Keeping Your Small Business Afloat During the Pandemic: Adapting to Life After COVID


In a normal market – without the coronavirus – if business slowed you might consider simply contacting a marketing agency targeting your particular niche, such as a legal marketing agency, or you might boost your web presence by hiring a proven SEO and web design firm.

But these days, if a business is slow it is likely due to COVID-19, and no marketing or SEO efforts can overcome that.

Companies with existing business continuity plans and disaster recovery plans may have a leg up in that they have already identified critical operations and implemented procedures to continue to do business.

But even these business owners must grapple with the changes in the economy as well as their particular market wrought by stay-at-home and social distancing mandates. Is there a demand for the product or service you offered before COVID-19?

What are you going to do? Some business owners can simply make a small shift, perhaps offering their goods online only rather than via storefront, or delivering rather than having customers visit.

Others must pivot sharply, perhaps to something only tangentially related to their current business or something wholly unrelated. 

This article will explore the questions business owners must ask and answer for themselves in order for their companies to survive the pandemic.

Question #1: Can You Continue to Operate During the Pandemic?

This is the first question you must ask yourself. Is it possible to continue business operations, follow distancing and sanitizing protocols, and still make money? 

Some service-based businesses, such as nail salons, massage therapists, and personal training, which require hands-on clients, have started to reopen with mixed results.

Many states have opened, then closed these types of businesses because of the contagion, and those states allowing these businesses to remain open are imposing strict limits on the number people allowed in the establishment as well as detailed and extensive sanitization requirements.

Goods-based businesses can shift from storefront to mail-order and online ordering and need only be concerned with sanitizing the workplace and keeping employees safe. 

Businesses that are hybrid goods-services concerns, such as restaurants, can offer outdoor dining while the weather is good as well as take-out and delivery. But what of the bar business?

If there is a possibility of staying open during the pandemic and doing some sort of business, you can do it if you apply for one of the low-interest, forgivable loans offered by the Small Business Administration under the CARES Act.

A Payroll Protection loan might be just the money you need to pay and retain your employees while business is slow or limited due to the pandemic.

Question #2: Is there Current Demand for the Product or Service You Offer?

The demand for some products and services has dwindled to a trickle due to COVID-19. Think about movie theaters, professional sports, and music, theater, and dance performances. All of these are near impossible to do at scale, although some artists are performing outside and streaming online performances.

Other products and services have surged. Sales of kayaks, bicycles, and fishing equipment have skyrocketed as people search for socially-distance activities they can do during the pandemic. Small wineries, breweries, and distilleries are doing a land-office business with outdoor seating and bottle pick-up. 

Some products and services have remained the same. Grocery stores and liquor stores remained open and doing business as usual. Services such as auto repair, long haul trucking, and private mail services are largely unaffected.

Where does your company fall in the spectrum from doing more business, business remaining steady, or business slowing or stopping entirely? Determining your current status leads you to decide whether you must make a change in order to survive.

Question #3: Can You Offer a Related Product or Service that is in Demand Right Now?

Before a local distillery was allowed to reopen its doors, it continued to produce its spirits but also made hand sanitizer with the by-products of its processes, keeping its name in the public eye during the first few critical months of the COVID-19 crisis. Now, with limited outdoor seating and unlimited bottle sales, it is thriving.

Is this something that you should consider? If there is some demand for what you do or what you produce, that suggests that you might weather the pandemic with assistance in the form of Payroll Protection loans and the like.

However, if there is little or no demand for what you do or produce, it might be time to pivot entirely, even if only temporarily.

Let’s say you have a boutique clothing shop and tailoring business. Could you not offer couture masks? Could you start offering your clothing for sale online?

What if you fabricate parts for machine shops, and those machine shop orders have slowed to a trickle. What else can you make? Perhaps a key fob that permits one to open a door without contact? Are there other businesses that need things fabricated, such as signs or other commercial items?

These are interesting times. It will be the creative, persistent business owners who find a way to continue operations in some form, who will survive and come out of this in two or three years having retained their good reputation and customer base.

Good luck!