Small businesses becoming more 'future-focused' following COVID-19 - owners

Small business director and TV personality Gilda Kirkpatrick and business improvement adviser Zac de Silva discuss what small businesses are doing differently following COVID-19.
Small business director and TV personality Gilda Kirkpatrick and business improvement adviser Zac de Silva discuss what small businesses are doing differently following COVID-19. Photo credit: Supplied.

Small businesses are becoming more future-focused as a result of COVID-19, a creative agency director and business improvement specialist say.

The pandemic has caused business confidence to fall and revenues to drop. For those committed to the survival of their business, it could also bring new opportunities for growth.

Kiwi television personality and author Gilda Kirkpatrick, who is also a director of creative agency Hello, said that businesses faced a lot of uncertainty and had to be proactive.

"We’re all navigating uncharted waters, and we need to plot our course accordingly," Kirkpatrick said.

During lockdown, her leadership team nutted out a two-to-three-year strategy, setting a target of 150 percent year-on-year growth. Rather than be concerned with short-term cash flow, her business of 14 staff focused on long-term profits and supporting loyal clients.

"Some were in a strong position, some needed to tread water and some were really hurting as a direct result of COVID-19. Our commitment was to support them all through tough times," Kirkpatrick explained.

Coming out of lockdown, businesses were looking for perspective and reassurance. They're becoming more "future-focused" and improving online functionality.

"The pandemic forced businesses to ensure their end-to-end e-commerce capabilities are up to a global standard...brands which have, or are investing heavily in the online purchase journeys are now benefiting," she added.

Hello, which delivers creative ways to build brands and increase sales, has seen a shift back to the marketing basics. Although investment is often cut back in times of economic uncertainty, once businesses have stabilised, Kirkpatrick suggests they look to increase market share, through strong brand, service and trust.

"Based on data from previous recessions, we believe businesses should maintain or increase marketing investment in order to grow market share, emerging stronger on the other side," she said. 

Zac de Silva, founder of business advisory service Business Changing, said that small business owners should be asking how they can be number one in their market and improve communication with potential customers.  

Businesses should also be careful not to get complacent with existing customers, as following COVID-19, their wants and needs may have changed.

"One of the most powerful things you can be doing right now is identifying how to grow your market share. If you do the math, (let's say your market shrinks by 5 percent in line with economic forecasts), if you grow your customer base  [by the same amount], you'll mitigate the decline in your overall market," de Silva said.

Traditionally, too many small businesses were happy with the status quo and didn't look at continuous improvement enough.

"The main benefit of COVID-19 is that it's forced businesses to think about how they can be better," de Silva said.

While some small businesses operated conservatively, too many ran close to the wind. Businesses are now aware of the importance of having money in the bank.

"Business owners [are] more aware of the need for those rainy day funds as well as the need for some longer-term cash flow forecasts, he added.

 Rather than spending all their time on day-to-day operations, business owners should prioritise their time on opportunities and developing their team. 

"A great culture based on a strong set of values, where the talk is walked at all levels, your team will make customers happier, deliver higher performance and have more ideas for you to consider."

As wage subsidy extensions and mortgage holidays come to an end, business owners struggling to stay afloat are encouraged to stay in touch with their key customers.

"Look for ways to proactively add value, even if you're doing this for free. Customers will remember and will flock back as your market opens up," de Silva said.

Talking to friends, family, peers, even comparing notes with industry competitors can lighten the load and provide a fresh perspective.

"The best business owners have a growth mindset which means they are positive to learning and accepting of new ideas. Look online to see what others in your industry across the globe are doing that could be worth you considering," he added.