A Look at Your Small Business After COVID-19

On June 5th, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced Phase 2 of Florida’s reopening. It includes retail stores being able to take on full capacity as well as bars and movie theatres being able to reopen. These are certainly risky times and precautions will need to be taken. But what will it mean for your small business after COVID-19.

Life as we know it will be far from normal. Reopening is somewhat disturbing since our infection curve is only starting to trend down slightly and according to the Yale School of Medicine, we are likely to see a rebound in cases once social distancing measures are lifted. They expect that we’ll get into a cycle of “periodic social distancing measures until it is possible to develop and mass-produce a vaccine, which experts say will take 12-18 months”, or until we can find more effective treatments.

As business owners, we need strategies that will carry us through this crazy time.

What’s next for your small business after COVID-19

It kind of goes without saying but you can’t live through something like this and not remember. A big event like this will accelerate some budding trends. Now that we have been working virtually for a couple of months, businesses will question if they need an office at all, as we did 6 years ago when ZenChange went completely virtual.

However, your business structure will most certainly vary. Your industry may thrive on interpersonal communication. If this is the case, the transition may not be so easy. Your small business after COVID-19 may need to plan to operate in a different manner. For business owners in this predicament, research must be conducted.

Piers Fawkes, founder of retail research firm PSFK, believes that we need to look at trends in China for a glimpse into our own future. Back in 2003, when China endured the SARS epidemic, over 8,000 people were infected and schools, factories, and stores closed.

eCommerce was just starting to take hold at the time since not many people had access to the internet. But when the SARS quarantine began, eCommerce giant Alibaba experienced a 50% increase in sales as people wanted to shop from home.

Important research to consider

Here are some more recent behaviors we’re seeing in China following COVID-19:

  • People are having raw ingredients delivered from grocery stores rather than restaurant takeout since they aren’t confident in the safety of prepared food. Restaurant delivery has declined 50% and grocery delivery has increased 70%. According to McKinsey, about 55% of consumers are likely to continue buying more groceries online after the pandemic.
  • Other ways to purchase virtually are also increasing. Real estate platform Beike said that “agent-facilitated property viewings on its virtual reality showroom increased by almost 35 times month over month.”
  • Communities in China are rising to do errands. Residents in a community scan a QR code, join a chat group and post their grocery list and one of them buys and delivers the products to that group.
  • Contactless purchasing is replacing high-touch concerts, fitness and delivery. Cash is going away in favor of digital payments. Products are being ordered through apps. You might want to know that paper money can carry more germs than a toilet so this is a good thing. Even if you’re not in retail, don’t ask your clients to mail you checks. You really need to accept payment online.
  • China’s consumers in their 20s and 30s are now talking about saving more and 4 out of 5 consumers say they’ll purchase more insurance after the crisis. If that trend crosses here we may expect similar behaviors to the post depression era.
  • More than 70% of Chinese consumers plan to focus their spend on better quality and healthier options, and buying eco-friendly products so that could become a trend here as well.

What the future looks like

Here in the U.S., there is a trend toward more options for delivery including to your home, to your trunk or to your car window via drive-through.

  • Robotics is trending, not only because robots don’t get sick, but they can safely clean and disinfect, and avoid human disease transmission. So expect to see more drones and mobile cleaning devices. Personally I’m waiting for Rosie the robot maid from the Jetsons to move into my place! But even before she arrives, drones for light deliveries like prescriptions will also become a thing.
  • Sanitation, beyond our traditional definition of clean, will become a serious brand differentiator when it comes to any businesses that open to the public.
  • Shopping local will become more of a priority since people won’t want to travel as far to make purchases, or trust materials that come from too far away. This is good for farmer’s markets and convenience stores, but also local business suppliers, even if the cost is a bit higher. As technology comes into play in this space, supply chain traceability will become more of interest in our product purchases. So if you deliver home services, I’m probably going to care a lot more where that stuff you’re spraying in my home came from.
  • Supporting a remote workforce will become more of a business priority across industries, which puts more pressure on technology infrastructure. Box CEO Aaron Levie suggested to Business Insider that this demand will be for more than just better internet. He expects we’ll see completely new ways of doing work. Personally I’ll be happy to start with better internet but it will be interesting to see what comes out of this.
  • Video calls and webinars will also continue to be used more frequently so don’t expect those Zoom calls to disappear any time soon. Virtual events and conferences are on the rise and even small companies are finding virtual ways to offer seminars and events to their customers. Ask yourself how you’re staying connected with your clients and prospects. If your contacts aren’t as frequent as they were before quarantine, take a hard look at your sales delivery and ask what else you can do to remain top of mind and stay in touch.

