woman doing business with mask on
For many business owners, the last few months have been a continuous juggling act, and the need to adapt quickly has been critical. — Getty Images/andresr

At this point, when and how business will get back to pre-pandemic levels is still unknown. According to a recent U.S. Census Bureau Small Business Pulse Survey, the majority (51.4%) of respondents expect it will take more than six months for their businesses to return to normal. However, the actual timeframe will likely take much longer. Per McKinsey Global Institute and Oxford Economics, recovery could take five years or longer—and for small businesses, even longer than that.

For so many business owners, the last few months have been a continuous juggling act. From trying to access government relief funds, to keeping both sales and employees healthy, to learning new protocols in a world under the cloud of a pandemic, the need to adapt quickly is critical. Here are four ways to pivot your small business to survive in the new normal.

Pivoting to a new audience/target market

Most likely, your customers’ needs and attitudes have changed significantly in 2020 and those changes are reflected in their spending patterns. Economic instability has led to increased spending on essentials and less for discretionary items. Depending on your industry, you may have already noticed a significant drop or rise in demand for products and services or a different customer demographic reaching out to your business.

To know if your audience has changed, take a deep dive into your company’s sales and marketing analytics. Whether you use Google Analytics or another program, see how website patterns have changed recently. Same with your social media analytics. Have you had a new influx of followers? Who is sharing information about your business now and what demographic do your new followers fall into? What about email campaign analytics? Who is opening the email and clicking through for more information?

Once you have a better understanding of who your new target audience is, then you can provide them with an appealing menu of products and services to suit their needs.

Pivoting services and products

In March 2020, federal and state governments issued directives for only “essential” businesses to remain open to slow the spread of COVID-19. Businesses with the means to modify quickly and efficiently changed product lines to include such essentials as masks and hand sanitizers. Others changed the focus of their most popular services—for example, switching from printing signage for trade shows to printing signage about social distancing and new business protocols.

Business innovation is a reflection of the needs of your particular ecosystem, and innovation comes from finding solutions to that ecosystem’s current pressing issues. Look at the world around you and what others in your industry are doing. What about your local community? What can your business do to provide needed products and/or services?

Finally, reach out to your suppliers and manufacturers to see how they can help you pivot what you offer. They may have ideas of their own on how to make your pivot profitable for both of you.

Working remotely, once thought of as a perk from forward-thinking companies, is now a “new normal” working model.

Pivoting to online sales

From shopping for a new car to shopping for groceries and everything in between, our new social distancing world has pivoted to online sales—and so should you. In June 2020 alone, online sales grew 76% and eMarketer predictse-commerce will reach 14.5% of total retail sales in 2020, indicating both an all-time high and the largest share increase in a single year.

It’s important to remember when pivoting to online that the most important goal is to close the sale. Whether youdeal in products or services, creating a successful e-commerce website requires making sure your customers can easily find and buy what they need. Besides having quality photos and content, your website should be mobile-friendly, be secure (customers want to know their personal information is safe), have ratings and reviews for comparison, have a variety of payment options and be easy to navigate. In addition, when pivoting to online sales, consider what delivery options make the most sense for your market. Many businesses during COVID-19 have added curbside pickup to their delivery options.

Pivoting to working remotely

It would be hard to find anyone, young or old, who has not had a video chat or virtual meeting during the first half of 2020. In fact, Zoom, a leader in video meeting platforms, racked up nearly 94 million iOS installs during the second quarter of 2020. (No other non-game app has previously surpassed 50 million iOS downloads in a single quarter).

Working remotely, once thought of as a perk from forward-thinking companies, is now a “new normal” working model. Google, in fact, has just announced that its employees will be allowed to work from home until at least July 2021. Even professionals such as attorneys, therapists and doctors have included virtual consulting sessions as an option for clients and patients.

For small businesses, working remotely can mean big savings in utilities, commuting and rent costs—so much so that some businesses may choose to stay completely virtual on a permanent basis.

Small business advantage

As the owner of a small business, I’m well aware of all that’s involved in keeping a company relevant during periods of economic turbulence. My partner and I have had to change business models several times over the life of our business. Many times, that has meant leaving our comfort zone and learning new skills, understanding changing customer needs and creating new solutions to better serve our clients. Next month, I’ll detail more about how to best find and serve a new audience.

For more resources from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce:

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Published August 11, 2020