Forget Bailouts: Innovation Is the Key to Surviving the COVID-19 Pandemic
This article outlines some tips for businesses to overcome the debilitating effects of the pandemic and survive by being innovative.
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Even as lawmakers in the U.S. gear up for a purported $908 billion stimulus, small and medium businesses (SMBs) continue to shut shops across the length and breadth of the country.
While the proposed stimulus aims to increase the availability of funding to the ailing SMBs across the country, it is just too little, too late. Yelp estimates that 60% of the closures due to the pandemic are now permanent.
“If” and “when” the stimulus money arrives, it will be hard enough to restore any semblance of normalcy in business operations for the hundreds of thousands of businesses and entrepreneurs who are close to bankruptcy. It will be months before the vaccine becomes available to a majority of the population, and even longer before they develop the confidence to indulge themselves.
With jobs lost, businesses shut down, and the frightening possibility of a devastating global recession staring at us, consumers are understandably cautious in terms of spending. Besides, the lockdown and its impact will continue to pose operational challenges to businesses for the next few months until the vaccine reaches the bulk of Americans.
So, businesses are looking at a trifecta of gloomy economic outlook forecasts - Low Spending, A Global Recession, and Continued Restrictions on the Movement of People. Bailouts, although helpful, will not improve the situation considerably.
This brings us to the question – if bailouts cannot help, then what can really make a difference and help businesses survive the pandemic?
The short answer – innovation!
The very entrepreneurial spirit of Americans – adapting to change, overcoming challenges in creative ways, and utilization of available technologies to reduce business disruption – has helped businesses stay afloat in a time when the world around them is crumbling.
Here are some tips for businesses to overcome the debilitating effects of the pandemic and survive.
1. Revolutionize the Delivery of Services
It’s difficult to predict when the lockdown will end, and normalcy will return to everyday business operations. That doesn’t mean that you have to shut shop and go home. It just means that you must find new ways of serving your clients. And, a variety of establishments are already doing it. Consider these:
- Restaurants are focusing on take-outs and food ordering apps to serve their customers
- Schools are conducting their classes via online video apps. Even ivy league institutes have been doing this for some time now
- Fitness trainers are hosting out-of-home workouts for their clients.
The list goes on. The good thing about these options is that these businesses are not inventing new technologies; they are just changing operate they operate using available technologies.
2. Leverage Remote Workforce
Since the beginning of the lockdown, you’ve been likely bombarded with news and social media updates on how other businesses are resorting to a remote workforce to ensure business continuity. Perhaps, you’ve given it some thought too, but are wary of the unknown and uncertainties that come with it. So, here’s some motivation you need to take the plunge:
- The availability of technologies like Zoom, Google Meet, and other team collaboration apps have made remote working seamlessly for various employees in roles such as accounting, HR, IT support, and so on.
- As employees spend more time at home with their loved ones, their productivity is increasing. That’s right, the remote workforce is more productive and happier too. Clearly, the fears of loss in productivity are now proving to be unfounded.
- Working from home reduces the employees’ expenses on commute. In the times of the pandemic, businesses can negotiate a temporary reduction in their salaries. Conversely, the employees who witness these savings may deliver better results for the company, driven by higher employee satisfaction.
3. Cloud Transformation
Cloud transformation was already a hot trend among businesses in every industry and economy worldwide before the pandemic. COVID-19 has only accelerated the adoption of the cloud. Here are some ways the cloud is helping businesses in the times of the pandemic:
- Improved Resilience
With everyone locked in their homes, internet usage has skyrocketed. However, the people who maintain and upkeep digital technologies in organizations are stuck at home too. So, the digital surge combined with limited maintenance has combined to result in increased outages.
Cloud systems offer superior resilience against outages – built-in data backups, recovery tools, and robust security features – that limit disruptions significantly.
- Improved Scalability
The elastic nature of the cloud makes it possible for organizations to manage unexpected changes in consumer demand seamlessly and effortlessly. They can scale up and scale down their digital resources to match the consumer demand and pay only for the resources they utilize.
