SMBs reaction and recovery from COVID-19: the three stages

Despite wider economic turbulence, many small businesses are experiencing shoots of recovery and optimism as lockdown restrictions continue to lift.

SMBs reaction and recovery from COVID-19: the three stages

Despite wider economic turbulence, many small businesses are experiencing shoots of recovery and optimism as lockdown restrictions continue to lift. While the full impact of COVID is yet to be realised, these three phases are comprised of:

  • Reset: an initial knee jerk reaction of swift adaptation, where business routines are suddenly turned on their head
  • Regression: where exhaustion and ennui with the current state of the world and operations set in
  • Recovery: a return to ‘normal’ as we now know it (though businesses may look very different to how they once were). 

These three phases aren’t necessarily clear cut: businesses may move between then multiple times; especially should they face difficult circumstances such as local lockdowns or a second wave. Here we examine each stage to determine what lessons can be learned for small businesses as they grow and adapt.  

Reset and adaptation

This is the stage that most, if not all businesses, will have experienced at the outset of COVID-19 but have now successfully moved through. 

Initially, small businesses (SMBs) adjusted to COVID-19 by resetting, immediately modifying the business itself and prioritising how they were going to adapt to their surroundings. In this stage, previously planned activities for the future suddenly make way for a response to the present. The whole business is united behind a clear objective of continuity, adjusting to new working patterns to ensure it can continue to operate wherever possible. 

In spite of the initial upheaval ‘ with many having to suddenly shut down physical premises or implement remote working ‘ an escape from usual business actions and daily routines means SMBs were able to react and become more experimental in their response to COVID-19 situation than perhaps first expected.

We have seen extremely varied approaches, with many SMBs pivoting to a completely new way of operating.  For example, Freddie Hewitt, owner of independent coffee chain Stag Coffee, joined our Ask the Expert webinar series to demonstrate how he rapidly turned the business into an online grocery delivery service through the use of his existing connections and local supply chains. While unexpected, this complete change in business operations proved successful.

The innovation cultivated during this stage should not be forgotten. SMBs should take regular ‘resets’ throughout the journey of their business, stepping away from the day-to-day and applying fresh perspectives to how they operate in order to identify what areas would benefit from change.     


The second of the three stages and arguably the most common, the ‘regression’ phase sees teams and even the most resilient leaders start to tire and lose a sense of purpose, despite successfully adapting during the reset period. 

With so much effort being expended in order to keep pushing through, it’s unsurprising that even the most dutiful teams might falter. Given the continued uncertainty around how long the impact of the coronavirus will last, many businesses will find themselves slipping in and out of this regression stage, making it a potential long-term companion even as they start to recover. 

SMB owners should be on high alert for signs of this phase and work collectively with their teams or other trusted contacts to rectify the issue. Anything that can lift the mood of employees and push the business forward is encouraged.

Recognising the difficulties that the business and wider team are facing is key during the regression stage. Some small comfort is that SMBS are not alone: whether large or small, many businesses are facing the same challenges. Reaching out to others in the SMB community to find out how they are reigniting positivity and motivation within their business can yield helpful practical advice. 

During this phase, it’s also vital to ensure that a team’s wellbeing and mental health is supported. This can be achieved in a number of different ways and should be tailored to the individual’s needs ‘ for example, some may want weekly updates, or time to catch up together as a team, or one-on-one discussions about progression and the status of the business to ensure that they feel fulfilled.  

Recovery and reopening

After several months of upheaval caused by COVID-19, recovery and reopening can be a daunting prospect. With the easing of lockdown restrictions staggered, some SMBs will have moved into this phase months ago, while others are only now approaching it. 

A key priority is keeping employees and customers safe. Remaining on top of government guidelines (particularly around hygiene, social distancing and minimising transmission) is of the utmost importance, but businesses should also look to communicate to customers and staff that their safety is of paramount importance.

Employees may have concerns around coming back to work, so SMB owners should be having regular conversations with staff to address any concerns. As the situation remains fluid, even those who were comfortable returning at the outset may find themselves facing new challenges as time goes on ‘ so maintaining a regular line of communication is key. 

SMBs don’t need to face the hurdle of reopening and recovery alone. There are a number of resources that can be tapped into: at QuickBooks we are providing ongoing access to practical resources as well as our ‘Ask the Expert’ series on YouTube ‘ an ongoing webinar series that sees business leaders share their experiences. 

The government-backed Recovery Advice for Business scheme is also an important resource, granting access to free, one-to-one advice with expert advisors. For those needing financial support, there are numerous government-provided and local small business grants that can be taken advantage of. 

Ultimately, while may find themselves oscillating between the reset, regression and recovery phases, there are valuable lessons to be learnt from each one ‘ from taking a new perspective on how the business operates and motivating and inspiring your team, to taking advantage of expert advice and support. The most important thing to remember is that we’re all in this together ‘ and united, the SMB community can succeed. 

Nick Williams
Nick Williams

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