The coronavirus pandemic has changed consumer behavior, perhaps permanently. That’s just as true for entrepreneurs as it is their customers.
To survive, businesses have to adapt. Some may need new processes, while others will have to overhaul their business model altogether.
Why not start thinking about COVID-19’s consequences now? Here are eight ways to stay ahead of the ball:
1. Know the direction of your market.
Market research is important prior to starting a business, but it shouldn’t stop once your company is incorporated. Markets are constantly changing, and that’s doubly or triply true during the pandemic.
Right now is not the time to trust old data. You need to know: Is demand still strong in your industry? Are supply lines intact? What changes are your competitors considering?
Survey your customers. Consider bringing in a few respondents for a focus group, which gives you a chance to dig deeper into their answers.
2. Embrace new norms.
Government agencies are asking people to wear masks, stay six feet apart, and wash their hands regularly. Entrepreneurs need to lead the way with those practices.
Remember, too, that the pandemic won’t turn off like a lightswitch. Some people may want to wear masks out in public for years. Handwashing will remain a best practice well after the last case of COVID-19.
Make those practices part of your company culture. Not only can they keep your customers and employees safe, but they also send cooperative signals. Customers want to do business with companies that are doing their part to fight the pandemic.
3. Expand your online footprint.
In the best of times, every business needs a website and social media profiles. Soon, it may be impossible to survive without them.
If possible, sell your products or services through your website. At the very least, implement web-based customer service, such as via web chat widgets and social media messages.
Don’t feel as if your business needs an account on every social media site, but do know which ones your customers use. Make sure you’re posting regularly and responding to comments on those sites.
4. Switch to online banking.
Visiting brick-and-mortar banks isn’t ideal in the age of social distancing. Every trip to deposit a check represents a risk to your and others’ health.
Most of your banking needs can be accomplished digitally. With an app-based debit card, you can spend money, shift funds into savings, and more.
Not only does digital banking keep you safe, but it also increases your efficiency. Standing in line at branches and counting out cash takes time. As an entrepreneur, your to-do list is simply too long to waste time.
5. Go remote.
If the coronavirus has done nothing else, it’s forced companies to embrace remote work. Even if your business needs some in-person hands to operate, you can probably do a lot of the work from afar.
Making the switch to remote work means overhauling three areas:
There are lots of free technologies to help you make the switch. Zoom gives you video calls. Google lets your team collaborate on documents and spreadsheets. Trello can help you manage projects and workflows.
For many companies, the biggest challenge about remote work is culture. Many employees couldn’t work from home before the pandemic. Talk through how to communicate as a team, fight burnout, and maintain a high standard of work.
Update your company’s policies around when and how employees should work from home. Should they feel free to work remotely whenever, for example, or do they have to OK the arrangement with you first? How will they track their time for payroll purposes?
Be patient as you get the wrinkles ironed out. Once your team has found its groove, you’ll see that remote work can actually boost productivity while reducing health risks for everyone.
6. Lead on mental health.
The pandemic has been tough on everyone, including your employees. Their mental and emotional health needs won’t suddenly evaporate once new cases do.
What does leading on mental health look mean?
- Be open about your own challenges.
Team members need to see that it’s OK to talk about things like anxiety and depression in the workplace.
- Point people to resources available to them.
Does your health insurer offer free online counseling sessions? Now is the perfect time to remind your team of that.
- Give the team a break.
Everyone needs to rest. If you’ve been pushing the team to get a product out the door, give people a day off afterward to recharge.
- Maintain your community.
Even if team members aren’t showing signs of stress, community is important. Virtual happy hours, trivia sessions, and lunches remind everyone that we’re all in this together.
7. Get lean.
When the future is uncertain, one of the best business decisions you can make is to cut costs. You’ll never regret having a little extra money in the bank.
Look for inefficient processes or ones that need to change as you transition to remote work. Can you automate certain things, like email follow-ups? Can you outsource functions like payroll at a lower cost than it takes you to tackle them internally?
Focus your attention first on the most complex and expensive areas. If everyone loves working remotely, for instance, do you really need to rent 10,000 feet of office space downtown? Moving to a cheaper office could save you thousands of dollars per month.
8. Focus on customer relationships.
Your customer relationships keep the lights on. They’re also the reason you got into business in the first place: to help people.
Consider implementing a new customer loyalty program. Not only does it demonstrate you care, but it can improve your brand image with people who aren’t currently customers.
Think about what your customers would want right now. If they’re experiencing financial issues, perhaps a no-interest payment plan would be beneficial. If customers miss your company’s community, perhaps you could host a forum online for them.
Finally, don’t forget the importance of stellar customer service. Nothing keeps customers coming back for more like a seamless solution to their needs. A little generosity goes a long way.
Entrepreneurs are no strangers to hardship. But remember, businesses weathered the Great Depression, the dot-com bubble, and, most recently, the 2008 recession. With a little preparation, your company will come out of COVID-19 stronger than ever.