[J-TAO Report] The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted organizations of different sizes across industries and countries. Specifically, the resilience of small businesses with limited assets and cash reserves has been tested. Significant changes have happened during a short period of time. Physical restrictions, economic recessions, and lockdowns all contribute to the most difficult situation that small businesses are facing right now. Many small business owners feel that they started 2021 with uncertainty and are fighting to survive. Now, the question is, how can small businesses cultivate resilience and navigate through this global health and economic crisis? 

What is resilience? 

Resilience is the process of positive adaption in the face of adversity. None of us were prepared for the unexpected COVID-19 pandemic and were trained to lead through a global crisis like this.

Nevertheless, personal and business resilience can be cultivated. What are the methods for small businesses to cultivate resilience amid this current crisis? Based on my research and consulting experiences, I would like to provide the following suggestions.

Leadership

First, develop resilient leadership and a collaborative organizational culture. Effective leadership plays an essential role in crisis communication.  There is a trending discussion in the business.com community. A community member asked about resilient leadership. This question has received a lot of attention and more than 70 people have responded so far. Generally, respondents expect resilient leaders to have the ability to lead through tough times by identifying the changes in the environment and making the right decisions in a timely manner. Being flexible, agile, and acting quickly is the key. If you are the leader for your small business, you need to cultivate resilience for yourself and collaborate well with your employees. As Felena Hansen shared, resilience is her superpower

A resilient small business owner should have a clear vision, they should be composed, they should possess reasoning and problem-solving skills, they should be persistent, and they should collaborate with others. In terms of collaboration, you need to continuously build and maintain your professional networks and get support from your employees, especially in times of crisis.

Your employees are your valuable assets.  Their behaviors represent your organizational culture and affect the image of your company. If you treat your employees well and care about their well-being, they are more likely to collaborate with you, have a good work ethic, and interact positively with your customers. 

Tracking

Second, keep tracking the changing consumer behaviors to understand your customers' needs. I have identified four consumption trends that have emerged, including online shopping, panic buying, shifting product categories, and consumers becoming much more price sensitive. Nevertheless, consumer behaviors are still evolving in this fast-changing environment. For example, many consumers have developed health concerns amid the pandemic. How can you know what your customers' needs are and provide products and services to satisfy their needs, thus keeping loyal customers? As Rachel Krug noted, you can uncover customers' needs by conducting research and continuously listening to the voice of customers (VOC). 

You can listen, gather data, and uncover hidden needs by asking the right questions. Then, you can test the hypotheses and take action. You don't have to conduct large-scale customer insights research with good amounts of market research budgets. There are some easy and free research methods for small businesses to use. For example, you can directly talk to your customers and ask them to provide feedback to you. You may also review your customers' comments about products or services on review sites (e.g., Yelp) or social media sites. By looking closely at customers' social mentions, you can figure out what your customers like most and what can be improved. There are some free or inexpensive social listening tools for you to use.

Customers

Third, meet with your customers where they are and provide a safe consumption environment for them. If your customers mainly shop online, sell your products online. You can also change the way you deliver your products to your customers. For example, many restaurants take online orders and offer food delivery and takeout services. There are many online ordering platforms such as Uber Eats, Grubhub, ChowNow, and DoorDash.

Many gyms and athletic clubs are offering virtual classes. Even doctors offer diagnosis and therapy sessions virtually. With the help of modern technology, you can offer touchless payment and online shopping options to your customers. If some activities need to be done in stores (e.g., a  hair cut at hair salons), you need to provide a safe environment for your customers.  For example, hair salons need to follow government guidelines and take see a small number of customers with appointments at a time. You also need to frequently clean the chairs and tools. The stylists and customers need to wear masks all the time.

Digital presence

Fourth, maintain a strong digital presence for your small business. Because of the pandemic, people are now living in an online world. People spent two hours and 24 minutes (144 minutes) on social media in 2020. Electronic word-of-mouth (eWOM) is extremely important for small businesses. Many consumers rely on other consumers' opinions, reviews, and ratings before making a purchase decision. For example, many consumers decide which local restaurant they will order foods from and which hair salon they will visit based on the reviews on Yelp. 

In addition, your customers may want to interact with you (and other customers) on your company's social media sites, especially during the social distancing era. I highly recommend that you engage with your customers and foster positive customer relations on social media.

Positive eWOM can be fostered by offering exceptional products and services, cultivating connections, and creating enjoyable conversations and experiences in your brand/fan communities or organizational blogs. Negative eWOM can be reduced by addressing customers' concerns and complaints effectively and quickly.

If you see negative comments on review sites or social media sites, you can contact the dissatisfied customers, such as sending a private message, and provide solutions, such as refunds or product exchanges, immediately. You can also transform e-commerce business with social media by posting effective content with a content calendar, sharing positive reviews and ratings, using videos and visuals, and adding social media feeds to your e-commerce sites.

Support

Fifth, get support from the available resources. The U.S. government offers grants for different types of small businesses, such as women-owned businesses, minority-owned businesses, and veteran-owned businesses, to apply for. Because of the pandemic, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) offers small business relief grants, such as Payroll Protection Program (PPP) and Express Bridge Loans.

You can check the SBA's website or contact your banker for information and guidance. In addition, some universities, educational institutions, and technology companies provide free training sessions or webinars to help small businesses to transform business online. If you are interested, you may attend these training sessions or webinars. You may also check the COVID-19 Resources page at business.com to get expert business advice, tips, and resources for navigating this uncertain time.

Adjust

Finally, continuously adjust your business practice, as well as the 4Ps of marketing (product, price, place, promotion), to respond to environmental changes. As I mentioned earlier, consumer behaviors and the market economy are still evolving. You need to keep watching the trends. By doing so, you can be agile and meet your customers' needs and expectations. For example, if there is a change in the number of customers you can have in your store, you need to follow the public health policy and notify your customers.

Because of the economic impact, consumers tend to shop more for necessities instead of luxury goods. Thus, you may carry and sell different types of products as you did before the pandemic. For example, some boutique clothing stores are selling face masks. If possible, sell your products, and provide services online.

You may also carefully evaluate your pricing strategy. Because of the extra cleaning cost, some small businesses, like hair salons, add COVID-19 fees to the prices of their services. If you have decided to do so, make sure that your new price is reasonable and affordable. You may consider offering free or flat rate shipping for orders over a certain amount as a promotional method, because consumers are becoming much more price-sensitive.

In conclusion, business resilience can be cultivated. Being flexible, agile, and responding to environmental changes quickly are the keys to success. This can be done by having effective leadership and a collaborative culture, uncovering customers' needs, meeting with your customers where they currently are, getting support from available resources, and continuously adjusting your marketing 4Ps. 

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