Lockdown restrictions easing: How small businesses are getting back on track | Sage Advice United Kingdom

The stop-start nature of lockdowns and the tier systems implemented across the UK due to the coronavirus pandemic has had an impact on all small businesses over the past year.

While some were able to pivot and thrive, with a move online being part of that, others have really struggled.

According to a recent report by Simply Business, The impact of Covid-19 on Small Business, the pandemic will cost small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) an estimated £126.6bn, “double what owners predicted it would cost them when asked a year ago”.

The report adds: “With six million SMEs in the UK – accounting for over 99% of all businesses, 33% of employment and 21% of all turnovers – this £126.6bn hole in the books of small businesses is a huge blow to the economy.”

However, now, lockdown restrictions across the UK are being eased due to the rollout of vaccination programmes. And with that, businesses have started to open up gradually and breathe again.

In this article, we look at how some small businesses are getting back on track and they share tips that could help your business during these uncertain times.

Offer a unique service that will delight your customers

Caroline Nolder, who owns the Turks Hall bed and breakfast in Bruton, Somerset, says she’s had to think of innovative ways to attract customers.

She says: “As a small business, we have had to look ‘outside the box’ and we have tried offer something different [to lure potential and returning customers] as lockdown begins to ease. In our case, complimentary sherry in the bedrooms to delicious [homemade] flapjacks. We are also offering a 10% discount for direct bookings with us.

“We reopened on 17 May this year, offering a minimum of a two-night stay and an organic continental breakfast: homemade bread, granola, prune, and apricot compote.

“Our garden has become an oasis of peace and lockdown has made us appreciate this wonderful area [Bruton] even more.

“Reopening has made us think things through and we decided to keep going with our walk suggestions and helping people find the best locations for walks, running, photography, and being at peace with nature.”

If you’re running a hospitality business, Nolder’s got a few tips to help you attract customers and delight them:

  • Think outside the box
  • Offer discounts if you are a hotelier or B&B owner
  • Offer a unique service, for example, organic food, or local produce specific to the area
  • Offer a bespoke service, for example, a walking tour if your hotel or B&B is in an area of outstanding natural beauty or near historical sites
  • Be competitively priced, and try not to over-charge customers, if your type of business relies on word-of-mouth recommendations.

Come up with creative ways to adapt to the times

Deepak Shukla, founder of Plant Sumo, a vegan meal delivery service, says: “For us, it’s less a matter of getting back on track and more a matter of adapting to the permanent changes made by Covid-19.

“For example, in 2020 over 40% of people started working from home and employers started trying to implement ‘office perks’ for at-home workers.

“That’s when we started offering at-home employee meal plans for companies. Working from home shows no sign of stopping soon, so we’re still adapting our services.”

Shukla adds: “Food businesses need to remember that they are selling food and how food is sold can change all the time. For example, when it comes to selling music, the format has changed from records to CDs to streaming. It’s the same for food.”

He’s got a few tips for anyone who runs a food business.

Shukla says: “Don’t over-invest in a static way of selling your food, for example, a physical restaurant.

“If you remember that you are selling food, you can come up with creative ways to adapt to the times, for example, you can sell meal delivery subscriptions, meal prep kits, jars of your best-selling sauces or food-themed Etsy gift baskets.”

Consider hybrid working alongside remote working and returning to the workplace

Some businesses haven’t been slowed down because of the pandemic. One such example is finance technology firm Contis.

Yvette Newell, executive assistant and office coordinator at Contis says: “As a business we have not been adversely affected by Covid-19 or [the lockdown easing].

“We have been able to work effectively from home so there has been no disruption to our business, or to our excellent level of customer service.”

Contis has no plans to have a full return to the workplace.

Newell says: “We continue to work from home where possible, but our offices have reopened for those who wish to work from the office. We manage our numbers and social distancing via the Clearooms desk booking system.”

She adds that the business is looking at a hybrid working model for their staff, which would be a combination of working from home and in the office, but the logistics of what that will look like haven’t been finalised yet.

Use government support and think about other investments

Making sure your finances are in order as lockdown restrictions ease is another must for any business.

More than 40% of small businesses saw their business income fall by a quarter or more during the pandemic last year, according to a survey of 1,000 SMEs by Purbeck Personal Guarantee Insurance firm.

Vicki Wusche, who runs a wealth strategy consultancy and property investment business, says there a number of actionable steps you can take to get back on track as lockdown restrictions ease, including accessing government support.

She says: “Either make sure you use your Bounce Back Loan (BBL) or repay it before payments are due. If you have used your BBL, set aside six months of payments or 12 if you can afford it, then you always know you can pay your debt.

Wusche did make use of the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which ends in September 2021, to furlough one member of staff, but she then took the opportunity to restructure the business and think about future resource needs.

She says some businesses should do the same, and perhaps re-evaluate when the time comes, post-pandemic.

Wusche says ask yourself questions, such as: “If business is good, what investments do you need to make now? Really think about what makes you the most money for your time. Ensure inbound inquiries, handle increased capacity without risk.

“Some activity might make a lot of profit but not when you consider how much to acquire the client.

“Other service or product lines might not seem like they make a lot, but they are easy to sell and take little time or money to deliver.

“Now see how your business can automate the low-cost, higher profit line so you can focus your time on the high-value, high-profit lines (which will take more of your time to sell and deliver).”

Final thoughts

Businesses from every sector have been impacted in one shape or form at the hands of the pandemic.

There’s no doubt that it’s changed the way businesses function now, from how they attract customers, to the number of staff that are employed and where they work – at home, in the office, or via a hybrid approach.

But the good news is that many are getting back on track and gradually becoming fully operational once again.

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