Here’s how small businesses can move past the long-term challenges of COVID-19

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Small businesses across the globe have been impacted by the new coronavirus pandemic in many ways. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Small Business Pulse Survey, more than half of small businesses anticipate long-term challenges as a result of the pandemic.

The effects of the pandemic are ongoing, and the reality is many small businesses will never again operate as they did in a pre-COVID-19 world.

Day-to-day functions such as human resources and IT have become increasingly affected. Technology remains at the forefront of business operations in the new normal. Compliance with ever-evolving COVID-19-related employee rules combined with a severe labor shortage keep human resources at the forefront of business owner’s minds. Both functions will continue to present a variety of challenges to small businesses as they adjust to a new normal.

The pandemic also has transformed how consumers spend their income. A substantial change in consumption patterns has driven businesses toward new methods of marketing and meeting consumer demand, forcing the development of updated, innovative strategies to stay afloat.

The shifts in consumption have been more significant among certain demographics. For instance, prior to the pandemic, many members of older generations had never considered having groceries delivered to their homes.

Grocery delivery services and same-day delivery have become a new standard practice for people of all ages, forcing many grocers and restaurants to rethink their digital strategies in the era of online ordering, third-party services and curbside pickup to ensure they remain competitive.

What “back to normal” entails will vary greatly depending on the small business sector. Some consumers will choose to avoid in-person activities, such as dining in and grocery shopping, going forward and not just in the short term. This will directly affect how many small businesses operate.

Additionally, small businesses in entertainment, recreation and education sectors will continue to be required to pivot due to their dependence on face-to-face interaction. Business service sectors, on the other hand, likely will see less of an impact, as technology can continue to be an everyday function of their work.

Most small businesses do not have the bandwidth to keep up with frequent changes in COVID-19 policy and regulations. As a result of those regulatory changes, many small businesses will find their workplace costs have increased greatly as employees take time off for testing, vaccinations and quarantining. This can result in a decreased workforce, as employers are having to provide more time off than ever before.

Increased workplace costs in these areas can ultimately reduce excess funding to invest in infrastructure and other business expenses, and bonuses may be nonexistent. To overcome these challenges, many small businesses have looked to local chambers of commerce and business associations for assistance during this time of ambiguity. Other solutions include working with financial professionals and a team of outside experts to think outside the box.

A business’s willingness to be adaptable is essential to surviving the pandemic. Throughout the past year, small businesses have been forced to acclimate to pandemic norms, such as social distancing and public health policies. These changes severely impacted day-to-day operations, moving many to virtual work settings.

The immense changes in the workforce have impacted every aspect of small businesses — most notably, how we communicate with one another and develop as working professionals. It’s critical to find new ways of communicating effectively and creating new norms to adapt to the changing business environment. If properly marketed, workplace issues can be addressed through the creation of an attractive work environment in terms of pay, flexibility or benefits.

As a small business owner, it is vital to take a step back and evaluate your resources to identify your path forward. Formalizing a forward-thinking strategy for your business and customers is essential to meet your customers where they are.

The “new normal” for small businesses affects all functions and requires us all to identify creative solutions to succeed. Ongoing risk assessments in areas such as cybersecurity, tax and regulatory changes are vital, as few businesses can afford to be caught off guard in the near future.

While the end of the pandemic is in sight, the effects will continue long after it ends, making it increasingly important to pioneer new business strategies today.

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