With all the chaos that small businesses have experienced of late, many find themselves having to adapt rapidly to changing business conditions.
And even as Australia emerges from lockdown, those changes show no sign of rolling back to the old 'normal'. Social distancing will be a key requirement for the foreseeable future, along with heightened vigilance in maintaining hygienic environments. There is also the ongoing uncertainty regarding the economy and of the lasting impact of heightened stress and anxiety on society at large.
Thankfully, there is much that a business can do to strengthen its operations. And the key for many might be in getting closer to their customers than they have ever been before.
Firstly, it's important that business owners think carefully about their communications strategies. Staying in touch with customers is vital, but a balance must be struck however between not letting customers forget they exist, and not spamming them either.
One solution is to think more laterally about the information that can be provided. This could see the business providing content that is more entertainment-oriented, to provide a distraction from the daily stresses, or sharing personal stories about management and staff.
Another strategy is to think about what customers really need. Now is a good time to help them get the most out of services and products they have already bought, especially if they are cash-constrained, and may pay off in the long run once they restart spending. Tips and tricks pages or instructional videos can give them an immediate benefit while helping them get to know your business and its products better.
A third idea is to get more creative in terms of what your business sells and how it sells it. We have seen many examples of traditional bricks and mortar businesses adopting eCommerce solutions, such as dine-in restaurants offering home delivery services, or retailers switching to live sales on social media.
And it's important also for business owners to think creatively about the products they make and sell. While demand for some items has diminished, the requirement for many others has skyrocketed. This includes things like home office and gym equipment, but also entertainment and cooking services. Thinking creatively can take a business in new directions that will earn revenue until the demand for traditional offerings kicks back in.
Fourth on the list of strategies is to take this time to invest in the business itself by upgrading its customer management software. Business owners often say they don't have the time to explore the full potential of what software can offer or can't afford software licences. However, modern tools such as HubSpot or Zoho are powerful yet simple to use and can be paid for on a monthly basis. These tools can deliver capabilities for tracking leads and customers behaviour, enabling businesses to deliver a more personalised service.
It is also critical that business owners think carefully about how they are managing their teams in these unprecedented times.
The first point to consider is that many people are carrying a much higher burden of stress now due to the pressure of lockdown and ongoing uncertainty in all factors of life, and employers need to show a heightened level of compassion. Staff may be struggling to stay motivated and productive, so take the time to talk with them on a more regular basis. It's also important to replicate some of the social elements of work that many people might be missing – events such as trivia contests and wine and cheese nights can be easily replicated on Zoom with a little forward planning.
If you are making changes in your business, communicate these clearly, and early. Working from home has not put an end to office gossip, which when coupled with a heightened sense of anxiety, can quickly spiral out of control. Even if you don't have big news to announce, let people know this through regular meetings and check-ins, just so they can feel less worried about their futures.
Letting staff know what you expect from them is also critical, especially for those working from home for the long term. Many managers have had to quickly learn how to manage by task rather than by the hour, and this requires means setting clear goals and deadlines. And it is important not to overload staff. With many executives feeling the signs of burnouts, a flurry of emails coming from a worker at 11.00pm could be a sign they are headed for trouble.
And finally, if working from home is part of the new normal, employers should embrace their responsibility for the workers' physical environment. Having the right set-up can boost productivity by as much as 25 per cent, and that means ensuring workers have appropriate desks and chairs, a high-speed broadband connection, and a computer that is up to the task.
While many businesses are operating in a world of uncertainty, what is clear is that those that will come through this period strongest are those that are most adaptable. And that means constantly thinking about the changes needed in the business and its people to adjust to the new normal, even as the new normal itself continues to change.
Dell Technologies offers a range of services to help small businesses, including the Dell Expert Network. Find reliable small business advice and tailored solutions, via Dell's Small Business solutions page.