Supporting Small Business Owners During COVID-19
Small businesses across Canada and around the world have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Businesses of all sizes are facing drastic changes in the way they operate, and the business landscape is changing at a relentless pace.Undoubtedly the economic uncertainty is going to cause some significant losses in the business world. Local economies are struggling, especially their small businesses. For many businesses, ceasing operations has been a mammoth challenge with very real, immediate, and potentially permanent negative impacts. Often small businesses run on very thin margins. Brick and mortar retail space is expensive, especially if business owners have had to close their doors but continue to pay the lease while there's no income coming in.
Small Business Owners Fear Permanent Closures
While some businesses were able to pivot to an e-commerce model, not all services can operate that way. Many businesses have had to close permanently. Refinery29 talked to some business owners who closed up shop, and while there is lots of positivity, fears about the possibility of going under are also in evidence. Most businesses have had to lay off many or all of their staff. Restaurants and food service businesses may have had to take a loss on any perishable products in stock at the time of closure. Some of these businesses, unfortunately, will not be able to weather this storm. After the COVID pause, many people will have to start over from scratch, either by finding a new job or starting a new business.
It’s not all doom and gloom though; some really great things are happening during COVID-19. Businesses are being innovative and creative and are finding new ways to connect with their customers, continue to run their businesses, and support their communities. People are reconnecting with family and friends and valuing relationships more.
How Can EDOs Continue Supporting Small Business Through COVID-19?
Supporting your small businesses right now is more critical than ever for economic development. You won’t be able to solve everyone’s problems, but you will be able to help some people in your community. Helping business owners find and navigate access to government stimulus programs, from the provincial, federal or municipal level, is important. And as stages of re-opening roll out, additional opportunities (as well as challenges) are emerging.
Some commercial landlords across Canada have supported small businesses with rent deferrals on an individual case basis. Local small businesses may need support or advice for negotiating with their landlords.
With so much uncertainty your community members might not know which businesses are open in their local area. You can help support local businesses by creating, or updating, a directory of businesses that are open. Individual businesses can then update their directory listing. Podcasts provide an opportunity to promote local businesses by interviewing local business owners. You can also collaborate with local media outlets to tell the stories of local businesses and how they’re working through COVID-19 challenges.
Connecting your local business owners to each other is also crucial. Networking is essential. Networking online is just as important as it is offline. One way to help in this present moment is to provide or facilitate an online community. Connecting digitally is a great way to start building resilience in your business community. Giving business owners a place to get to know each other, share strategies, and support each other will make for stronger community partnerships in the future.
An online space also helps level the playing field in your business community. We’re all familiar with the reality that certain levels of privilege mean certain opportunities are more available. Bridging that gap in an online community has the potential to create amazing opportunities and partnerships.
The most important starting point is to get in touch with individual business owners and find out how things are going. If your business community is too large to personally contact each business owner, a survey can give you data about the biggest challenges they’re facing right now. MDB Insight’s Triage BR+E™ platform offers a quick and comprehensive way to determine relative importance, prioritize the most critical support needs, and measure overall business health.
COVID-19 Is Changing How Businesses Operate
An important shift resulting from the pandemic’s impact on the business landscape is in the way businesses operate. One thing that’s become clear in the COVID-19 lockdown is that many businesses can operate more remotely, without a central hub or office.
Jobs like writing, graphic design, and marketing can all be done remotely, for example, and can be critical to how businesses operate in the current reality. We already know that digital literacy skills are important for the future workforce, but the coronavirus pandemic is making that even more clear. Tech skills and soft skills, like problem-solving, are also critical. Future workforce development programs are going to need to focus on making sure community members have the skills needed to adapt to a digital world of work.
EDOs have a full plate right now, supporting the local business community and anticipating what’s coming next. These are challenging times, and we’re here to help. If you are interested in talking about how best to support your community, please give us a call.