While it’s true that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has created significant challenges for small and large businesses alike, there are also some changes happening that can be viewed as less negative.
Behaviors have changed during the Coronavirus outbreak, and some of these could end up being positive for small businesses moving forward. In fact, there are a few core trends that are nothing if not opportunities just waiting to be taken advantage of by a savvy entrepreneur that knows what he or she is doing.
1. The Shift Towards Digital is Picking Up Speed
With so many people spending more time indoors (even as lockdowns lift), it should come as no surprise that the shift towards digital business is picking up speed. Now, more than ever before, companies operating in the digital space are getting more and more successful—in large part because the options to do almost anything else were severely limited during stay-at-home phases and we’re still not back to pre-pandemic norms.
This means that if you’re a small business owner, the barrier to actually get your organization off the ground has never been lower. You don’t need to worry about finding an ideal location and renting physical office space. Really, once you have your goods and/or services accounted for, all you need is a computer (or mobile device) and an Internet connection.
Likewise, a lot of companies are enjoying success right now integrating e-commerce channels into their business that didn’t exist in the past. If you have a product that can be shipped (or even hand-delivered), you can integrate a digital storefront into your existing website and allow people to place orders that way.
Not only is it a great way to remain operational as COVID-19 drags on, but it’s also an opportunity to “future-proof” your operations in case mass shutdowns occur again in the future.
2. The Flexibility of Location Independence
Teleconferencing software like Skype and Zoom is certainly nothing new – the technology has existed in some form or another dating all the way back to the 1990s. But one thing that COVID-19 has ushered in is an era where businesses actually leverage this tech to create a whole new era of location independence in terms of HOW they offer their goods and services.
One of the best examples of this is taking place in gyms across America as you read this. Fitness classes are regularly moving online so that people can still work out and stay healthy right from the comfort (and safety) of their own homes. Healthcare professionals are offering therapy and similar services over technologies like Teladoc and Apple’s FaceTime. You’re also even seeing a digital shift for professional services like this office holding online consultations and meetings— something that saves all parties a tremendous amount of time, effort and travel in exchange for a few quick mouse clicks and the use of a video camera for their computer.
3. City Partnerships Give Businesses an Interesting Boost
Another fascinating trend brought about in the wake of COVID-19 has to do with the unique business boosts taking place in cities across America. Case in point: restaurants.
Even as states begin to open back up again, a lot of restaurants are dealing with the fact that they’re only allowed to operate at 50% capacity (if that). Likewise, there are probably less-than-normal numbers of patrons who are enthusiastic right now about going into a physical restaurant to enjoy a “care-free night out on the town,” with virus fears and anxieties so high.
So, what has happened? A lot of cities have partnered with restaurants to close streets for specific periods of time at night and on weekends so that those businesses can set up tables outdoors (yes – some even in the middle of the street). Not only does this allow them to serve far more people than they could with their actual indoor option, but it’s a great way to promote social distancing and other safety measures while boosting small businesses as well.
4. The Era of Remote Work is Upon Us
Everyone knew that remote work had been getting more and more popular over the last several years, to the point where one recent study said that about 42% of the people who worked exclusively from home said that they’d been doing so for more than five years. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has certainly acted as an accelerant for this particular fire, however, and this is one factor that creates interesting implications for small businesses in particular moving forward.
With so many Americans under strict stay-at-home orders at one point and with all non-essential businesses closed, more people were working remotely than ever before. Not only did employees realize that they enjoyed the freedom and flexibility that came with it, but their employers are also quickly realizing that most of them are just as productive at home—if not more so.
Some of these employers have started to wonder if—even when things go “back to normal”— they should bother calling everyone back into the office again, or allow the remote work to continue.
If employees are allowed to work from home a larger percentage of the time (or entirely, in some cases), small businesses can potentially save an enormous amount of money on utilities alone. They likely won’t need to invest in massive office spaces if far fewer people are actually using it, representing additional cost-savings and money that can be funneled into other areas of the business.
Plus, some studies indicate that people are actually more productive when working from home – thus increasing not only the quality of the work being done but the revenue those employees are able to generate as well.
5. The Future of Payments
Last but not least we arrive at another trend that COVID-19 has highlighted over the last several months: the popularity of cashless and contactless payments.
With the concern around germs changing hands, there’s no question that paying with cash is less popular in the time of coronavirus. Many businesses have even gone “cashless”—refusing to accept cash at all.
“Contactless” payments take this one step further. Along with the various smartphone options (like Apple Pay and Google Pay), many debit and credit cards now include a contactless option where consumers simply wave or tap their card on the reader to pay. That’s it. No waiting for your card to register, no PIN, no signature—just a fast and seamless transaction.
In an April Mastercard survey spanning 19 countries, 82% of respondents said they view contactless payments as “the cleaner way to pay.”
The benefits of this for small businesses are as enormous as they are immediate. For starters, younger generations in particular actually prefer this to traditional payments – meaning that offering it as an option could be your ticket to attracting an entirely new audience.
Likewise, research indicates that contactless transactions are far faster than their traditional counterparts—to the tune of 12.56 seconds on average compared to about 33.7 seconds for cash transactions and 26.7 seconds for conventional card transactions.
So, not only are you giving people additional options in terms of how they pay for your goods and services, but you’re also creating an environment where you can execute more transactions in a faster, more secure way as well. It truly is a win-win situation, regardless of how you choose to look at it.
In the end, it’s absolutely clear that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we do business—likely for good. But for every struggle that the coronavirus brought with it, it’s also clear that it unlocked a world of new opportunities for businesses, too. That’s why, as more and more states are opening up and things are slowly returning “to normal,” a lot of small businesses are asking themselves how they can continue applying some of these new strategies for the long-term.
Rather than return to the limitations of an era that has officially ended, they’re eager to embrace the opportunities that are now suddenly in front of them. The small business owners who are most successful through the COVID-19 crisis and beyond will likely be the ones who seize this chance to pivot and keep up with the changing demands of their customers.
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