Posted: 16 Jul. 2020 5 min. read

The big questions small businesses have on COVID-19

COVID-19 has been a challenge for all businesses, big and small. A once-in-100-year pandemic is an event without a playbook – and no one knows what will happen next.

In Australia, quick efforts to suppress the virus has led to many states and territories lifting lockdowns. But in Victoria, a surge in cases has seen restrictions restored just as businesses were opening their doors again. Not only is it causing immense stress for Victorian business owners, who now face weeks of uncertainty, but it has placed businesses in other states on high alert too. After all, if it could happen there, it could happen anywhere.

It is clear we won’t be returning to the status quo anytime soon. In fact, with many industries still experiencing hardship and unemployment at high levels, Deloitte Access Economics has called for ‘JobTweaker’ – an option to fine-tune JobKeeper to support these sectors through recovery.

Within your own business, it’s critically important to realise times have changed too. Whether you’re facing revolving restrictions due to virus spikes or new financial pressures, you can’t leap back into running the same business that was there before the pandemic hit. Your strategy must evolve.

Download our Small Business Roadmap for Recovery & Beyond Workbook

Most businesses I work with know things are different – the challenge is determining how to get back on track. I’ve been struck by how often I hear the same questions from different small and medium-size businesses across the country.

So what are the uncertainties keeping small business owners up at night? What can they do today to ensure they’re on the road to recovery?

“Things are still so uncertain. How can we move forward?”

Planning and agility are critical in acting through uncertainty. Businesses need a robust plan that covers iterative milestones to help them work towards their goals.

In this climate, cash is king. Your planning will be dependent on your access to liquidity, so look at cash inflows and outgoings over the next three to six months and create a plan for revenue to lift.

Don’t be afraid to replan either. The time horizon for planning will be unique across businesses, sectors and geographies – particularly as we see the virus surge in places like Victoria. Use contingency planning to manage these shocks and focus on iterative decision-making to respond to your situation.

“I’ve heard lots of advice on being ‘adaptable’. What does this look like in reality?”

Leaders have had to manage their way through an incredible shock. In the early days of the pandemic, the key priority was to react and activate crisis plans. This agility will be important through recovery too.

The businesses that have managed the crisis well have accepted that things have changed and have operated with that constraint in mind. They may have made decisions that were previously unthinkable, such as high-end restaurants shifting to takeaway orders or thinking of new products to sell. This flexibility has and will be rewarded.

To maintain this flexible mindset through recovery, it’s important to stay true to the vision of your business. Leaders that are clear on their goals and their business purpose will be able to adapt to circumstances and make the right decisions to manage recovery well.

“My state is moving out of COVID-19 lockdown. What differences can we expect?”

Consumer behaviour has shifted thanks to the COVID-19 lockdown. Relationships with customers will be different moving forward, particularly where it comes to preferences such as online shopping.

But these differences will be most stark for those who operate retail or face-to-face businesses. As these reopen, there is a duty of care to ensure customers feel confident and safe to visit, as well as complying with government regulations. Getting this right will be key to recovery.

“How do I make good use of the learnings through lockdown and bring them into my future business model?”

While COVID-19 has unleashed huge disruption on businesses, we know not all have been impacted equally. Some businesses were able to pivot quickly, transitioning to online sales to engage with new and existing customers. ABS figures from May 2020 show while more than half of retailers (53%) saw a drop in profits, 44% have reported a revenue boost during the pandemic.

Reflecting on these shifts as you move through recovery is pivotal. Ensure you’re paying attention to your numbers and monitoring statistics to see if these changes make business sense in the new normal.

There is also a need to build and preserve trust. Consumers will reward businesses that demonstrate trust both digitally and physically, be it from a sense of safety on site or efficient service online.

“Has the pandemic fast-tracked the use of tools and strategies such as digitisation?”

If there’s one thing COVID-19 has taught business owners, it’s the importance of technology. In many cases, businesses have had no choice but to do things differently and utilise all available technologies to survive lockdown. It’s now time to look at the effectiveness of this technology, whether it’s a website for customers or a server so staff can work remotely. Security should be a critical consideration. While platforms may have been rolled out in haste, now is your opportunity to check for cyber risks.

Whether it be a move to cashless payments, electronic marketing, mobile apps or a significant pivot to online sales, each business needs to understand what has changed in their relationship with customers. Are they buying from you differently? How can you take advantage of this moving forward?

Right now, there is a lot of uncertainty – and no one has all the answers. But if we plan carefully, stay true to our vision and remain agile, we can take the edge off this ambiguity and start to move forward.

Download our Small Business Roadmap for Recovery & Beyond Workbook, designed to support business owners by providing actions and considerations to apply to key sections of your business; customers, cashflow, supply chain, workforce, digital enablement and workplace.

More about the author

Andrew Culley

Andrew Culley

National Leader, Markets

Andrew has led Technology Strategy teams in both Adelaide and Sydney and specialises in the alignment of Business and IT Strategy, understanding the impact of Technology Disruption on organisations and how to maintain trust through good conduct. His career spans across the manufacturing and industrial sectors and his portfolio of clients has included private businesses through to large corporations and government entities.   Andrew specialises in reviewing businesses from both a commercial and operational perspective, and has a proven track record in developing and implementing information solutions that help businesses to compete in demanding and changing marketplaces. Over the last 3 years, he has focused on assisting B2C organisations understand the impact of Customer empowerment on technology strategy and the challenge of responding to the often-competing priorities of disruption and regulation. He also leads teams to work with clients on defining and embedding good conduct, as well as restoring and galvanising trust through remediation and has managed large scale, complex remediation projects. He was the co-author of Deloitte’s influential reports on SA “Make it Adelaide” and is a passionate advocate for advancement of the South Australian Economy.   Andrew has also previously held management responsibilities for supply chain management, sales and marketing, customer service, information technology and financial performance.