The 10 pressing Small Business Challenges in 2021 and tips on how to manage them
For the past year there has not been a day that when you turn on the news or go on social media that you don’t see people talking and or writing about the Covid-19 pandemic. And many companies have adopted the remote work-from-home trend; this has a profound change on how we live and work. Changes such as:
- Shifting from in-person meetings to Zoom video conference calls
- Dealing with the challenges of being in home and having multiple people trying to be productive and work
- Many brick and mortar businesses of had to adapt to a heavier online presence.
Some companies have been able to handle this change while others are not doing so well. Depending on the industry and how well the business was able to pivot to digital the hurt to small businesses has been very apparent. Some businesses have closed their doors, some must lower income and sales, some have had to lay off workers. Small businesses especially ones with a brick and mortar presence have been hurt the most. According to the SBA “More than half of Americans either own or work for a small business, and they create about two out of every three new jobs in the U.S. each year.” And as the Federal Government and individual states are slowly rolling out Vaccines we still don’t know what the rest of the year will look like and will we ever go back to ‘normal’ and really open up the economy again so that people can go to concerts and travel again to a bar with your friends etc. I believe we have adopted consumer behaviors of using digital technologies in both business collaboration and shopping that will have some stickiness or will be with us going forward as the new normal. Similar to how our world changed after 9/11. Doreen Pierce, an Entrepreneur contributor wrote about this topic, which I thought was interesting.
What to do in an uncertain business environment?
Here are the 10 largest issues, hurdles or challenges that small business must deal with this year.
Issue 1: transforming to the new digitization of the economy
Many large enterprise businesses had the resources and means to quickly make this transition whether it means building new product features, changing operational models, offering more flexible payment options, or making sure their team stays productive while working from home.
Companies that had already been investing in digital before the Covid-19 pandemic hit were well positioned to make changes. Even when the lockdowns closed Disney’s theme parks, they had been wrapping up their streaming platform Disney plus to compete with Netflix. According to CNBC Disney is restructuring its media and entertainment divisions, as streaming becomes the most important facet of the company’s media business. Another winner is Chipotle, the fast food burrito maker. When the pandemic hit in March of 2020, the reorganized its media and marketing efforts which had been driving in-store visits and marketing around sports before the crisis to now focus on food delivery and curbside pickup. During the 2nd quarter of 2020, it was the chain’s digital channels that sustained the company, accounting for more than 60% of sales in the quarter.
Issue 2: managing and dealing with employees who are working remotely from home
According to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, companies are anticipating another largely remote work year, and new questions about compensation, tax costs as employees move to new locations while working remotely and benefits are weighing on managers.
Although debate continues about whether the business world will return to normal even after most people have the COVID-19 vaccine, the expectation is that many companies will soon want to call employees back to the office. Some workers may still get to work on a hybrid part-time basis from home, and some businesses will embrace a more distributed remote workforce permanently. But tension between owners and remote workers is building as it becomes evident many employees are resistant to giving up working from home. According to recent survey, 65% said they want to work remotely full-time after the pandemic. And in a poll conducted by LiveCareer, 29% of working professionals said they would quit if they couldn’t continue working remotely. Once we reach herd immunity, companies will be deciding whether it makes sense to keep expensive office space. Many companies might adopt the hybrid work model. But as challenging as remote work has been in the pandemic, it may only get more confusing going forward in a hybrid setting.
According to an article by Alexandra Cotes in Entrepreneur, within a hybrid workplace, every individual is likely to struggle with making the schedule work for them. As work keeps switching between the office and their screens at home, they might lose focus and motivation. One thing employers can do is to give each employee the freedom to craft a schedule that suits their needs. Some employees may feel more isolated and lonely working from home. The few people who are feeling constricted or find it hard to focus at home will be better off with flexible choices that let them work from the office with their colleagues, even if just on a rotational basis. Before you decide on anything, discuss it with everyone. Schedules, work processes, tools, concerns, team collaboration and independent wishes are all aspects to bring up before returning to your office.
A final note on leading a remote workforce, is to ask yourself the question, “what are the limitations of your business that prevent you from operating it remotely?” According to Jeff Hunter, the founder of VA staffer, many of his clients answer that question with “I don’t have time to train someone to do it.” What that really means is that you don’t have a documented process and clear instructions for vital parts of your business operations. Your company should start documenting processes and create a communication plan.
Issue 3: Lack of In-Person Conferences and Networking Events
Going to industry conferences and in person networking events were a big part of some business to business (B2B) and other companies marketing strategies. For some companies In-person networking events were a great source of client acquisition or talent recruitment process. Although video conferencing tools like Zoom can be efficient for some team or client meetings, trying to do a virtual networking event is not the same. Because people, prospects, local business owners, prefer live face-to-face interactions. The complete death of in-person networking events, which are a lifeline for small business owners to expand their brand reach to the local target market.
Issue 4: Future-Planning or Forecasting is not Easy
According to the Entrepreneur article I referenced earlier Jason Lee, Owner, Healthy Framework had stated “COVID is making forward planning near impossible. Without knowing how long it’s going to be here and to what degree, it’s nearly impossible to plan out marketing efforts, gauge staffing needs, or just know what our customers and clients need.” It is especially hard for companies such as yoga studios or gyms that rely on in person experiences and have had to through shutdowns and business closures and then trying to navigate opening back up at each location, only to be shut down again due to COVID surges.
