Comment: ‘All change, once again’

After a year of pivoting and adapting to everything that 2020 threw at businesses, 2021 will be much of the same.

Undoubtedly, 2020 was the year of the pivot. Tons of small businesses that survived the past 12 months did so by rethinking and retooling their products, approach and strategy from the ground up, in order to adapt to the quickly changing times. But if you’re sick of the word ‘pivot’, we hate to break it to you: 2021 is on track to be much of the same.

Sure, this year will be a time for capitalising on those changes from last year. Yet whether that means building fresh product lines or services, or exploring new markets, now is not the moment to stop pivoting.

Sadly, a lot of good businesses failed in 2020 – far too many – but so, too, did bad business models. Whole sub-sectors that were failing to move with the times or that were simply ignoring new competitors were found out, and poor customer service, operational inefficiencies and shoddy workplace policies were laid bare by Covid-related disruption. For those companies that were able to survive, however, the next few months will prove a key test.

A Yell Business survey last September found that more than three-quarters of small businesses had benefited from offering new services as a result of the pandemic, such as video consultations, home deliveries or online tutorials. But as we approach anniversaries of national lockdowns in many parts of the world, these ‘new services’ will no longer be new.

While many politicians talk about an eventual return to normality with the rollouts of new vaccines, the simple truth is that much of what customers came to expect over the past 12 months will still exist in a post-Covid world. As we’ve become accustomed to new ways of working, living and buying goods and services, businesses need to remain agile and continue to offer something that sets them apart.

Yes, your local farm shop may have cashed in from switching to subscription boxes of home-delivered vegetables or meal kits in the spring of 2020, but by now all its competitors will be doing exactly the same thing – and in many cases, doing it better. And while an eventual easing of social distancing may result in at least some return to traditional methods of consumption, people’s expectations for continual product evolution and value-added services have fundamentally changed.

Looking ahead, our message is this: learn what it is you do best, learn what it is your customers love and learn how to do it better. Talk to as many people as you can and find out what they want, how their lives have been impacted in recent months and what the future looks like for them. After all, these are the people who will keep your business going – through this crisis and the next.

This article was first published in Courier issue 39, February/March 2021. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

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