On an optimistic note, Covid (I love how we all used to say coronavirus, which soon became the much more serious COVID-19, and now we just bandy about ‘Covid’ like we’re referencing our next door neighbour, Gary) has ignited a significant spark within wannabe entrepreneurs, and figures printed last month estimate that a massive 85,000 new businesses have been launched this year alone. Which all screams positivity until you realise that most of these ideas have likely been panic-triggered by Covid redundancies.
Anyhoo, let’s not dwell on that. Alongside thousands of brand new businesses, there is a huge armada of more established small businesses that have been weathering this almighty storm for what feels like an eternity and any that have successfully stayed afloat, let alone managing to keep their staff aboard with them, need our support more than ever.
Whether you’re a fellow business owner, an employee, or one of the less lucky ones who’ve been cast adrift as unemployment continues to skyrocket, there are plenty of things we can all do to help.
Offer what you can financially to other small businesses
Ruling out the massive corporations and of course, Jeff Bezos (seriously Jeff, no one needs $189 billion, sort it out) who has flourished to an obscene extend during Covid ($13 billion in a single July day, seriously Jeff, sort it out), most businesses across the UK are continuing to charter 2020’s rough financial seas, which is why it’s more important than ever to help other businesses out if you’re willing and able to do so.
If a team lunch was something you once did weekly, why not see if any of your fave eateries are offering home deliveries or take-outs by way of a voucher scheme and keeping that idea alive? Maybe you’re saving money by not commuting or by not forking out for extortionate parking rates? If so, think about a local business that could really benefit from even a small proportion of the money that you would have otherwise spent and spend it with them; specialist food producers who are no longer supplying the hospitality industry, for instance, have been hit pointedly by the pandemic, so if you’re no longer commuting or going to the pub on Friday night, order a delivery artisan platter to make staying in a bit more special.
It’s essentially about community; there is no apparent silver lining to the dark cloud spun by Covid, but there has never been a better time to start working more closely with your fellow businesses, setting an example (with grace) as a business leader as you go.
Boost other businesses through social media
Instagram and the age of ‘the influencer’ is a brilliant example of how well the simple, but sadly underused notion of giving credit where credit’s due just isn’t employed enough in business generally. If this cack-handed bozo of a year has shown us anything it’s that being greedy and/or overly competitive are not attractive traits to identify with (seriously Jeff, sort it out), so instead of spending free time listlessly scrolling down your competitors’ pages, channel that energy into following and sharing the pages and posts of the companies that you admire – competitors or not.
Just as an influencer will amplify the message of the companies they work with to people who are interested in what the influencer is effectively selling in a way that benefits both the influencer and the supplier, boosting the presence and voice of other small businesses takes minimal effort and yet provides them with advertising’s most valuable – but also its least expensive – asset: word of mouth.
Retweeting, reposting, or adding news of an excellent promotion that a company is running onto your business’s social media stories will not only boost their sales, but also cement your reputation as an honest, modest and generous company; win-win. If you have a loyal following, your social media support for other companies in your industry specifically will add credibility to you both and should prompt a mutual pat on the back.
Don’t ask for favours
Never before has the relationship between a business and every other link in the chain that makes that business successful been more important. In fact, one of the key pain points that the current crisis has uncovered in many companies both big and small is that they had no idea which suppliers their own suppliers were using and so had no back-up strategy for when links in both their supply and value chains inevitably broke.
Your business is an ecosystem – a whole made up of lots of parts that fit together as opposed to a meld of individual units – and generally companies with healthy ecosystems where suppliers, partners, wholesalers/sellers and loyal customers can find effective ways to bolster one another when the proverbial hits the fan will be those that successfully navigate life’s storms. Now is not the time to ask for favours be them financial, emotional or advisory; relationships within business are based on trust, not solely transactions, so if you are really struggling to survive be open about it and find a solution that involves anything but mounting debt to either party.
If Covid has prevented you or a company you’re doing business with from delivering the product or service that was ordered/requested, think about opting for credit to be used down the line rather than a refund. Similarly, if you can’t use a business that you usually would right now, either because you’re shielding or because the company in question has had to close its doors, buy some credits or gift vouchers that you can use when the doors reopen – cash flow is everything right now as incomes are sliding on a scale of lean to exceptionally lean, so your support might make the difference between a neighbouring business paying their rent this month or not.
Most importantly, let’s reiterate that now is not the time to be asking for favours and if you are in the fortunate position of having some back-up cash in the coffers, instead of asking for an extension on any outstanding payment terms, flip the norm and negotiate a shortening of those terms and therefore speeding up the payment process instead, especially for any suppliers that may have given you longer payment terms in the past.
Discuss resources and opportunities with your team
The Office of National Statistics’ most recent unemployment rate covering July to September 2020 was 4.8%, an 0.7% increase over the previous three months equating to approximately 1.6 million people unemployed across the UK; the struggle is seemingly very real and many businesses of all sizes have had to cut staff, but the worst thing you can do is cut your employees adrift with no support.
Yes, you’ve likely got a lot to think about as a business owner, but in such uncertain times you also have a duty of care towards your employees and thankfully there’s a lot of information available via channels such as the government’s official website about how and where newly unemployed people can find help and advice on what to do next.
With many businesses in the retail, travel, hospitality and leisure industries still shutting their doors because it doesn’t yet make financial sense to reopen them, the job market is a far different one than it was pre-Covid, but most of the major supermarkets are still actively recruiting temporary staff to cope with increased demand and therefore providing a perfect stopgap for many people that have been let go with a view to coming back once things pick up again, which they inevitably will. Supporting them through the process of temporary employment and keeping them in the loop about the possibility of reemployment will not only help them feel valued and encouraged about a more stable future, but is a really helpful tool for business owners to gauge who they know wants the door left open for them to return and who may be have approached the Covid shake up as an opportunity for change.
Leave a review
The ultimate professional shout out, leaving a review for a small business from whom you have received anything from excellent customer service to top-notch food, unparalleled quality or super-speedy delivery is more important than ever this year.
The launchpad of any consumer’s purchase journey, 89% of people read company reviews before buying a service or product, which just goes to show how much faith we all have in good old word of mouth – exactly what reviews are, just written down, right? A simple review can make or break a business’s online presence and puts the power firmly in the hands of the consumer, so it’s a relationship in which trust is key – as a business owner, it’s important to encourage reviews from customers so you don’t lose out to competitors who might not offer as good a service as you but simply have a greater number of reviews, and as a customer it’s just as essential to actually leave a review instead of thinking about it and then watching its priority dwindle to insignificance on your to-do list.
Online reviews factor up to 10% in how search engines decide how to rank sites, so as customers, it’s our duty to make sure we shout loudly on behalf of all the small businesses who deserve a pat on the back for their efforts so their voices don’t continue to get drowned out by the bullishness of bigger businesses (seriously Jeff, sort it out).