Coronavirus forcing businesses to adapt and rethink how they make money

The importance of business agility during the COVID-19 crisis

Coronavirus forcing businesses to adapt and rethink how they make money

What do you think is the prevailing (and essential) ability these companies are showing, in order to figure out quick, effective solutions to face this crisis? The answer is business agility.

What is business agility?

Business agility, also known as organizational agility, is the capability of a business to be adaptive, flexible and creative through a changing environment. Agile businesses respond quickly to opportunities or threats, whether internal (e.g. failing business operations) or external (e.g. shifts in trends or competitive markets).

“Success today requires the agility and drive to constantly rethink, reinvigorate, react, and reinvent.” – Bill Gates

Other core characteristics of agile organizations are:

  • They are customer-centric: They tailor their services and products to customer demands. Agile organizations are eager to restructure resources and operational systems to adapt to customer needs.
  • They reinforce stable team dynamics: They emphasize on building well-coordinated teams that respond collectively to crises and changes. They achieve that by promoting clarity in task division and responsibilities, and by creating stable internal systems and processes.
  • They nurture a growth mindset: They welcome failure as part of learning and don’t label it as a hindrance to their progress.

“Fail early, fail often, but always fail forward.” – John C. Maxwell

The COVID-19 crisis has posed numerous challenges to businesses. Many companies are already financially impacted and the global economy is predicted to be hit to the tune of $1 trillion according to the World Economic Forum. To overcome all these burdens, employers are becoming more agile.

When the COVID-19 outbreak evolved into a pandemic, companies took drastic measures to protect employees on very short notice. Provided that most businesses take a long time to make a decision and then act on it, this was a desperate call for greater agility on very short notice.

The emphasis of agility is – and will continue to be – in three areas: employee needs, customer expectations, and economic uncertainty.

Addressing and responding to employee needs

What are the biggest needs of employees amidst a health crisis? Staying healthy, feeling safe, and being close to their loved ones are definitely their biggest priorities. That’s why employers search ways to adapt to these needs and protect their employees’ wellbeing.

These are some examples of how companies have altered their policies and practices to respond to these needs so far:

In cases where working from home is not a realistic option, such as in production or retail services, companies have introduced other types of alterations to existing policies.

For instance, Walmart and Starbucks, at the beginning of the pandemic, offered a more generous sick-leave package to their employees, showing that they prioritized their health and security.

Also, and other companies restricted office visitors to limit the spread of COVID-19 in the premises.

As the events evolve, companies enable new measures; this situation unfolds so quickly that regulations and precautions become quickly outdated and require reconsideration. By remaining flexible and agile, and available to listen and help, employers will be able to identify future employee needs and act fast upon them (e.g, new policies, safety regulations, etc.).

Understanding customer needs and expectations

The ongoing socio-economic crisis has also affected consumer behavior. Most physical stores are closing until further notice and many companies, for example in the hospitality or entertainment sectors, have “frozen” their services to respect the rules of social distancing and self-isolation.

In response, some businesses are offering digital solutions or are altering their services. Some of them are moving their customer support to online, with live messaging and/or video-calling options.

Others, for example in retail or supply sectors, have started to expand and adjust delivery services to meet and adapt to customer expectations.

Also, some companies responded quickly to customer needs and gave some of their products free of charge to support customers in these uncertain times. For example, Google is offering its premium feature Hangouts for free until July 1 to help companies continue their meetings via video-conferencing.

the type of services and products your business offers, here are some tips that can help you stay aligned with your customer needs:

  • Listen first, fix second: Reach out to your customers and listen carefully and empathetically to what their problems are. Once you’ve heard their stories and concerns, consider what you can offer them, and how you’ll make it happen.
  • Restructure your resources: To be relevant and helpful, you might need to tweak some of the services you provide, re-allocate your budget, or redistribute tasks to employees from scratch.
  • Nurture relationships with customers: Even when you have to close your stores or pause operating for a while, stay in contact with your customers and build honest relationships with them. This will enable you to sustain a good brand reputation and motivate customers to be around when the crisis is over. The same advice applies for vendors, suppliers and other partners. Remain available and stay connected.

