The COVID-19 pandemic shows no signs of dissipating any time soon, which means more challenges are ahead for the small businesses that haven’t been forced to close their doors for good. Eventually, however, this crisis will pass. When it does, your performance during this period won’t be judged solely in terms of profit and loss, but rather in terms of the value you created for both internal and external stakeholders.
But how do you create value when demand is stagnant, margins are thin, and the future is more uncertain than ever?
Getting back to your roots
Almost every business, regardless of size, has had to make adjustments to cope with the new realities accompanying the pandemic. The near-universal pivot to remote work, government-mandated stay-at-home orders, and ongoing health concerns have created a business environment that looks, for all intents and purposes, dramatically different than it did just months ago. Yet this is exactly the type of environment in which entrepreneurs thrive.
Your creativity, willingness to embrace risk, and ability to spot opportunity where others can’t are what allowed you to start a business in the first place, and those same attributes will serve you well as you seek ways to adapt in the months and years ahead. Your business may be struggling now, but by relying on the traits and instincts that got you to this point, you can keep moving forward. Plus, there are plenty of proven strategies you can deploy to continue to create value, even when your resources are stretched thin. Here are five:
1. Refine your marketing strategy and increase your focus on digital tactics.
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we’re more reliant than ever on modern technology. Even if you’re not positioned to make substantial investments in new tools, you should constantly evaluate the digital strategies and technologies you already use, and now is the perfect time to do so in preparation for “the next normal.” Owen Loft, co-founder of Socium Media, recommends that companies take this time to optimize what’s working and explore new ideas.
“Ask which platforms and tactics you’re currently testing,” he says. “If you’re not consistently trying new marketing avenues, messaging, and design elements, you could again find yourself behind the competition. What works today might not work tomorrow, and it’s vital to stay ahead of the curve in this crowded marketplace.”
No one knows for sure what the world will look like when COVID-19 ultimately is behind us. However, it’s quite possible that many interactions that used to take place in-person prior to the pandemic will continue to occur in a predominantly digital environment. With that in mind, developing a robust online presence and digital infrastructure now will pay dividends in the future.
2. Launch a new product or service.
In times like these, the most agile companies are typically the ones that win. Especially if sales related to your core offering are suffering during the pandemic, it’s critical that you find new revenue streams. This is true for startups, small businesses, and even huge conglomerates.
When Suave began making hand sanitizer and Hanes started selling masks at the onset of the pandemic, these companies weren’t just focused on maintaining revenue; they were focused on differentiation. By taking an agile approach to product development and sales, major brands can stay top of mind among their customers and demonstrate the innovative qualities that modern consumers look for in leading brands.
That said, you shouldn’t abandon the products that have defined you up to this point. Thanks to domains like PlugMyBrand.net, entrepreneurs can showcase their offerings to the world on a global level, and continue to spread awareness even when traditional markets have shrunk.
3. Embrace corporate social responsibility.
Prior to the pandemic, business and marketing leaders were already looking for ways to meet a growing demand among both consumers and investors for clearly defined corporate social responsibility initiatives. However, CSR must be more than a marketing ploy.
Consumers demand authenticity—especially younger generations—and by supporting COVID-19 relief efforts, whether on a local or global effort, brands can walk the proverbial walk. Aflac’s 2019 Corporate Social Responsibility Report stated that 77% of consumers were more inclined to make purchases from companies committed to fighting social, economic, and environmental issues.
Business leaders who take pay cuts to ensure operations remain smooth and employees are able to keep their jobs might have to make short-term sacrifices, but those sacrifices won’t go unnoticed by employees and customers. Disney Executive Chairman Bob Iger gave up his salary through the end of 2020, for instance, and top Comcast executives are donating theirs toward coronavirus relief.
4. Orient your business around your customers.
Even if you’re not selling products or closing deals at the same pre-pandemic clip, you have plenty of opportunities to create meaningful interactions with customers. For starters, you should maintain open lines of communication and clearly articulate how your business is responding and adapting to the challenges posed by the coronavirus. Let customers know what you’re doing to keep employees safe and what you’re doing differently now that things are, well, different.
Great customer service has always separated the best companies from the rest. At a time when most leaders are inclined to turn their focus inward, great leaders will make every effort to prioritize those aspects of the customer experience that occur away from the point of sale.
Whether it’s developing a loyalty program, offering flexible payment options, or simply taking the time to reassure people that you have their best interests in mind, you can ensure customers are still around after the crisis by prioritizing them throughout. For example, 7-Eleven canceled its popular Free Slurpee Day in July to protect customers and staff from increased risk of infection. Instead, it encouraged customers to download the 7Rewards app, where they could obtain a voucher for a free Slurpee redeemable anytime in July.
5. Rally around your employees.
Countless companies have been forced to lay off staff, restrict hours, or make other hard personnel decisions in order to survive. Maybe you have, too. You should be making every effort to ensure the people who have stuck with you during the crisis know you appreciate them—and there are plenty of ways to do it.
The executive team at Best Buy, for instance, is implementing a backup childcare service it introduced in 2019 to give employees access to family support resources that many desperately need. Like many other companies, Best Buy is also providing complimentary mental health services to staff members who suddenly find themselves overwhelmed amid unprecedented uncertainty. Regardless of how you do it, putting your employees first now can help foster a company culture that is strengthened by hardship, rather than one that wilts when the going gets tough.
In 2020, businesses have learned that value creation entails more than fulfilling a market need. It’s a product of corporate actions that affect employees, customers, and all other stakeholders. The more value in those areas that you create today, the easier it will be to continue creating it tomorrow.