How to prepare for reopening

Next week as some of our restrictions are lifted, we’ll each need to make personal decisions regarding potentially balancing our health risk with our revenue. As a business owner you have some tough decisions to make that go beyond whether you can keep people at least 6 people apart and enforcing masks & gloves. Your clients may not feel comfortable being in an enclosed space with others.

It’s a good idea to continue to post and communicate online about the precautions you’re taking to not only meet, but exceed the CDC guidelines. Make sure you supply personal protective equipment (PPE) not only to your employees, but consider making it available to your clients as well before they enter your space. The more they feel as though your office is clean enough to perform surgical procedures, the more comfortable they are likely to be.

Make the steps you are taking visible, but remember that COVID is really hard to kill. There are all sorts of crazy rumors online about what you can use, including using UV lights, for example, but placing one of these at your entrance won’t really do much since the World Health Organization is telling us that to kill the virus you would need UV lights so strong that they would basically fry people walking under them. There is some early promise with Far-UVC wavelengths but it’s best not to rely on that until further research is done.

So stick to what the WHO is telling us keeps us safe. Have hand sanitizer visible and use it often. Let your clients see you using it to make them more comfortable and ask them to do the same. Also think about how your workplace can reinforce social distancing. If you’re Walmart, you put marks on the floor and have staff let people know when they are too close. It may feel a bit odd doing the same in a smaller office but it can help make your employees and clients feel more comfortable.

Some of our clients are using the parking lot as their waiting room and texting people when they’re ready to come in, which is a good idea. If you went to see a business who had you wait outside, wear a mask when you entered, used hand sanitizer and you saw them wipe down the meeting table and chairs and they were wearing a mask, you’d probably feel more comfortable spending time there.

But even if you’re using masks, you’ll need safety procedures in place, including how to wear them properly, how to keep them clean, and what you’ll accept people putting on their face and calling a mask, since I’m sure we’ve all seen some creative substitutes online!

Moving forward with your small business after COVID-19

As businesses who may be considering physically reopening, we face several challenges. OSHA hasn’t yet stepped in to provide guidelines on employee safety, so you may be stepping into a legal minefield for negligence claims. For example, you may think it’s a good idea to take employee temperatures. But have you thought about how you’ll keep that data private? Some employers are skirting this issue by using instant read thermometers that they show the employee so they technically aren’t collecting personal health information. For social distancing, even if you move everyone’s desks apart, consider your bathrooms, break rooms, hallways and reception areas and how you’ll keep those areas safe. Some good ideas I’ve heard include one-way traffic hallways if you’re in a bigger space, one person bathrooms, and a plexiglass shield for the receptionist.

You also need to plan what to do if some of your employees simply don’t feel safe returning back to the office. You’ll need to be fair here and provide other options, as well as figure out what the triggers are for how long this policy should be in effect. What if a year from now they still tell you they don’t feel safe? Is that still ok?

There are so many things to consider, and just as we found when we went into quarantine, we are charting new territory on slowly reopening, if we even decide to do so right now. Although we may all feel anxious for our own teams, remember that your clients are still feeling pretty anxious too. Just because you open your doors doesn’t mean you should pull back from any of those online strategies you were using. They will continue to provide options for your clients to continue to do business with you, and if you get creative, may even give you a chance to expand into new markets.