When the pandemic began at the start of 2020, many of us hoped the worst of it would be over before the end of the year and business would return to relative normality. Sadly, this has been a time of hardship for most businesses. Government restrictions have affected operations in different ways and markets are fast changing. General uncertainty has meant investment is more difficult to come by. Furthermore, the economic downturn has meant overall spending is down. While 2021 is facing many of the same challenges in terms of the virus risks and restrictions, the unstable conditions have become more familiar.
The “New Normal” has been used from the beginning of COVID-19 to indicate that there will be no return to the pre-pandemic world; the world is permanently changed. This means we must adapt to the new business environment and take all the opportunities available to us.
Starting a new business in this climate is difficult, but not impossible. This blog highlights six considerations for the budding entrepreneur.
Identify the opportunities
While some industries, such as retail and travel, have taken a real hit during the pandemic, other areas such as e-commerce and online learning have been much more successful. eCommerce giant Amazon, as well as food delivery services like Deliveroo, saw huge increases in sales.
Any new business needs to understand potential revenue streams, and the challenges that COVID may bring to their startup. There are huge opportunities across different industries – eCommerce, food delivery, HealthTech and remote learning to name four. However, founders need to act quickly or miss the window of opportunity.
Pandemic-era startups should not only consider what customers need right now, but they must be flexible enough to adapt to new changes and ready to take risks.
Though COVID-19 has been bad news for almost everyone, it can also be viewed as a disruption from which greater things can rise from the ashes. Many businesses have inevitably closed down due to economic hardship, but this provides more opportunities for new businesses to learn from these failures and create new ventures that can have a more meaningful impact.
In these uncertain times, perpetual innovation will lead to success as new businesses look for ways to improve their processes, products, and services provided. This means there’s ‘no time to sleep’ as innovation is rightfully prized as a central aspect of the organisation.
Startups can benefit by looking at the new needs of customers in the post-COVID world. By providing for those needs startups can gain a competitive advantage. But it is not only the ways that your innovations differ from those of your competitors, such as with an increased focus on sustainability initiatives. It is also important to choose a clear path to innovation, by clarifying objectives, improving processes, having the right tools in place and taking regular measures. Also, cultivating a culture of innovation in your startup will keep everyone on the same page.
Source your capital
Investors have been understandably hesitant since the beginning of the pandemic. Although this depends on the industry, some sectors have seen an increase in investment in the last year. Apart from venture capital and private investors, startups always have the option of small business grants and loans, which are available in the UK on national and local levels. These include the following:
- Better Business Finance UK
- Innovate UK Small Grants
- The Future Fund
- The Loan Restrictions Support Grant
- The Kickstart Scheme
- The Enterprise Finance Guarantee
- The New Enterprise Allowance
Many of these have been created to help both new and old businesses in the COVID-19 period.
In recent years, businesses have begun to realise that customer retention is often more important than customer acquisition. This is because in competitive markets – with more flexible and faster ways of signing up for new services (and leaving old ones) – providing the best service to prevent customers from going elsewhere is paramount. It only takes a few minutes for customers to lose interest and find another service offering something you don’t have.
The global pandemic and subsequent recession have not been the best time for customer acquisition, with spending down in most sectors. But it is a good time for businesses to look at better ways to hold on to their existing customers. Various techniques can be used for doing this, including the following:
- Increase personalisation in your interactions with customers so they feel more valued as your customers.
- Use gift cards, free upgrades, discounts, and other promotions that offer your customers something extra.
- Improve your customer service by making it 24/7 or available through different media.
- Engage your customers through online events or podcasts.
Value your employees
Industry leaders from Howard Schultz to Steve Jobs have stressed the importance of a company’s employees in delivering its success. In the words of Simon Sinek, “Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first.”
It goes without saying that within this pandemic period, many employees have been made redundant or furloughed as a result of businesses making cutbacks. But businesses that are starting should aim to invest in their employees and keep them as loyal to the company as they would like their customers to be. Each employee should realise that they are involved in something important, and their contribution is valued. Then it will be possible to watch the business grow together.
Master emerging technologies
For businesses worldwide, lockdowns have greatly accelerated the movement towards digital transformation that many were considering for years. Usually, these transitions into newly digitised operations are carefully planned and take place over months and years. However, the pandemic has left digital transition as the only option. Businesses are relying on the new technologies of AI, cloud computing, and automation to continue during social distancing restrictions.
A heavy reliance on cloud computing is unavoidable under lockdown restrictions, and IT security is an additional concern. Automation and AI also provide time-saving techniques that businesses need to implement to keep up with their competitors. Fortunately, new businesses won’t need to go through a digital transformation. They can begin with all the important technologies already in place.
An excellent way of ensuring your tech solutions are well managed and under control is by engaging a reliable IT support company, such as Mustard IT, that can provide assistance at any time.
The next few years are likely to see a gradual recovery from the pandemic and the restrictions that followed. But no one can be sure of exactly how this will play out and when resurgences will arise. Successful businesses will be those that can plan for every eventuality and be ready to quickly respond to changes at any time.
Mustard IT is an established provider of IT support, network infrastructure and cloud solutions, working with SME businesses located throughout the Greater London area. A boutique London IT support company that prides itself on its personal approach to customer service, Mustard IT provides both remote and on-site technical support to hundreds of London-based businesses every day of the year.