Issue 5: Leaving Brick-and-Mortar
Adriane Galea, CEO, Beach Bum CEO stated that the biggest challenge is “pivoting business to be completely online. The brick-and-mortar business could not survive COVID, so, I’ve essentially started completely over with a digital business. But clients just aren’t spending money the way they were six months ago, or even two months ago.” According to Marketwatch, fitness companies like Soulcycle, the cult-like spin class company (known for its candlelit studios, carefully curated music and high-energy instructors) have been trying to make the pivot to compete with Peloton and deliver an in-class experience directly into people’s homes. It turns out that the exercise part of an exercise class is the easiest to do remotely. It’s the intangibles—the sense of community, the personal connection, the lasting motivation—that are far trickier to achieve over Wi-Fi. “Foundationally, we have always been a mind-body experience,” said Melanie Griffith, who is a lead SoulCycle class instructor. She went on to mention “We are bringing that welcoming, inclusive experience into people’s homes.” The in-home bikes and software are not cheap, so clearly they are targeting affluent customers. Mrs. Griffith stated that even after COVID, the at-home classes will remain a key part of SoulCycle. Many small businesses do not have the resources or capacity to make huge shifts in their business as companies such as SoulCycle have done.
Issue 5: Lacking A Work-Life-Balance
Some workers find that work-life-balance has become difficult. Small business owner Arnold Chapman told Entrepreneur “before the pandemic, we can clock in and clock out, then leave all our work-related problems at the office. However, now that we’re all working from home, we are busy with taking care of the family while accomplishing our goals. As a result, it can be easy for us to get burned out for doing everything at the same time.”
Issue 6: Increased Shipping Costs
Some companies have seen an increase in the cost of their overseas shipping prices due to COVID’s impact on shipping procedures. In addition, some customers have had to cancel events after purchasing items, and therefore return rates are up beyond normal levels.
Issue 7: Lacking Inspiration and Zoom Fatigue in a Virtual World
Ryan Scribner, Owner, of Investing Simple, told Entrepreneur, “The number one challenge I am facing with my business is maintaining high levels of creativity in the virtual work environment we are in today. In the past, a lot of our best ideas came from group meetings where we all would meet and share our thoughts. I have found it is much more difficult to replicate this in an online environment. You simply do not feel the same energy over a Zoom call as you do in an in-person meeting.”
Other business owners are combating the so called “Zoom fatigue” which is described as the tiredness, worry, or burnout associated with overusing virtual platforms of communication. Many people have also opted for video calls instead of phone calls, vastly increasing the amount of time spent staring into webcams.
Issue 8: Hiccups in Production
Jessica Hill Howard, Founder of Sicily Hill stated “a big challenge is the upset in our production. The components of our products are produced in several factories across the United States and Asia.”
She also said that the varying state and government regulations dependent on the location affects the staffing capacities at their factories; thus, negatively impacting the turnaround times on their products. A recent production run took approximately 25% longer to complete compared to similar productions pre-COVID. This challenge led her to encounter significant inventory shortages as they headed into the busiest time of year for product demand.
Recently, Wayne Miguel, COO/Partner, of MightySkins said that “maintaining stock of necessary materials to continue day-to-day operations is a major challenge. Due to delays and breaks in the normal supply chain, we’ve experienced longer lead times on most materials out of stock for extended periods from some suppliers. The breakdown in the supply chain has made maintaining the standard increasingly difficult.”
Issue 9: Feeling the Pressure to Perform
Some professionals are feeling the external pressure that COVID has put on everyone. People are not just concerned about their jobs anymore, but also about their health. The constant fear has taken its toll and some have noticed a drop in performance.
Malte Scholz, CEO/CO-Founder of Airfocus addressed this challenge by saying “the biggest problem is that I don’t know how to respond to this. On one hand, I feel that I need to address the drop in performance if the business will suffer. On the other hand, I can’t put additional pressure on people because I know they’re doing their best at the moment…”
Issue 10: Long-Term vs. Short-Term Content marketing
Michelle Devani, Founder of lovedevani stated, “as someone who runs a business giving relationship advice, I think the biggest challenge that this pandemic has brought upon us is not knowing how much of our content should be evergreen and how much of it should be geared towards the pandemic. The problem with the evergreen content is that people might not see it as relatable, and the problem with COVID-themed content is that it won’t be relatable once the pandemic is over. So, really, the paradigm here is long-term vs. short-term.”
Clearly the world is struggling, personally and professionally alike. But, as these worlds collide, the challenges for the small business have been nothing like we’ve seen before. And as Doreen Pierce stated that “it’s no longer about taking a great idea and putting it into motion. It’s not about building an amazing team and watching it flourish. And it’s no longer about following a dream or taking a chance.” According to Yelp.com’s Local Economic Impact Report close to 100k businesses have permanently shut down during the pandemic.
So in the end it’s a good idea to help others, make a purchase from the small business owner, order take out from a local restaurant, encourage those you know to keep up the fight, and offer advice or assistance when able. Maybe in the end, it is not the ideas that ever made us great in the first place but rather the drive and determination that made it all happen. While COVID-19 will follow us throughout this year, vaccines are in the pipeline and will eventually allow the nation to retard and eventually eliminate it. We can expect that whatever the new normal is, small business owners will still be the backbone of our economy.