COVID-19 continues to pose serious challenges for small business owners. Figuring out how to start again in its economic shadow will not be easy.
Is it safe to assume that things that worked before will still work in the coming months and years? Should assumptions about how businesses create value be reviewed? Will ongoing disruption bring opportunities as well as pressures? Might this actually be the best of all possible times to make changes?
Reality bites, but optimism endures
The results of a recent survey published by the CSO early in June show that more than 70% of responding SMEs reported a decrease in turnover in 2020 compared to 2019. Almost a quarter saw turnover fall by more than half in the year and about 40% saw their turnover decrease by between 10% and 50%.
More than half of enterprises changed their mode of operation due to the pandemic, the most common changes reported were developing an online presence, increasing operating hours and developing new products.
However, despite the challenges faced, the small business community, business owners and entrepreneurs are confident for summer 2021 and the second half of the year, according to a new report from Small Firms Association (SFA)
In a different survey when 150 SMEs were asked about the developments they envisaged during the remainder of 2021. Their answers were equally split between Ramp up (I expect to experience strong growth based on pre-COVID-19 operations, strategy, product and service offering), Restart (with minor adjustments. I expect to more or less return to pre-COVID-19 performance, with some adaptations (e.g. social distancing, customer churn, minor reduction in employees, maintaining broadly same product/services, finance etc).) & Reboot (I expect to make significant adjustments outside the scope of pre-COVID-19 strategy/plans (e.g. developing new products/services, reducing employees, divesting assets, seeking new markets and sources of finance etc).
Nobody said that they might need to completely Rethink their strategy, and their answer
Dialogue: a key to successful change
Extensive research with SME founders has shown how entrepreneurs manage the uncertainty generated by growth, revealing in particular how dialogue can encourage them to adapt to change.
Why is this so? Dialogue helps founders to develop critical self-awareness – to take their blinkers off, step outside their bubbles and hold themselves to account. It exposes personal bias and limitations that risk an unhealthy adherence to outdated assumptions. It identifies new opportunities that can bring increased performance and competitiveness.
With all this in mind, many business owners have shared their post-COVID-19 plans with someone. This demonstrates that entrepreneurs are investing time both in listening and, crucially, changing in the face of “new normals”. Continuing to gather diverse inputs will be vital to navigating the challenges that undoubtedly lie ahead.
From inputs to outcomes
A research piece from the Small Business Charter in the UK, suggests that dialogue is an important but frequently hidden tool that business owners can use to prepare for change. It is likely to be especially helpful as they contemplate their place in a post-COVID-19 economy.
It might not provide quick fixes. It might even prove frustrating initially. But it can give rise to many valuable insights into how to survive and thrive – precisely what is needed as founders try to build better, more resilient businesses.
The bottom line? Amid the turbulence of COVID-19, small business owners must continue to invest their time in sharing their own thoughts and seeking out those of others.
Whether ramping up, restarting, rebooting or rethinking – or exploring a combination of these options – it is good to talk.