Surviving the economic turmoil of a crisis

The adverse financial effect of this ongoing crisis on businesses has already started to show itself.

Some companies, especially in the travel, hospitality, and entertainment industries, are hugely impacted and forced to take difficult measures, including layoffs or reducing quality in product or service, in order to survive.

But decisions such as these – while beneficial in the short term – can severely hurt your employer brand and customer satisfaction in the long term.

There is no perfect formula to predict the future of each sector; business leaders can picture the next day each company’s unique characteristics. What is the current cash flow and how will it change? Are the offered products or services useful to consumers during – and after – the crisis? If not, can you transform them and make them more relevant?

Business agility has a crucial role here; being able to consistently evaluate all necessary information to adapt to current effects is essential. So is foreseeing trends of the next day, month, quarter, or year.

After meeting with your financial team, shareholders, and vendors, and with a clear overview of the company’s financial status – including current cash flow, credit situation, revenue and expenses, etc.

– on hand, here is what you can do to reinforce agility:

  • Be active: It all starts with your attitude; if you perceive it as a challenge and not as a threat, you’re more ly to have a positive approach. Find the silver lining between sustaining and innovating. You might need to adapt some of your products or services; be available, listen to customers, and explore new territories.
  • Be competitive: Observe what your competitors do and get ahead of them. Remain aggressive; bring your marketing and sales onboard and get your best services out there. Keep your brand reputation strong. Your customers will appreciate that in the long run and you’ll benefit from their loyalty.
  • Be resilient: The next step after business agility is safeguarding organizational resilience – the ability to recover and learn from failure and loss. Use this experience to understand your operations’ pros and cons, and what you can improve in the future to thrive.

A final note: the ongoing crisis is just a large-scale reminder that businesses are constantly facing changes that threaten their bottom line – some minor, some major. Being agile, flexible, and resilient will better position you to overcome these challenges as they surface, with minimal impact to your business.


How to Start a Business During COVID-19

Coronavirus forcing businesses to adapt and rethink how they make money
Pandemics COVID-19 force current and aspiring business owners to rethink their plans, from business model and type to methodology.

— Getty Images/BongkarnThanyakij

Across various industries, companies have had to adapt their operations to comply with social distancing protocols and stay afloat during an economic downturn.

These conditions have made it difficult for many existing businesses to survive and even more difficult for new ones to open.

Launching a startup is a complicated feat in the best of circumstances, and it's an especially complex process to tackle during COVID-19. Many people might think it impossible to pursue entrepreneurship in such uncertain times, but doing so might not be such a bad idea. In fact, a business has the potential to survive and even thrive during a global pandemic.

“While there are certainly some incredible challenges launching any business right now, the opportunity is also ripe to launch a new business,” said Jeremy Shoykhet, who founded New York City-based delivery service SuperFast in May. “The disruption caused by COVID has triggered people to rethink their entire lives, providing a unique window of opportunity to offer new and exciting brands and services to consumers.”

Here are some opportunities and tips for starting a business during a pandemic.

[Read: How to Start a Business After COVID-19]

Types of businesses that are thriving during COVID-19

Certain businesses are better suited to the current climate than others. Here are some types of businesses that are seeing a strong demand during the coronavirus pandemic:

  • Cleaning services. Many people and businesses are turning to professional cleaning services that can safely and effectively sanitize homes, offices and restaurants.
  • Delivery services. With many staying home and avoiding nonessential outings, people are increasingly relying on delivery. Retail delivery, as well as food, grocery and meal prep delivery, are seeing a particularly strong demand.
  • Fitness equipment and online fitness classes. Most gyms and fitness studios have limited in-person capacities right now, so consumers are turning to fitness equipment companies and virtual classes to stay fit without leaving the house.
  • Landscaping/yard care companies. Rather than going out or on vacation, people are spending more time at home with family or hosting smaller outdoor get-togethers. As a result, landscaping and yard care companies are seeing even more business than usual.
  • Mask makers. With mask-wearing becoming a requirement in certain settings, several companies have cropped up or successfully pivoted their operations to create high-quality, aesthetically pleasing masks.
  • Telehealth services. People have been wary of visiting doctor's offices, where they could more easily contract coronavirus. As a result, telehealth services have become increasingly popular.

