5 key survival techniques for small businesses during a crisis

5-key-survival-techniques-for-small-businesses-during-a-crisis

Small businesses are fundamentally changing business models by taking on new delivery channels, services, and products, as well as customers.

Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Ninety-two percent of small businesses have used the pandemic crisis to reinvent themselves, according to GetApp’s new research, America’s Small Businesses Have Reinvented Themselves. Small businesses are changing operating hours, revamping pricing structures, and adding new payment methods, as well as adding new delivery channels, services and products. 

A June survey of 577 small business leaders reviewed how small businesses transformed their business models as a response to changing customer behaviors due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. 

SEE: Coronavirus: Critical IT policies and tools every business needs (TechRepublic)

Surviving a major crisis is not easy, so the survey identified five key survival techniques for small businesses propelling changes, according to the report:

  1. New online delivery channel: Go virtual, because with a new online delivery channel a company can sell through an online marketplace or take orders online.

  2. New virtual service: Two of five small businesses are creating a new virtual service, such as a yoga class offered online. In lieu of the conventional open house, real estate agents are offering virtual home tours, and even professionally shot videos for the most expensive homes for sale. A virtual version of services or products can also enhance an existing business model as it attracts new customers, and more. Virtual services are a fact of life in the coronavirus-affected world.

  3. New offline delivery channel: A new offline delivery channel (such as curbside pickup or home delivery) is among the most popular business model survival techniques (also called “pivots” in the report). Online consumers quickly discovered the convenience of curbside pickup, and it’s likely to remain the new normal long after social distancing needs have eased. Home delivery service is a more an accepted sign of the times. Small businesses began offering home delivery service, and others choose to partner with third-party platforms to extend customer reach and streamline orders.

    The report found that companies that added a new offline delivery channel were the most likely to report higher-than-expected revenue and the least likely to report lower-than-expected revenue. Companies that applied survival techniques to an existing business model were three times more likely to report higher-than-expected revenue than those that did not.

  4. New products: Companies with the means to develop and manufacture new products, which are then subsequently taken to market, are jumping on the initiative.

  5. New customers: Small businesses that have used marketing software discovered it helps them identify new customers and have those customers return. It also continues to foster relationships with existing customers. Nearly half (49%) of small businesses needed marketing software to support business model changes, the report noted. To communicate the latest updates, businesses turn to social media.

    Two-thirds (66%) of small business respondents that made changes used social media platforms to alert customers. And those posts are not just updates: 85% of all small businesses are paying for social-media advertising. Nearly a third (32%) of small businesses said they have increased spend on paid social media marketing during the past few months.

Continued adoption of changes

Small business leaders who made changes in response to the pandemic, the report said, “are resolute in their decisions, with 96% planning to keep at least some changes and 43% planning to keep all the changes made.

The report found that “a lack of employee skills required for a new approach is the single greatest challenge small businesses are facing” while applying survival techniques, ahead of other obstacles, including being cash-poor. The report acknowledged the practicality of the finding: “This makes sense. New offerings such as an online store, a virtual service, or new delivery channel aren’t effective if you don’t have the skill sets needed to operate them.” Businesses can either hire new skilled employees or train existing employees and give them additional responsibilities.

During the transition, businesses face ongoing challenges. Here are the top five challenges businesses face during transformation, according to the report: 

  1. Employees lack skills required for the new approach
  2. Scarcity of funds or cash
  3. Setting up new online delivery channels
  4. Developing new products
  5. Implementing new health and safety practices

How to recover and reopen

Small businesses are adopting many health and safety measures, from mask requirements to enhanced sanitation standards.

The report recommends small businesses take the following action:

  • Make adjustments and changes necessary to succeed during the crisis, including a move to establish an online presence design through existing commerce platforms. 
  • Maintain business continuity and connection with new and existing customers.
  • Accommodate customers who aren’t comfortable returning to a brick-and-mortar store by adding an offline delivery channel.
  • Innovate by reevaluating resources, the creation of new products, brainstorm for a new service, and bring it all to market.

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Gmail Techniques to change your (work) life

gmail-techniques-to-change-your-(work)-life

Imagine what you could do if you spent half as much time in email. Learn how, using Google Mail as the example.