- Improved Data-driven Innovation
The cloud is designed for data. It offers organizations powerful data manipulation tools that they can utilize to extract highly useful insights from their consumer data. They can improve their existing products, develop new ones, or target new markets or audiences based on these insights. The potential is unlimited.
There are several more benefits of cloud that have made it a powerful enabler of business both during and in the pre-pandemic era.
Automation is enabling businesses to streamline their operations and simultaneously improve customer satisfaction. Chatbots, for instance, allows businesses to engage their audiences in natural, “human”-like conversations. They offer quick, accurate, and timely responses to your potential customers, and even guide them through the purchase journey.
Likewise, robot process automation (RPA) can be used to automate a sizeable number of repetitive, low-level tasks, thereby freeing up your precious resources to focus on what really matters.
Another more common example of automation is the self-service checkouts. Millennials love to reduce human interaction as much as possible, and solutions like chatbots and self-service checkouts offer a win-win solution for both consumers and businesses. The increased customer satisfaction, lower costs of operations, and enhanced performance all add up to fuel your revenues.
5. Service Innovation
A bit of creativity can go a long way in attracting previously ignored customers. For instance, meal buckets like Family Specials, Friends Specials, Weekend Combos, etc. can fetch high-value, low-volume orders from both current and new customers for restaurants.
McDonald's, for instance, has gone all out on its drive-thru and digital experience push. As part of its digital push, it has installed new POS systems that allow its customers to browse the menu, select items, make a payment, and place an order with zero in-store contact. This minimizes the risk of infection while demonstrating to their customers that the company cares about their health.
Likewise, fitness centers can use fitness apps to track their customers’ exercise regimen daily and offer them personalized advice based on that. Such a personalized can go a long way in winning the loyalty of their customers.
6. Diversification – Temporary and Permanent
Despite everything that you try, it’s quite possible that your business may just be not-so-relevant for consumers in pandemic times. If that’s the case, then you can use your workforce, premises, and business setup to create, market, and sell products that are highly relevant in the COVI19 context. Here are some product ideas:
- Hand Sanitizers
- Face Masks
- Complete sanitation kits
- PPE Kits
- Tissues and wet wipes
- Mental wellness products – stress balls, foot massagers, and so on.
7. Upskill and Leap to Next Level
For many businesses that witness frenzied activity during non-pandemic times, the lockdown can be a terrific opportunity to undertake the business improvement projects they’ve been putting off due to time crunch.
Free and premium online learning resources like Coursera, Datacamp, Codecademy, EDX, FuturLearn, and several others offer basic to specialized courses on almost everything under the sun. Upskilling your staff allows you to target new customers, new markets, and new needs of the consumers. You may emerge out of this lockdown stronger.
8. Take Advance Orders
Businesses like wedding caterers, escape rooms, party halls, yachts, and other experience providers usually take advance bookings from their clients. You can extend the advance booking periods by several months and offer your customers a sweet discount for the trouble. The farther the booking date, the steeper can be the discount. Your customers get sizable discounts, and you can get an immediate inflow of cash.
These are not normal times. Businesses cannot continue to operate as they did under normal times and expect to come out unscathed out of the pandemic. As the cliché goes, they must undertake desperate measures, exercise their creativity, and transform their business to generate new avenues of revenue. They must reinvent how they do business.
To discover more technology-driven opportunities for your business, and identify new sources of revenue, get in touch.
About the Author
Mir Y. Ali, Field CTO, 2NDWatch Inc
Mir is a recognized technology leader, strategy professional, and community welfare leader, who has held senior management positions in multiple organizations, including at FitchRatings, Here, and United Airlines. When he is not delivering successful digital transformation projects to his clients, he offers his leadership skills for community welfare as the President of the Board of Directors at Careers of Light Inc.
Opinions expressed by DZone contributors are their own.