The challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic hardships can make 2020 a difficult year to look back on. 46% of small business owners surveyed in the Q4 Wells Fargo Small Business Index reported decreases in revenues, while the prospect of closing their business was most frequently ranked as the top concern. Nonetheless, even the most challenging times can yield opportunities for the future. 2020 provided hard truths, but also valuable insights that small business owners can use at the outset of 2021 to move forward.
Nearly one third (29%) of businesses planned to start using a website in 2020.1 Luckily for those that followed through on that plan, 2020 showed that having a strong online presence, user experience and functionality can not only be a competitive advantage in the marketplace, but also critical to a business’s survival. 86% of consumers rely on the internet to find a local business.2 With a well-rounded digital strategy, including a website and social media, business owners can build awareness and leverage how people are searching for information online. Further, ensuring a positive user experience with these channels can help set up an environment for business growth.
• Is my website mobile friendly?
• Can customers place orders or make payments online?
• Are my hours and contact information up to date?
• Take advantage of digital banking
Online and mobile banking can help business owners monitor and manage their accounts from anywhere and make analyzing cash flow easier. In fact, 73% of small businesses utilize these services, according to Barlow Research. What 2020 exhibited is the ability of this functionality to help in preparing for uncertain circumstances, such as not being able to visit a physical bank branch for an extended period. Utilizing tools like these can provide extra insurance against potential challenges that may arise.
• Am I using all of the available features for my online banking service?
• Is my accounting software up to date and synced with my bank accounts?
• Have I downloaded any requisite applications so I can use tools like mobile deposit?
• Check your tech
Almost one third (29%) of business owners said in November 2020 that the closure of their business was their top concern, while 57% said they did not anticipate recovery for businesses like theirs until at least the second half of 2021. With recent surges in COVID-19 cases, one key thing business owners can do to withstand these challenges and to help safeguard negative impacts to the business down the line is to ensure the right technology is fully utilized to serve operations, including sufficient internet bandwidth and wireless capabilities.
• Can I use accounting software to better analyze sales, costs, and opportunities in 2021?
• Is my accounting software synced to my bank accounts?
• Can I use social media or a client-relationship manager to get to know my customers better?
• Join a professional organization
Networking can help small business owners through crises like COVID-19 and help facilitate a potential reset or even rebuilding of a business in the coming year. Whether it’s a traditional chamber of commerce or networking group or an online or social media-based community, networking groups can provide ideas and resources for growth, and may also help with recruiting talent, finding vendors, or even generating sales.
• Could I join my local chamber of commerce?
• Are there trade groups or industry organizations that serve my area?
• Could I start an informal network of business owners?
• Create a plan B and a plan C
The possibility of not seeing economic or business recovery until at least mid-2021 highlights the importance of planning for multiple scenarios. Having a backup plan for each area of your business, from sales to operations to marketing, will help mitigate potential negative impacts of unforeseen circumstances.
• What happens if there’s another shutdown in 2021?
• What happens if 2021 sales return to 2019 levels?
• What happens if costs increase?
One key thing to remember is the lesson that permeates all of the others listed here: flexibility is key. Planning is as important as ever, but the ability to shift those plans based on the realities of a situation could make the difference between continuing toward recovery or facing a business closing. As the New Year is upon us, it is important for business owners to reflect on the past year and plan for success in 2021.