How to build business resilience to Coronavirus

Life under lockdown is far from normal. However, the speed at which many businesses are adapting is inspiring.

How to build business resilience to Coronavirus

Life under lockdown is far from normal. However, the speed at which many businesses are adapting is inspiring. While at first there was much talk about temporary disruption, it is clear that we must adapt to a new normal, rather than return to the way things were. 

Economies will gradually reopen, but social distancing regulations are likely to be with us for some time, along with, of course, a recession.

For many small businesses this will be the litmus test for their survival. It will require resilience, adaptability, endurance and a lot of guts. However, those that come through this will be stronger businesses, potentially with new revenue streams, better business models, and closer and more engaged teams and customers.

How will we get through? It starts with not just thinking about how to ‘bounce back’, but how to ‘bounce forward’.


Success for many SMEs will depend on whether they endure this crisis, and use the time to take stock and evolve, or if they halt completely. Alongside shedding fixed costs, and avoiding losing good people wherever possible, the survival formula for businesses is to streamline and adapt fast to sustain revenue. The importance of keeping going cannot be underestimated.

Up and down the country we have seen the entrepreneurial DNA of many small business owners and managers kicking in, as they respond to the crisis by rethinking and pivoting operations in different ways.

Some small businesses have truly shown just how agile they are. From forging new alliances and working together, to upskilling staff and moving operations online, and engaging with customers in innovative and creative ways.


While many businesses are looking for new ways to trade, that is not to pretend it is easy or to gloss over just how tough things are, especially for those businesses where demand has completely collapsed. There are also stories of where firms must respond to tragedies, like ill-health or loss of life among their workforce or suppliers.

Inevitably, some operations won’t be able to avoid halting operations – by choice or necessity. Yet even if that is the case, the down time can in some instances provide an opportunity to pause,  reflect, re-evaluate and react to avoid closures becoming permanent. 

Alongside drawing upon the UK government’s rescue packages, small businesses need to seek out support in areas where they may lack skills and capability, from marketing and cash flow, to business continuity and digital. And, in addition to working on their businesses it is crucial that small business owners consider their own wellbeing!

Getting businesses the support and guidance they need is critical, and there is no need to go it alone. The good news is there is a huge wealth of help and advice out there, ranging from Business Schools at local universities, particularly those with Small Business Charter (SBC) status, to Growth Hubs linked to Local Enterprise Partnerships, and even Big Business. More information is available via Small Business Britain’s ‘The Big Support’ campaign.


Changing business model – i.e. how the business operates – is never easy, let alone in the midst of a crisis. However, where businesses are thinking about different ways to create value for their existing customers and identifying how to engage with different audiences, there can be opportunities to sustain and actually develop the business.

In many respects the COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the value small businesses, and not just in economic terms. While traditional consumer demand has weakened, many customers have not gone away and remained loyal. At the same time may small business owners have sought to stand by their employees and support the communities of which they are a part.

Over the last few weeks I have seen and spoken with many small business owners about really exciting examples of creative ways they are responding to customer needs. Whether that is shops and retailers providing delivery services to the ill and vulnerable, or the local distilleries changing operations to create hand-sanitiser for the NHS, or educational and entertainment classes for kids offering sessions online.


This crisis has highlighted how vital small businesses are to our communities. Collective vulnerability has driven a desire to connect more with our neighbours, in ways where we still can, like social networks.

The businesses that succeed will be those that manage to retain connection with people at a time when we are all fearing, yet craving closeness. Small businesses are stepping up to support communities, which will not only create business opportunities, but cement good will and a new customer base for the long-term.

For many small businesses the changes that they implement now will outlast the crisis, enabling them to emerge at the heart of their communities, with new sales channels, markets and customers, that will hopefully make their business stronger and more resilient to other future economic shocks.

In the midst of such uncertainty it might feel hard to stay positive and focus on a future like this, but it is a vision like this that will guide us through.

Tim Vorley
Tim Vorley

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