4 Ways for Startups to Recover and Become Stronger Than Before
Here's how small businesses can prioritize tasks when getting back to business. Lessons learned now can help prepare businesses for any future crises or hurdle that come their way.
Business owners around the globe continue to adapt: One-way walking lanes in stores, protective plexiglass at registers, masks on all employees, and six feet of space between everyone at all times. Will it be this way forever? Time will tell, but we must be prepared either way. If we can't learn from this pandemic, we've missed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Experiences build expertise, and Covid-19 has made us all stronger, smarter people (even though it doesn't always feel that way). Entrepreneurs and small business owners the world over are reinventing lines of business in order to stay in business, and some dynamic solutions have been created along the way.
Turning lemons into lemonade
I work with and on behalf of some amazing small companies in my role running the small business division at Salesforce. I've learned a few best practices as we've navigated this crisis together.
Here are four top actions business leaders should prioritize as they continue digging out from the Great Repression:
1. Identify and address the current needs of your community
There are golden opportunities within a crisis, and this pandemic is no different. Restaurants have been spearheading sweeping innovations in order to keep their doors open — pivoting immediately to delivery and carryout options, creating family-size meal kits, and offering grocery sales to customers. The key is thinking about how you can reach your customers in new, helpful ways.
Lombardi's Italian restaurant and wine bar in upstate Washington quickly rotated into grocery service once the pandemic shut down its dining rooms. The popular eatery sells small, medium, and large grocery packs that can be picked up or delivered. Special items are added to the available list of goods each week. Lombardi's made the transition look simple, stating on its dedicated grocery webpage that it is "a premium food company, passionate about delivering what our guests desire in a personable and friendly fashion. Meeting the basic food needs of our guests during these turbulent times is a natural extension of what we do best..."
Once the worst passes and restaurants are able to resume "normal" operations (whatever that may mean), those newfangled products and services, as well as outdoor dining, will likely stick around. It's a revenue stream, sure, but it's also a great way to strengthen connections with customers who are looking to streamline their lives. Businesses should always seek to guide customers toward new ways to access their services.
2. Focus on future-proofing your office space
Workplaces will be different in every industry in a post-coronavirus world, and we'll all be dealing with the changes for years to come. Entrepreneurs and startup leaders are going to have to adapt their office spaces to accommodate this new reality. It might be necessary to completely overhaul building layouts and invest in furniture or partitions that help separate individuals and open up room so new space limits can be respected.
The exciting thing is that the adaptations that businesses are currently making will lead to novel hybrid business models (i.e. gourmet restaurants offering meal kits or gyms developing live virtual sessions to an expanded audience). Opportunistic leaders will come out of this with new ways to operate and potentially new areas of revenue or products that they weren't prioritizing before. So it's crucially important to learn from customers what they actually need during this time and see how that can lead to innovations — or at least innovative practices due to that adaptation.
Global design and architecture firm Gensler has been releasing a series of how-to articles in the wake of coronavirus, predicting what changes will be expected and preparing companies for those alterations. This “comprehensive roadmap” examines many of the questions companies will have as they reopen — workplace occupancy planning, space guidelines, and other long-term concerns. Find and use free tools like these.
3. Invest in tech that can help your business and protect your team
Certain technologies can aid businesses to work differently and utilize more automated tasks. This can make a big difference in the years to come. This can also help those employees who are high-risk and simply can't return to work in a safe way.
This is where automation and artificial intelligence can play a big role. You can feasibly use digital assistants like Amazon's Alexa to unlock office doors, turn on lights, order food delivery, and more. Creating a "touch-free" work experience is a high bar, but it's a worthwhile endeavor. Customers and employees alike are going to emphasize sanitary conditions more than ever.
Beyond cleanliness, take advantage of current technologies to create fun team interactions. Human connections throughout the workday are so important, and you can really lead those efforts as the person in charge. Utilize video conferencing, email, or whatever tool available to make sure your teams achieve the connection they seek.
4. Maximize local relationships through creative and personalized means
Being local has never been more chic. Communities have banded together to try and save their precious local businesses through fundraisers, gift-card sales, and other donations. This personalized sense of giving back doesn't need to be a one-way street.
Increase demand for your goods and services by creatively thinking about how to draw in customers in fun ways. When you build upon the community of fans for your business, you're developing future brand advocates. Don't be afraid to solicit feedback or ideas; let people know you're open to understanding and meeting their needs. Most customers want to hear from the small business down the street that is part of their communal fabric and how they're evolving in this time.
Take San Francisco's Noe Valley Bakery as an example. As people struggled to fill the empty hours of quarantine, the bakery decided to give away complimentary sourdough starter sets (a huge deal in the Foggy City). This way, customers could dive into their own baking with the supplies to start that process. It's a clever, creative way for Noe Valley Bakery to give back to — and be a valuable part of — the local community while attracting new customers.
Startups and small businesses used to rely on catering to a small niche, but now that customers can be anywhere, you can bring a local feel to a wider community (food delivery and personalized product shipments can add a personal touch even from far away). When your total addressable audience is bigger, it's imperative to offer items and services that appeal to that wider audience. If you take the right steps now, you'll be in a great position to adapt to your customers' needs and come out of this smarter, stronger, and more successful.
Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor