From Surviving to Thriving: Going Digital Could Save Your Small Business

By: on June 1, 2020

I’m writing this from a little chair tucked away in the corner of my bedroom. My “desk” is just a dresser. While I grapple with leading a business through our current situation, my older children are in their rooms figuring out how to succeed in school when it’s no longer a place you go. I can hear my wife working patiently with our kindergartner on pre-recorded assignments.

As weird as everything feels for me and my family, I know this scene is familiar for countless families across the country. During the first few weeks of the COVID-19 crisis, I spent a great deal of time talking to people. None of us has ever faced anything quite like this, and there’s not exactly a playbook for how to navigate a global pandemic.

In conversations with employees, small businesses, and software vendors, I realized that, though our circumstances are all different, we are all facing the same obstacle: learning how to live in a new reality.

As our new reality slowly comes into focus, I’ve found optimism in Software Advice’s core values. Two in particular have shaped my mindset: be ridiculously gritty and fear no change.

Everyone is experiencing a period of great change right now, myself included. Here are some of the things I’ve found that can help small-business owners shift their focus from surviving to thriving during this era of uncertainty.

Focus on agility and adaptability, not perfection

We surveyed more than 500 small businesses last month to better understand how the pandemic is affecting them. From that survey, we found that 52% expect to go out of business before October of this year if the lockdown continues and conditions remain. Before you can thrive, it’s important to ensure your survival. And while the uncertainty can be overwhelming, small businesses are adapting quickly to reset the clock.

I’ve witnessed the hustle to adapt right here at home. Just down the street from us is Longhorn Meat Market, a family-owned butcher shop that’s been open for over 100 years. Pre-pandemic, they were taking orders at the counter or over the phone, writing everything down on paper invoices. Cue the government ordered shutdown, and suddenly in-person sales were next to impossible and the phone never stopped ringing.

In 10 days, owner James Leach had to do what was previously unthinkable: bring his family’s century-old butcher shop online. Looking for an easy way to allow customers to place orders, he decided to integrate Shopify with his company’s website. Not only did this work; it worked too well, bringing in 152 new orders on the first night alone. Leach has since dialed back the delivery scope to better accommodate demand.

I love this story for many reasons, but I think the lesson here is that it’s possible to continue to provide value for your customers as long as you’re willing and ready to embrace change.

Now’s the time to turn to tech

Longhorn Meat Market showed that one advantage small businesses have during this time is their agility. Consumers’ buying habits and needs are shifting because of the pandemic, and the ability to quickly respond to those shifts is something to lean into right now.

Meeting your customers where they’re at is more important than ever, and many of the small businesses we surveyed have already begun making changes to do just that. Some of these changes include offering a product, service, or event online temporarily (39%), changing their product or service lineup (36%), and offering delivery (32%) or curbside pickup (34%).

We’re also seeing a rise in searches for software that can help make these adjustments as smooth as possible. In fact, we’ve seen a 4000% increase in telemedicine calls, and call center, learning management, and business VoIP software are all experiencing a spike in interest as well. This makes sense as companies are fielding hundreds more support calls, training employees remotely, and implementing new communication methods to connect with customers.

demand for software chart year over year percentage change

At the same time, interest in fleet management, hotel management, and home health software are all slowing down—an indication of the effect the pandemic is having on certain industries.

The takeaway here is that while we can expect the situation to continue to change, idly sitting by is not an effective strategy. Instead, lean on the right technology to help smoothly navigate changes and support customers through these trying times.

Learn to thrive by leaning on your community

Your peers are in agreement: going digital is necessary to stay open. In fact, of the 503 small businesses we surveyed, 80% said COVID-19 impacted their company’s plans with regards to software purchases and implementations. While some of that 80% fast-tracked planned purchases, most respondents needed new additions to existing solutions or new systems entirely.

With everyone tackling the same challenge of going digital, you’ll get a leg up on the competition by acing the selection process. This process can take up to two years and ends in a decision that will impact your business operations for the next five to 10 years. That kind of time commitment can feel overwhelming, but doing it well will give your business a competitive advantage.

Don’t be afraid to lean on your community during this time—that includes your friends, your professional network, your local community, and all of us here at Software Advice. We’re all facing the same challenges, and it’s a heck of a lot easier if we figure them out together.

Survey Methodology

The Software Advice COVID-19 Digital Transformation Survey was conducted in April 2020. We surveyed 503 small business “leaders,” defined as full-time employees at the vice president, president, C-suite, or owner/founder level at U.S.-based businesses with 2-250 employees

We worded the questions to ensure that each respondent fully understood the meaning and the topic at hand.

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