Small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) are the economic backbone of nations around the world, creating thousands of jobs, contributing significantly to the economy and building better communities. And because they mostly don’t have access to deep pockets of funding, they are also often the leaders of innovation out of the necessity to purely exist. And this has never been truer than amid the current global crisis.
COVID-19 has impacted millions of small businesses around the world, with 60–70% of jobs and over half of economic activity in developing countries affected. According to the International Monetary Fund, this puts the entire world at risk of a recession. Many business models have become irrelevant overnight, in some cases due to lockdown laws and travel bans. For many leaders, it is hard to see the upside of such a grim situation. However, on the other hand, for numerous businesses, the current situation provides opportunities that may not have existed previously.
Some businesses will need to rise like a phoenix from the ashes. Associated with the sun, a phoenix obtains new life by arising from the ashes, and this will be the case for many businesses that adopt the right mindset now. They will emerge from the crisis stronger, smarter and more powerful in the process. This will require soul searching during this downtime to reassess, recalibrate and regroup to understand the future.
The good news is that SMEs can pivot and change direction swiftly, unlike big businesses. We have seen some great examples of this during the COVID-19 crisis. For instance, in Sydney, the W Short Group transformed two of its pubs into corner stores selling fresh food, pantry staples and all essentials. Food was sourced from local butchers, bakers and the pubs’ suppliers, so a variety of small businesses have been supported. We have seen other companies, such as consultants, creative groups and entertainers, move quickly to online models too.
These are great examples of businesses showing creativity and innovation in responding swiftly to the crisis and pivoting where possible. But to survive the crisis and emerge with a robust and thriving business, small business leaders need to think big, aim high and remain positive. They must remain calm, harness inner strength, adopt a growth mindset and develop the right attitude.
Easier said than done, of course. I know from experience just how hard it is as a small business owner. However, I also know from experience how patience, perseverance and creativity can help get small business leaders through.
My businesses, like most, have run into challenges. Early on in the crisis, I wanted to run and hide to take it all in. Companies were slashing their marketing budgets, face-to-face training stopped in its tracks and many small businesses put their growth plans into Asia on hold given the uncertainty and travel restrictions. COVID-19 has impacted most of the areas we operate in to some level.
However, after the initial shock, I regrouped and recalibrated. After reviewing the business, we kickstarted some projects that are now more relevant than ever, such as our online entrepreneurs’ program, digital marketing capabilities, and so on.
To survive this period, small business leaders have to shift their thinking and leverage their size to revive during this time. Here are three ways that SME leaders can rejuvenate and create a healthier future post-COVID-19:
Review your passion, purpose and addressable market
Take time to reflect on why you started your business in the first place. What is your purpose? Has this changed because of the crisis? What is your addressable market? Your future customer has probably changed, as have the burning pain points that your business solves. Don’t be afraid to look for new gaps in the market and capitalise on them. Take this time to reinvent yourself.
Change your mindset
Too often people say, "No, this can’t happen or we can’t do that because of such and such." These are often traits of leaders with a fixed mindset – a dangerous characteristic, especially during these kinds of times, as it can hold leaders back from pushing through and achieving even more amazing things on the other side. Leaders need to adopt a growth mindset. Think about the future. Think about growth. Be realistic, but also don’t stop dreaming and don’t be disheartened.
Disrupt your business
COVID-19 has already probably disrupted your industry in some way, shape or form. Why stop there? Now is the time to disrupt your business even more to create an stronger and healthier future. Embrace the discomfort of assessing and analysing your business, adapting your business strategies and understanding that no plan or protocol will be relevant forever. Leaders now must challenge their thinking as a regular part of day-to-day business.
In summary, it's time for small business leaders to think differently in order to revive their operations post COVID-19. Rise like the phoenix and don't give in. Don't limit yourself due to the current situation. Believe in yourself and your business, invest in your brand and remember the reason why you started your business in the first place – come back to passion and purpose. Leaders, don't hold back – your time is now.