Alexandre Douzet, founder, Pumpkin Pet Insurance

Tips for starting a business during a pandemic

If you're considering entrepreneurship right now, here are a few things to keep in mind:

Think about what consumers need right now

Consumer habits have significantly shifted amid the pandemic, so consider how your offerings fit into your customers' current lifestyle.

For example, pet adoptions soared by 700% since last year, as people sought pet companionship while they're spending more time at home.

Alexandre Douzet saw an opportunity to help this influx of new pet owners with his business, Pumpkin Pet Insurance, which launched in April.

While the pandemic has allowed Douzet to fill a need in the market, he has still needed to focus on what's impacting consumers in their daily lives.

“A key challenge during COVID has been striking a balance between having empathy for the things that are happening in the world, while at the same time not taking the foot off the gas,” said Douzet. “When you're launching a company you don't have the luxury of time for any outside distractions, but during that time, the whole outside world was a distraction.”

[Read: Business Ideas That Will Emerge the Pandemic]

Develop a good digital marketing strategy

A strong digital marketing strategy can help bolster your new business through uncertain times. Transparent communication and staying true to your brand online are two key ways to build customer loyalty in the pandemic and beyond.

“COVID has made marketing far more difficult, as many of the normal avenues you might market a consumer brand, namely events, are not feasible right now,” Shoykhet told CO—.

“We've been primarily turning to digital advertising and customer referrals as our main sources of traffic.

We have also done a few socially distant outdoor events, such as renting an ice cream truck and giving out free ice cream.”

Connect with consumers on social media

Social media is a great way to bring in new customers and share updates with current ones. Of course you want to promote your business and any (virtual) events you're having, but you shouldn't just sell, sell, sell. Use your social accounts to genuinely engage with your customers and get them excited about your brand.

“To date, lot of [our] marketing has been organic,” said Samantha Lancia, who started her online loungewear boutique, Shop Simplicity LLC, after she lost her job due to COVID-19 in March.

“I have very supportive friends and family who shared my material to help me grow my initial following.

The next phase of marketing will include seeking ambassadors, collaborations with other brands and social media advertising.”

Create a long-term, recession-proof business plan

The business landscape looks very different now than it did a few months ago, and it could very well change again. Developing a long-term, recession-proof business plan with good financial planning in place will help ensure your startup can weather any storm.

“I recommend ensuring your business is COVID-proof, meaning it's something that someone would be able to enjoy in the COVID world we're currently in,” said Douzet. “If not, you run the risk of incurring costs that you can't turn on a profit on.”

Be flexible and stay positive

Adaptability is the key to success for any entrepreneur and their business. Have a plan, but be flexible in the face of change.

Above all else, stay positive. While launching a startup right now has its unique challenges, it's far from impossible.

“If you have the drive, do not wait another second,” Lancia said. “There are millions of resources at our fingertips, including , online seminars, articles and books. Most importantly, do not be afraid to ask for help. You may be surprised at how many people reach out a helping hand when you just ask.”

[Read: 8 Franchises That Are Thriving During the Pandemic]

For more resources from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce:

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you your individual situation.

Follow us on Instagram for more expert tips & business owners stories.

Watch the replay from our latest Roadmap for Rebuilding event, where the panel offers the strategies you need to build a cohesive and productive team, even in this new normal of remote work.

Published August 25, 2020


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