Image: iStockPhoto

Joel Spolsky wrote in 2004: “Sometimes I just can’t get anything done. Sure, I come into the office, putter around, check my email every ten seconds, read the web, even do a few brainless tasks like paying the American Express bill. But getting back into the flow of writing code just doesn’t happen.” 

Now, 16 years after Spolsky wrote Fire and Motion, too many of us are still goofing around in our email all day. And we’ve added Skype, Slack, Teams, and a bunch of other things that can pop up and interrupt us. 

SEE: Zoom vs. Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, Cisco WebEx and Skype: Choosing the right video-conferencing apps for you (TechRepublic)

Of all of them, in my experience, email is the worst. It grows insidiously as you sign up for an 8% discount on coffee or to get a white paper. Suddenly, you are spending 10 minutes a day just deleting email that you for some reason actually asked to get. Ten minutes a day, by the way, is about 4.5 business days a year. 

Today I’m going to talk about taking a whack out of email—a serious wack. It’s easy, and it works. As an example, I will use Google Mail, the world’s most popular free email system. Our goal here is to get out of email. This should be as easy as checking email three times a day—in the morning, at lunch, and an hour before leaving the office. Sadly, the human brain is too easily tricked by the new and different, leading us to what I call “work avoidance,” which looks a lot like what Joel Spolsky described. So, we’ll layer on a few mind hacks to get you working and avoid interruptions.

Not only does Google filter out your spam, it can even use artificial intelligence (AI) to split the inbox into promotions, updates, social, and, well, email you should actually care about. If you aren’t doing this, stop and do it now. Go into Settings, Inbox, and check the categories (Figure A).

Figure A

Minimize your distractions

In addition to keeping Gmail closed, keep Slack closed as well (if your company allows it). The only instant-response tool I use is texting, to coordinate when timing is tight. Some companies make a conscious tradeoff to lose productivity for responsiveness and want you to have notifications turned on for some collaboration tool all the time. That’s fine. Still, make a tally of all the different things you have that can create notifications to distract you from the work itself and get rid of them. Reduce the allowable notifications to one or perhaps two. Personally, I allow personal pings on Slack (but discourage it) and tell people that if it matters, text me, but it had better matter.

Socialize a reasonable response

A few years ago it was all the rage to set an auto-responder to say you checked email three times a day. My inbox filled up with auto-responders. Don’t do that.

Instead, remind people that email is for non-urgent communication. If they need an answer, they can text or use an invasive app in which you allow notifications. Perhaps you allow people to hail you on Slack: They need to realize this will take you out of a flow state and should do it rarely.

SEE: Return to work: What the new normal will look like post-pandemic (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Think about the expectation that emails are responded to immediately. How could a creative person ever get anything done? The sad answer is that many of them don’t; they have days very much like Joel Spolsky.

Optimize your email. Set expectations. Focus on the work. You might find yourself the most productive person on your team.

Lots and lots of unsubscribing

Block out a half-hour of your day to just unsubscribe from things from your inbox. The goal here is that when an email appears in your inbox, it actually means something. This should be rare enough that you don’t get a thrill from checking email, and can get back to work.

The discipline is to not use email as a distraction from the real work. There are a hundred ways to do this, from Pomodoro timing creative work, blocking calendar time for creative work, or having an app like freedom.to block websites and apps during certain times of the day. With a little bit of discipline, you can, of course, ignore all those things. They can be a little bit like dieting by only having carrots and celery in the house, creating that little bit of extra work to cheat. 

Keeping the interesting things out of your inbox can help you get back to work. Check the categories like Forums and Social media with a quick glance, and you’ll soon realize none of them need an active response. They are essentially clutter. Eventually you’ll just check them for the occasional AI mistake.

A word on management

Back in 1987, in the book PeopleWare, Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister pointed out that to be effective, knowledge workers need large uninterrupted blocks of time. Yet, they said, the most effective managers were interrupted on average every three minutes. For you, your Integrated Development Environment (IDE) is email, plus perhaps Slack and meetings. If you need to respond quickly, the techniques above can help you eliminate things not worth responding to at all, to focus on the things that do need attention.

Know what you need to be effective, then bend email and the calendar to your will. These things are supposed to be tools for our benefit. When we become slaves to them, it might be time to change our approach.

If you want more, check out even more specific Gmail productivity hacks.

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