Guest Blogger: Janet Beal
Throughout most of 2020, the narrative about COVID-19 as relates to small business has been that it was crippling. Countless businesses shut down because of the virus — some temporarily and some permanently — and relief efforts, when all’s said and done, will have been few and far between. Now, however, we’re looking ahead to a post-COVID era at some point in 2021, and the conversation is shifting away from how hard the virus hit small businesses, and toward questions about how it might have changed them moving forward. Mind you, it’s also important to remember that we’re not out of the woods yet, and neither are small businesses. It will take time for vaccinations to take effect on a societal level, and a University of California Berkeley epidemiology professor estimates four to six months before we’re really in a different situation. Still, what’s different now is that we know the timer has begun, and barring some unforeseen disaster we’re now poised to be inching steadily closer to normal. This means that countless small business leaders will now be strategizing over how to up their activity and return to prosperity. This process is going to involve some changes though, and the following are some we expect to see. More Focus on Documentation One of the quieter issues that befell many small businesses during the height of the pandemic was that a lack of official documentation or registration could affect access to assistance. This is something covered through a specific example in the article ‘Black-Owned Bank Executive Cites Lack of Documentation as Barrier to PPP Loans’ in fact. There, it was pointed out that smaller businesses that missed out on loans were often missing tax returns, payroll information, and other key documents. We expect then that this will be a new point of emphasis with both existing and emerging small businesses. Many have seen that a more “official” business — one with clear documentation, up-to-date information on file, and so on — can be in a better position to receive help when needed. Thus, more small businesses are likely to focus on documentation of all kinds. “Rainy Day” Preparation The idea of “rainy day” or emergency funds has come up quite often in discussions about small business struggles in 2020. Simply put, business owners at all levels have seen that when a crisis strikes, having a tight budget or a firm limit on available capital can be devastating. Granted, most businesses don’t have a lot of excess cash lying around. However, another shift in small businesses is going to be that more will make an effort to have at least some money reserved as a slight buffer against unforeseen challenges. Greater Emphasis on Marketing Marketing has already been a growing area of emphasis for modern businesses, to the point that many are seeking online education in the field in order to gain entry into an expanding job market. Specifically, a Maryville University overview of their online bachelors in marketing states that 60% of companies surveyed have recently hired new digital marketers. What this tells us is that modern marketing is already a sort of battleground for small business competition. And it’s only going to become a greater area of emphasis in light of COVID. With businesses looking to get back on their feet and establish themselves all over again, there will be an added need for active, high-level marketing campaigns across all industries. Keeping COVID in Mind Perhaps the most obvious or inevitable change for small businesses is that in many respects they will continue to keep COVID in mind. Even if vaccinations are as effective as we all hope for them to be, and we can move about the world freely at some point in 2021, perspectives will have changed. More consumers will prefer online commerce; retail businesses will place a greater premium on store cleanliness and space; managers will need to consider flexibility with respect to working hours and locations. These are all pandemic-inspired adjustments that are likely to remain present in businesses even if COVID-19 is under control. Further Digitization The final change, and one of the most important ones we’re discussing, will be further digitization. This is actually something we’re mentioning based on evidence from Southeast Asia discussed on Fortune. This region was hit exceptionally hard by the pandemic, and also features economies that rely heavily on small businesses. And the lessons we can see from how some of these businesses adjusted and got by, is primarily that digitization is the ultimate protection against disruption. Really, this is a lesson that is being learned around the world, and one that will lead to a greater emphasis on digital practices for small businesses from now on. We’ll see other changes as well; including many that will be specific to certain industries or even individual businesses. These, however, are among the main ways in which small businesses are changing as they prepare for a post-COVID era.