Business owners have been forced to adapt their business models throughout the pandemic, whether it was with small changes like incorporating digital payments or bigger shifts like introducing a new product line. Now owners may be wondering what to do next: Keep the newer business model, go back to a pre-COVID way of doing things, or some combination of the two. We look at how to incorporate your past adaptations, and possibly adapt once again for the future.
How business has changed
COVID-19 caused unprecedented global disruption and, with it, an unprecedented need for businesses to adapt. Some of the most common adaptations included improved efficiencies: Updating IT systems to allow for remote work or video conferencing; redesigning offices to create social distancing; and adding contact-free digital payment options.
Businesses are likely to keep those adaptations as the pandemic evolves; it doesn’t make sense to downgrade your IT, for example. But some businesses made bigger changes.
Consider a furniture designer who sells wholesale to stores. Early in the pandemic, sales slowed at those retailers as shoppers looked for furniture online. So the furniture designer decided to sell direct to consumers. And because she noticed people spending more time on social media sites like Pinterest and Instagram during the crisis, she decided to promote her products there.
As restrictions began to lift, the stores she sold to pre-pandemic began seeing a jump in business. This led her to wonder: Should she redirect her efforts back to wholesale or stay focused on direct sales on social media? Is it possible to do both?
Let’s walk through what she might consider.
Circle back to your vision and goals
At the beginning of the crisis, when businesses were first starting to adapt, experts suggested you review your mission statement before you made a move. The goal was to revisit the vision and goals you had when starting your business to help you decide what changes to make. Ideally, any crisis-related changes you have made to your business have helped you fulfill your broader mission.
That same advice can help you now. If changes you made fit with your original mission, the decision to keep them may feel more organic. (More on that in the next section.)
If you didn’t think about changes to your business in this context, do so now. You might look at formal business documents, like your value proposition, or think more generally about how you’re serving your customers. Use your original vision and objectives to evaluate whether the changes you made are putting you on the right track.
If the answer is no, you may want to begin phasing out any changes that aren’t furthering your mission. If the answer is yes, consider the steps below.
Evaluate the changes you made
If you’ve determined that the changes you made are furthering your overall business objectives, the next step is to think about your customers.
Let’s go back to our furniture maker. After getting her social media up and running, she began to generate sales. People stuck at home during the pandemic were redecorating their homes, and she got a surge in orders.
She might ask herself: As customers adjust to the new normal, will they still want to buy online or will they prefer to test furniture in stores?
If she doesn’t have a ready answer to this question, she might do some research. She could survey her clients by posting a poll to her social media. Those questions might be direct or they might ask about remodeling and interior projects to get a broader sense of customer habits. She can also talk to the retail stores she sells to and ask about orders, traffic, and sales.
If she discovers that sales at in-person furniture retailers are booming, and her social media contacts have told her they are putting interior design projects on hold as they spend more time at restaurants and events, she may shift her business model to prioritize wholesale.
It’s also possible that both of her business models make sense going forward. Perhaps the retailer indicated that sales were booming, and online feedback said the same: People planned to continue remodeling.
In this case, she’ll need to ask herself whether she has the ability to run both arms of her business well and how long she’ll be able to sustain a new hybrid business model.
Rally the people and resources you need
If you’re trying to determine how to make temporary adjustments work in a more permanent way, think about where you’re running into problems. See if you can narrow down your questions or pain points.
A mentor may be able to help, particularly if they’ve been in business for a long time and have experience with shifting business priorities. If you don’t have a mentor, consider seeking out a professional organization aimed at helping small business owners.
There are a number of other resources that offer owners guidance, such as U.S. Small Business Development Centers and SCORE, which is a resource partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration. Community and regional business organizations can also help; they’re a great place to connect with other regional businesses that can provide advice and support.
Trade and industry groups are also a good option. They may have online groups or forums with advice. If your industry has experienced a major shift, these groups may help you stay up to date about ongoing changes.
Remember how far you’ve come
While the pandemic has presented its share of challenges, it has also released the creativity that small businesses are known for and highlighted owners’ resilience and tenacity. At this point, it might be tempting to put your head down and keep doing what you’ve been doing. But taking a step back to strategically look at the changes you made — and whether they’ll continue to serve you in the long term — can help you take your business to the next level.
Changing your business, evaluating what’s working and what isn’t, and revisiting your mission as a company often can help you tap into the passion that inspired you to start your business in the first place.