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Coronavirus and Business - How to Stay Relevant During the Pandemic

By: Andrews Ayiku

It is important to note that while disruption and unforeseen circumstances, no matter the source, are never easy, it does offer an opportunity for a business to stand out and look for new ways to operate and be profitable.

It has become clear over the past few weeks that COVID-19’s impact will be far greater and more devastating than any entrepreneur or SME could have anticipated.

It is also true that the coronavirus will not pass without leaving long-term business and economic consequences in its wake.

How is your business surviving the new norm due to the outbreak? What about the new taste and preferences of your customers? What about your current supply chain and distribution channels?

Common issues that SMEs and entrepreneurs may encounter include financial capacity to honour payroll and other financial obligations to banks, lenders etc., impact on workforce capacity, inventory and supply chain shortfalls, changing marketing demand, insurance coverage issues among others.

Are you looking for ways that you can adapt to the situation and help to keep your business afloat? Here are some helpful steps to get started.

Continue to operate and offer a Great Digital Customer Experience: Technology is one of the surviving factors that has allowed so many businesses to continue operations during the pandemic by taking advantage of the Internet and offering virtual services.

This is the best time for business to digitise their customer experience through various platforms available to their customers. This can range from browsing the company’s website to interacting with the brand on social media. 

The provision of information about products and services is now the new norm, especially when customers are working remotely and social distancing is the new engagement practice.

The company can adopt some of the following tools which include Zoom, Google Hangouts or Skype for staff interaction and Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram for Online networking, as well as adopting online payments and mobile apps.

Reduce costs: The recent lockdown across most countries means further cost cutting to protect cash flow and keep the business running. Businesses need to perform an assessment of their financial situation which include expenses, revenue and profitability.

Key question every entrepreneur should be asking is if their business has enough cash to sustain its operations within the current pandemic and then forecast cash flow and cut costs to ensure business stays afloat.

Four ways to reduce costs include reducing non-essential expenses, renegotiate fixed fees to pay-per-use basis, requesting for payment deferrals and extension from suppliers and reducing fixed expenses. Businesses that provide discretionary products may not have the resources to survive long periods of severely diminished cash flow.

Adapt your business model to the current situation: Most Business to Consumer (B2C) business model which relies on face-to-face, in-store interactions with customers would be greatly affected. This impact has emerged since the general public in many parts of the world are being advised to stay home and practice social distancing which has minimised or eliminated personal interactions. 

The Business Model Canvas is a good framework to ensure that all elements of your business are being looked at during this time. There will most likely be a distinctive difference between before and after COVID-19.

Every business needs to be innovative and creative while developing new ways to still deliver their products and services to their customers. Some restaurants are currently operating home-delivery or offering free delivery, discounts etc. to stay ahead of the competition.

Develop Outstanding Customer Relationship Strategies: The current pandemic is challenging businesses to develop new ways of building and developing customer relationships. Furthermore, the pandemic has brought about extreme economic hardship to the life and livelihood. This has altered consumer priorities and preferences.

Businesses should empathise with those affected by coming out with steps they are taking to help customers, employees and other stakeholders as they strategically leverage on the company’s social media sites and customer mailing lists.

Businesses should educate their consumers about how to interact with them, especially with regard to changes to their operations, including new hours, ordering options etc. Updating customers, employers and partners is of utmost importance during this time as people are anxious about all the uncertainties currently present in our environment.

Identify the challenges of coronavirus to your business: Businesses need to list all the plausible challenges they might face in order to strategise for different scenarios. 

The biggest challenge haunting businesses right now is that their business continuity plans (BCPs) are being tested and reworked every day. Other challenges include disruption of supply chains, generating customers and competition.  

Restaurants, hair salons, barbering shops, movie houses, pubs, hotels and guest houses are experiencing low patronage and reduction in revenue with the question, how will these businesses sustain their fixed cost, especially with loans and debt owned by them?

Another challenge these businesses will be facing is how to manage working remotely and with the needed infrastructure.

Converting Production: Some businesses are repurposing their production lines to join the fight against the virus. Fashion designers, soap makers, tailors, perfume producers etc. can consider the current shortage of face masks, hand sanitiser, hospital gowns, ventilators and other critical supplies as well as asking about what else is needed and what areas can your firm shift production to? 

Collaborating and Buying from Competitors: Businesses have the opportunity to work with a competitor who is unable to meet its current demand, buy a competitor who is closing down completely or consider buying a competitor’s inventory so as to expand operations within the industry.

Businesses can use their key partner’s relationship management portal and other resources to collaborate on leads and opportunities.

Strengthen Your Business Lead Generation Strategy: Most people are compelled during resent times to consult the Internet in every decision-making process in order to find solutions to their needs due to the protocols of social distancing and self-quarantine.

Businesses are, therefore, more likely to find more potential customers and engage them about the company products and services.

The writer is the Coordinator, MBA Impact Entrepreneurship and Innovation
University of Professional Studies Accra, Ghana
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