clients to see how they are faring today. Acknowledge that times are tough and empathise with their current situation.
Let them know what you are doing today to help mitigate or minimise the risks. For example, if you run a restaurant or any food-related business, show your customers how you are protecting your own staff and what new measures you’re putting in place to stop the spread of the virus. Show them how you are adapting to do home delivery and how you can assist those in isolation by preparing meals for them over the next two weeks. Give them options on how, by purchasing from you, can introduce a variety in their lives by providing food options.
Communicate to your clients if you need to limit your operations or if stock becomes low in supply. How can they get in touch with you? Did you change your operating hours? What services and products are you still offering? Reassure your customers by consistently and constantly communicating, especially when there are changes that will affect them significantly.
Use technology, explore alternatives
They call this the age of social distancing. Social distancing means deliberately increasing the physical space between people to avoid spreading illness. A recommended space of a meter or more between individuals is recommended to stop the spread of the virus. This is the reason why, in many parts of the world, large events like concerts, conferences, and shows are being cancelled to discourage the mass gathering of people.
The current recommendation is to stay home and avoid crowds—to practice self-quarantine at home and socially distance yourself from others. This means not participating in face-to-face meetings or events.
If you need to meet with someone or work with a group of people, what can you do? It’s time to use technology and explore the alternatives. There’s always email. There’s also video conferencing applications for messaging and voice calls. If you have to call off a face-to-face meeting, you can set up a video conference call through Skype, Google Hangout, or Zoom. If in case you need to work from home, you can still track team tasks and projects virtually through productivity tools such as Monday, Asana, and Trello.
There are many apps available in the market today—some have free features, while other features are available at a fee. If you’ve always wanted to learn something new and explore these apps—now is the time to do so.
Here are some examples of what people are doing across the globe in response to the call for social distancing:
- In some places like the United States, governments are partially shutting down restaurants to discourage people gathering in large groups in a single dining space. Restaurants are keeping their kitchens open by encouraging people to order for takeout, curbside pickup, or delivery.
- Many international conferences have also been cancelled. Organisers are instead holding virtual conferences, where people can still participate by logging in online.
- Many companies are encouraging staff to work from home and are using many communication and productivity apps that I have mentioned to catch up and keep track of progress.
- The entertainment industry is one of the hardest hit by the coronavirus. Many concerts and music festivals have been called off. As an alternative, many artists have gone to social media, such as Instagram and Facebook to hold live virtual concerts.
- Other professionals—chefs, marketing professionals—are offering free virtual workshops.
Necessity is the mother of invention. There is a need today to rethink traditional business models to fit the conditions of this crisis. Those who can adapt are in a better position to overcome the challenges. This is the time to get those creative juices going and to revisit your business plans. Who knows? Your creativity might lead you to a business model that will bring you and propel your business to growth after this crisis is over.
Explore what loans and benefits are being made available to you
The government has just announced a stimulus package for the Australian economy, which provides support for small businesses, amongst many others who will be or are already being affected by the pandemic. Contact your accountant and explore what is being made available to your company and how that would impact you directly.
- Prepare, prepare, prepare
As business owners, we understand risks and that we should always be prepared for what is inevitable. Now is the time to think about what you should do for your business to survive. If what other people are doing is any indication of what we can do, there is a LOT that we can do today to prepare our business for the future.
I will share with you a series of questions that will likely take some time for you to think about. The answers that you come up with may be the answer that allows your business to survive and put you in a position for growth once this crisis is over.
- What can I do now so that I can reach my customers and touch base with them?
- What alternatives do I have so that I can continue to offer the products and services to my customers?
- What do my customers need now?
- Has the crisis developed new pain points for my customers?
- What changes can I do today to support my customers’ needs and address their new pain points?
The last question is particularly important because this is how you strengthen your relationship with your customers in this time of need. For example, some grocery and supermarket chains in Australia have come up with special shopping hours to a niche market—in this case, a Senior-Only shopping hour to help older shoppers.
These are uncharted waters. We will possibly feel the economic effects of the coronavirus in the months to come. But I urge everyone to keep calm, stay safe, and focus on the things that you can change or control.
When this crisis is over, I anticipate that more business will be more open to using video conferencing and that it will be widely accepted as the main way of doing business than ever before. How will that affect your business? Let’s focus on what changes we can make and find ways to support one another.