Small businesses have gone through various challenges in the past year which have become learning opportunities. This week on our Live, we hosted Christie Yhap from Starving Artist Markham to discuss the lessons small business owners learned in the past year.
What have small business owners learned in the past year?
Seeking new opportunities in the market:
Cultivating new markets in your industry can help you differentiate your business from your competitors. Christie mentioned how she used the lack of brunch spots in Markham as an opportunity to differentiate her restaurant from competitors as her restaurant was one of the few brunch spots in Markham. When doing her research, she found Markham residents seeking brunch were driving all the way to Toronto. She wanted to create a special place to have breakfast and brunch that was more conveniently located.
Creating a contingency financial plan:
The multiple stops and starts of Covid created a lot of anxiety- especially on the financial side. Christie started her business with a significant financial cushion, and it made all the difference during the many phases of the lockdown, when the business was not earning an income and still had bills to pay. Her advice for business is at times of ambiguity, understanding your finances can help you understand how you can allocate your savings and cash flow to keep your business afloat for a given time. Your business should have an emergency fund or financial cushion that can provide cash to fund at least 6 to 12 months of expenses. Christie found that the more cushion you can have, the more likely your business will survive during uncertainty.
The need to innovate:
Competing with large corporations might put greater pressure on small businesses as they deal with lockdown restrictions. To compete with both other small and large competitors, businesses need to innovate their products and services to align their offerings to the changing needs of their target customers. Taking a step back and observing the business to analyze the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats can help business owners to produce innovative and effective business solutions. In Christie’s case, during the lockdown, she set up an Instagram account and took her business online using delivery apps and social media to compensate for their shut down of physical stores.
Understanding consumer behaviour:
Christie recognized the importance of adapting to the changing needs and patterns of her customers’ behaviour as they changed over the pandemic with the various shutdowns and opening of restaurants faced and having to shift to offering takeout meals. Even though she faced quite a bit of mishap with meals arriving cold at her customers’ door by the time it was delivered from Doordash, she had to keep revising how she prepared her meals to ensure the quality would be like what they would have experienced in her restaurant. Marketing take-out brunch might not have been what she imagined or planned when she opened her business, however, consistently observing market conditions and changing consumer behaviour patterns helped her to optimize her business strategy to ensure long-term success.
Leveraging social media:
Social media has become a major marketing tool for small businesses as physical stores shut down. Learning how to create a content strategy, manage a content calendar, reach out to target audiences, set up online shops, and advertising have been some of the challenges of adopting social media for some businesses. However, these trending platforms have helped businesses stay afloat and grow during the shutdowns. This was the case for Christie, who posted pictures of her tempting brunch menu on Instagram. Overall, identifying the right social media platforms to market your business in a time of change can have a significant impact on the survival of small businesses.
Keeping up with news and public guidelines:
Keeping up with news and changing public protocols are essential for the longevity of a business surviving the pandemic. Restaurants have had to become familiar with safety protocols, sanitizing tables after guests, and adhering to capacity guidelines based on social distancing. In Christie’s case, she had spent many months preparing for the reopening, calling back some of her staff and preparing the stores and staff members for phase 1, 2 and 3 of the reopening. She was particularly anxious to see patios open in early summer so that her business would have more of a fighting chance to recover from the financial setbacks of COVID.
Managing mental health:
Throughout the pandemic, the mental health of business owners has taken a great toll as they had to battle vast ambiguity and changing protocols. This was certainly the case for Christie who talked about the toll that the pandemic took on her mental health as weeks turned to months and months over a year and a half later. To strengthen her mental health, she spent time in her community supporting other small businesses and giving back as much as she could in her spare time. Supporting other small businesses in her community helped to recognize that she was not alone, and she could feel a part of a community of business owners who were facing the challenge of struggling to keep their business open alone, but together.
Setting up an actionable plan:
Although Christie said she felt overwhelmed many times during the pandemic, it was important for her to find ways to calm down and create an actionable plan can help her business push through the ambiguity towards success. You can too!!
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