Business Planning for the “Next Normal”

May 1, 2020

COVID-19 has impacted businesses in an unprecedented way. While some industries are feeling pressure to survive, other industries are booming. Remaining status quo and hoping for the best is no longer a viable option. Entire industries are changing extremely quickly as are customer expectations. You must start planning now for the post-pandemic business environment.

Despite all the uncertainty one thing remains clear – it is imperative that you consider what your business environment may be in the future and plan on adapting your business operations to what’s going to be the “next normal”. Although no one knows exactly what that looks like, there are ways you can prepare.

First and foremost, expect to feel the impact of the pandemic indefinitely. If your business has been impacted in any way, and most already have, the path of least resistance is to react as the situation changes and trying to hold on until you can go back to running your business as usual.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business continues to survey their members weekly on the impact COVID-19 is having on them, and most recently 32% of respondents who have had to close are unsure if they will even be able to reopen. One quarter believes their business can only survive for less than a month under the current conditions. So what happens if it takes longer than you think? What if restrictions are lifted and then put back in place?

Running a business is an exceptionally busy task. When in the past did you have time to think strategically about the future of your business? If your business is a bit slower than usual right now, this is the ideal time to dust off your business plan and revisit where your business (and industry) are headed. You may need to pivot quickly and forever.

  • We’ve all heard of how local distilleries have pivoted to mass-produce hand sanitizer or how a local sign maker is now hiring back workers previously laid off to produce face shields. These are great examples of expanding your market and adjusting your value proposition in an evolving market. Adapting quickly like this will only help you in the future and you may find a new line of business you’d previously not considered.
  • Your customer base may have changed. You likely know by now if overall demand has changed – but has your base set of customers? Examining your customer dimension might uncover new spending patterns or opportunities to partner with others. There are lots of great examples in Saskatchewan right now such as restaurants creating family takeaway meals or partnering with breweries to sell packaged meals with paired beverages.
  • How does the pandemic impact your delivery channels? No doubt if you are a sales heavy organization you have already had to adapt in some way. More virtual meetings versus face-to-face contact are now a requirement. Depending on your industry there may be less money to spend on purchasing your product. Empathizing with your customers will help solidify trust so that when money and time does free up your business will be top of mind. In some industries there might be an opportunity to assess whether providing door delivery service for your goods would be more profitable than farming that out to an existing provider. Or packaging your product that was previously not available for purchase independently of a service, such as many hair salons now packaging and delivering individualized hair colouring kits to their long-term customers.
  • Some industries are going to see a surge once restrictions are lifted. Routine treatments, such as haircuts, massage therapy and acupuncture will be in high demand once customers feel safe to receive those. Anticipating a potential surge in your business and building a strategy to triage and handle any increases will go a long way in a smooth transition back into regular business.

Your customer expectations will change. As we come out of pandemic operations, customers will have developed a new set of expectations that will become the next normal.

  • The pandemic has strengthened consumer desire to support local businesses and offering choices such as online transactions, virtual tours of products and locations will be table stakes. Consumers are going to want to have options on making contact, making a coordinated omni-channel experience even more important for businesses.
  • Businesses offering customers safety and peace of mind will gain more loyalty. A much higher level of sanitization and safety will likely become a priority as customers start shifting back to consuming in-person. If you are a restaurant, this might mean starting to plan for extra space between tables. Fitness centers might want to consider offering contactless services – such as online access to gym classes at a different rate. And for the members who prefer the in-person experience, there will have to be a diligent effort in visible sanitization requirements for the used equipment and potentially restrictions on the number of people in a location at a time
  • Customers will favour local businesses who prioritized their people and customer health during the pandemic. Ongoing communication with your customers will start to pay off.
  • Gone are the days where a user only had one way to consume your goods. They will come to expect options in how they interact and transact with your business. It’s also possible a high-level of transparency on the manufacturing process will be expected.

This blog is just the tip of the iceberg. Resources on the topic are abundant, but there is no one size fits all approach. If you are feeling overwhelmed with the recent changes to your business, you are not alone. Luckily for us, we live and operate in a province known for resiliency, adaptability and loyalty. Investing time now to think about your business and plan for future growth, humanizing your brand, and connecting with your customers on a compassionate level now will end up paying dividends when the current situation ends. This too shall pass…

-Keith Jeannot is the President & CEO at Directwest