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The road back

Written by Michelle Ovens on Monday, 06 July 2020. Posted in Insight, Analysis

Shops have thrown open their doors, pubs are serving up and hairdressers are ready to wash and go.

The road back

Shops have thrown open their doors, pubs are serving up and hairdressers are ready to wash and go. It’s enough to make you think we are returning to the way things were! While the easing of lockdown is hugely positive for small businesses and customers alike, there is also a growing recognition that things won’t just go back to the old world.

This pandemic has impacted all of our lives, including accelerating many of the changes that were already heading our way, like the shift towards mass digital adoption. And while it has been a hugely challenging time for small businesses, with a tough road ahead, as we can’t go backwards, the only way is onwards and upwards!

It has got me thinking about what we even mean when we talk about ‘normality’? It signals different things to different people, but we tend to mean typical and familiar operating conditions.

Many small businesses, whose worlds were turned totally upside down by the impact of coronavirus, are understandably longing for stability. But business owners also know that this is never guaranteed. Being in business means being open to the world around us continually changing - whether it is new competitors or staff leaving.

A pandemic is clearly at the very extreme and destabilising end of this spectrum of change! But while no business could have seen this coming, it has always existed as a threat.

A state of change

How badly a business has been hit is, of course, hugely influenced by the sector it is in and the way it operates. But it is also dictated by how well it responds and adapts.

We saw so many small businesses doing an incredible job of pivoting during lockdown, creating new delivery methods, finding digital solutions and thinking innovatively about how they could change their operations to still serve their customers and engage new ones.

To continue to survive and thrive, these businesses need to stay open-minded, agile and flexible to things continuing to change.

While lockdown is easing, it will take time for consumer demand and footfall to return and some behaviours may be altered for good. Indeed, until such time as a vaccine or reliable treatment breaks through, it is likely that many consumers will stay cautious about interacting in traditional ways. People have also got a lot more used to doing things differently, such as using online services or click and collect.

Pivot for Good

Small businesses that have pivoted during lockdown should not end those pivots – not now, possibly not ever. Those that have managed to find good alternative models should look to keep these for the foreseeable future and consider whether they could actually make a great long-term addition to their business. Sales via digital and social media, along with video service delivery, will all have long-term opportunities. 

The good news is that many small businesses are thinking this way. Research Small Business Britain did with BT Skills For Tomorrow, showed that over a third of small businesses saw the changes they have made to their business practices as positive and are planning for trends like less face to face contact to continue.

Over a third (39 per cent) now rightly view digital skills and tools as a key focus area for their business development. There is no shortage of opportunities to develop these skills, whether it is through courses like BT’s or business support programmes offered by local business schools.

We all miss the old world and hope that the best things about it return – being able to come together, to make the most of life, to hug! But rather than focusing on going back to the way things were, we must do what we can to make the future even better. Small businesses will be are at the heart of shaping that for all of us.

About the Author

Michelle Ovens

Michelle Ovens

Michelle Ovens MBE is founder of Small Business Britain , the UK’s leading champion of UK small businesses. Michelle is also director of Small Business Saturday, a campaign to support, inspire and promote small businesses, on the day and beyond, along with being Chair of Small Business Charter.

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