While small businesses are still coping with the effects of COVID-19, they are also being presented with new challenges and opportunities as the social and economic landscape continues to evolve. Business owners are now facing questions about how to stay engaged with staff and customers in a remote or hybrid work environment, how to sustain and continue to innovate new revenue streams, and how to support employees dealing with significant and varying family needs as school districts hash out plans for the quickly approaching new school year.
On July 23, Matt Brady, President of BradyRenner CPAs, was joined by Mike Kelly, Jr., Vice President of Kelly, and Heinan Landa, CEO of Optimal Networks, for a panel discussion on how small business owners can both support their employees and strengthen their businesses as they move forward into the second half of the year and beyond.
You can access the webinar replay here to listen in to the whole conversation. Below, we’ve summarized a few of the key takeaways from the discussion:
We’re in this for the long haul
During the initial stages and even the height of the pandemic, the prevailing mentality was that businesses had to hunker down and get through a few months of quarantine before everyone could get back to work. But the ongoing nature of the crisis and the uncertainty of its course in future months, plus the benefits many are discovering in remote working practices, all point us to the fact that small business owners will have to make more far-reaching plans to address employee and customer concerns about safety as well as capitalize on gains made through new business practices.
This means rethinking the way we’ve imagined the process of normalizing business with
- Developing a hybrid work schedule and environment. In many professions, particularly in the service industries, face to face meetings are still important to clients. Small business owners can tap into the best of both worlds here, implementing CDC-recommended safety protocols like wearing masks or checking temperatures for in-person meetings, and leveraging virtual capacities for team meetings and staff interactions.
- Providing empathetic, smart, and innovative leadership. Small business owners are now being placed in the completely unprecedented position of leading in a time of upheaval, not only in families as parents deal with the range of decisions school districts are issuing about the upcoming school year, but in the nation as the country comes to grips with increasingly pressing issues of race and justice. Stepping into this space with the openness to creative solutions and the intention to support your staff can yield returns in employee productivity and loyalty, as well as in your company’s ability to attract top talent.
- Leveraging technology to facilitate employee engagement and customer communication. The use of a reliable CRM has never been more critical than it is now, when being able to communicate frequently, quickly, and effectively to your entire customer base is essential. Small business owners who have focused on engaging their customers with education and resources will stay connected to them and strengthen business relationships.
And technology isn’t just a one-way street. Innovative businesses have also implemented tools like automated scheduling applications so that clients have the opportunity to respond to a communication with a request for a prioritized consultation, for example.
Opportunities for growth abound
Innovation coupled with the openness to technology that facilitates virtual transactions and experiences still rule the day, and small business owners who have been able to pivot in this regard are coming out of this far ahead of their competitors.
Businesses that historically have been completely reliant on physical presence have a particular opportunity to thrive here. Take for instance a gym that prior to the pandemic drew its income almost entirely from members visiting the location to use its equipment or take classes. Offering virtual classes on Facebook Live or Zoom provides not only a way to stay connected to customers, but a base from which to launch creative ideas like virtual gym memberships.
And it’s not just your customer base that can benefit from an expanded geographic reach. Remote or hybrid working conditions also mean an expanded pool of talent to draw from; however there is one caveat: business owners seeking to hire outside their radius should take care that their benefits packages are structured to support remote workers.
Balance is key
As small businesses move forward, they will be most successful in establishing smart strategies if they focus on balance between the need for personal interaction and the efficiency of virtual work environments. This is not only key for customer interactions, but for employee engagement and for maintaining an organic workflow and a culture of collegiality and collaboration.
What was once done easily as a matter of course–employees bumping into each other at the water cooler or in the kitchen, managers walking around to touch base with their teams–must now be done intentionally as business owners seek ways to replicate social interactions in the digital world. Tools like Slack, having virtual office hours, scheduling regular one on ones, and providing an online space for staff to chat about non-work related topics can all help maintain the feeling of connection that fuels an effective and productive workforce. While the questions and challenges are many, the opportunities are even greater, and small business owners willing to learn and grow will position their firms as leaders in the industry now, and as we move forward.