No one could have anticipated how the coronavirus would impact the global economy, including Canada’s, when this year began. In particular, the pandemic is hitting small businesses hard. For many non-essential businesses, it has meant closing its physical doors during the shutdown and furloughing employees. For some others that are allowed to remain open, it comes with a whole new set of rules around social distancing and enhanced sanitary procedures.
As the pandemic rages on and lockdown orders remain in effect, small business owners are relying on a combination of government help and their own ingenuity to try to ensure business continuity.
What's the Impact of Coronavirus on Businesses?
While the most obvious impact of coronavirus is its toll on public health, the economic impact has been difficult to bear as well—and may continue for the unforeseeable future.
“As a small business owner, like others, the coronavirus impacted me all of a sudden,” says Livio Balzamo, owner of Regina Trattoria & Pizzeria in Toronto, which has been in business since 1967.
Practically overnight, businesses were told that they had to close down to the public. That came as a tough blow for Balzamo since prior to the pandemic, 70% of his business revenue was from sit-down dining.
As such, he had to make the difficult decision to cut his number of employees from 12 down to three while transitioning into a takeout-only business. The nine former employees are on government assistance, and Balzamo has also applied for government funding. “The government has stepped up – it helps,” he says. Business-wise, the take-out approach started off very slow and then slightly picked up, he says – but still not enough to cover expenses.
Balzamo surmises that many families are simply choosing to hunker down and do home cooking rather than pay for restaurant food since they are probably feeling the economic pinch as well. Other customers might simply be fearful about whether small businesses are using proper safety precautions.
“We’re trying to get the word out on the internet and push out our own advertising on Instagram,” says Balzamo. He also added his eatery onto a local government listing that is trying to promote businesses that are still operating. “We’ve got a lot invested in this business and we’re just trying to stay afloat and survive until this is over,” says Balzamo.
Business Survival Strategies
In order to ensure business continuity, there are a number of different measures that small businesses can take.
Pivot to virtual and/or online services
For restaurants or other essential grocery businesses, changing to contactless delivery, curbside pick-up and utilizing online delivery platforms and contactless payments has become the norm. Other services like martial arts schools, dance studios, and fitness centers are switching to live video conferencing sessions to help keep their customers engaged. Such changes can be a challenge to more traditional brick-and-mortar small businesses that are used to relying on in-person, cash transactions, but being creative and getting past digital learning curves is proving necessary.
Offer alternative products and services more in line with what’s in demand
Some businesses are reshaping some of their core offerings to focus on things that might be in demand right now. For example, a bakery shop might offer “at-home cookie or donut decorating kits” while an art studio can sell craft baskets for families who are bored at home and looking for activities. Is there a skill that you can teach others? Maybe an online class related to your business could provide a small income stream, or at the very least, help maintain customer connections. If you normally provide in-home service, consider reaching out to customers to see if there are other things you can help them with, such as delivering groceries.
Make plans for future growth
If you are forced to keep your business closed, now is a good time to work on things you don’t typically have time for like updating marketing materials, redoing your website, and connecting with customers. Such projects could be a good way to keep some of your employees working as well. You might also consider looking for creative ways to ensure future business, like offering discounted gift cards that will bring people back in once the pandemic is over. These branding efforts can serve you well when things ramp back up.
Help the community
Some clothing companies or other manufacturers are making masks and protective gear for frontline workers, while eateries are donating meals and snacks to those in need. If you have the means, think about how you can support and give back to your customers and community during the crisis. Even something as simple as encouraging your followers to spread positivity can go a long way, and it will be remembered after the pandemic has passed.
Cut costs and look into programs for assistance
Whether it’s having to scale back hours for your employees or pausing some of your advertising campaigns, look for ways to reduce your bills temporarily. Also, take advantage of programs that are government-funded to help get you through this period.
Adapt to the Changes
Getting through tough economic times and challenges is something that all businesses will face at one point or another. This crisis just happens to be on a larger scale and happening to everyone all at once. By being flexible, learning to adapt, watching your expenses, and staying engaged with customers, it’s possible to pull through.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or an opinion on any issue. It should not be regarded as comprehensive or a substitute for professional advice.