Most small business owners made changes to their business in response to COVID-19, whether it was adding touchless payments or rearranging an office to put desks six feet apart. Let’s look at some of the operational updates made during COVID-19 and consider whether you’ll need to shift again in the future.

 

Inventory, materials, and supplies

Think about your specific needs for supplies and materials. Some small businesses turn raw materials into a final product (like manufacturers or restaurants) or simply use them in daily business (supplies for an office, hair dye at a salon). Given the ongoing disruption to the global economy, you may not be able to get the same supplies at the same costs going forward.

As you think about supplies and suppliers, there are a couple things to keep in mind:

  • Your pricing. With the economy as it is, you may not be able to pass increased costs on to consumers.
  • Your suppliers. Be prepared to switch vendors and be prepared to negotiate with your current suppliers.
  • Your inventory. If you can afford it, stock up. Keeping a larger inventory of supplies might give you flexibility in the event of a shortage.

For instance, homebuilders worried about whether they’ll be able to import Italian marble, and at what cost, might switch to soapstone countertops since they can be sourced domestically.

 

Action: Set yourself up for success if you negotiate with vendors. Focus on a specific ask, like discounts for on-time payments, and make sure you have contactless online banking set up so you can implement updated terms with minimal hassle.

 

Physical space

Businesses with a physical location, whether it’s a storefront or an office, have had to rethink logistics. Consider the following:

  • Many employees who began working from home during COVID-19 want the option to continue.
  • Reconfiguring workstations to ensure employees are six feet apart going forward.
  • Is your telecom equipment up to date? Do you have a plan in place to keep it up to date?

 

Action: Some adjustments — like ensuring you have a fast, secure internet connection to make it easier to process remote payments or allow employees to work from home — may continue to benefit your business. Review any temporary technology adjustments and consider making them permanent. 

 

Production process

It’s important to make sure your employees feel safe and secure. But socially distanced working conditions can affect your output. Do the math to figure out the extent of the impact.

Then, consider demand. For some products, demand may increase or decrease as this crisis plays out.

Before you adjust your production to account for any changes in output, gut check those considerations against demand forecasts. For example, if your business packages pasta for both restaurants and consumers, you might consult with the Food Industry Association about how people are eating to determine which type of packaging to focus on.

 

 

Action: If you’re not sure how demand may change, an industry group or trade organization may be able to offer insights. You can also speak with customers directly about how they think their needs might change.

 

Customer experience

Consider how you can create a safe and efficient customer experience. This may involve more than physical distancing. And customers may tire of temporary inconveniences. Consider how to permanently update your space:

  • Create a clear policy around safety. Customers may want to know how you are protecting them, from sanitizing checkout counters to how you handle returns.
  • Discounts could benefit both customers and your business. A subscription-based business, for example, could offer a discount on monthly rates if customers pledge to continue their membership for a set period.
  • Reschedule with care. As businesses recover from closures and deal with changing conditions, think through the best method for rescheduling your clients: first come, first served, loyal customers first, and so on.

 

Action: Make it easy for customers to find out about any updates you’ve made to better serve them. Ideas include marketing your improved services and building an FAQ section on your website.

 

Regardless of the type of business you run or how it’s structured, it’s likely you’ll need to adjust your operations as the COVID-19 crisis evolves. Think through any potential updates strategically to help ensure you’re well positioned as things start to normalize.

 

SOURCES: New York Times, Real Simple, IBM, CDC, USA Today, Food Industry Association

LRC-0421