The COVID-19 pandemic has forced most businesses to reinvent the way they operate. With uncertainty the new normal for the foreseeable future, business planning in 2021 is much more complicated than we’re used to.
Making plans for budgets and a myriad of operational aspects (staffing, inventory management, service delivery, fulfilment, and more) is undeniably challenging given we have no real clarity on when the pandemic will end. Many businesses are planning for the worst but hoping for the best. Here are five tips to help your business deal with uncertainty in 2021.
1. Focus on what you can control
Many business owners understandably felt frustrated and helpless due to unprecedented rules and restrictions in 2020. As we move into 2021 – and hope for a less disrupted year - it’s an opportunity to focus on what your business can do, rather than what you can’t.
COVID-19 has been a lesson in the value of resilience and agility. Many businesses who operated purely face-to-face could have given up when shops were shuttered – but some managed to capitalise on the situation. Cafes, restaurants and other hospitality businesses streamlined their menus, transitioned to delivery models including curbside pickup and local delivery, and partnerships with third-party delivery partners including UberEats, Deliveroo and Providoor. Brick and mortar stores went online.
Focusing on the factors you can control and adopting a can-do mindset are solid pillars for your business when dealing with uncertainty.
2. Review your budget
Budgeting is especially tough in 2021. Many businesses are creating two budgets for the new year – a worst-case budget that anticipates a similarly disrupted 2021, and a more positive budget that reflects pre-COVID expectations.
Whatever your approach to budgeting for 2021, you should review your 2020 business performance to understand how last year’s challenges affected your results. What happened to your cash flow, overhead and variable costs at different points throughout the year? How did these aspects compare to previous, more typical years?
Your financial plans for 2021 will also depend on the type of year you had last year. Did your business struggle to survive, or were you able to grow despite the challenges? Regardless of your situation, you should set yourself realistic business goals for the new year and align your 2021 budget with these aspirations.
3. Lead with empathy
Empathy was an essential leadership trait in 2020. The pandemic forced business owners to make difficult decisions at every turn – those who led with empathy didn’t shy away from tough choices, but consistently considered the human element of these decisions.
Empathetic leaders think about those they work with in the context of how decisions might make them feel. While still willing to make choices that might negatively impact those they work with, they acknowledge their colleagues’ feelings and aim to support them with whatever they’re going through. You may not agree with the grievances your people are raising – but you should be prepared to listen and show compassion.
With bad news something of a constant in 2020, regular, transparent communication was a cornerstone for empathetic leaders. Strong managers are upfront with their teams about what’s happening – even if the message is an unwelcome one. During uncertain times, constant communication is an important way to build and maintain trust.
4. Create deeper customer relationships
Customer relationships are evolving as consumer expectations and the way customers choose to deal with companies continue to change. Digital channels have gone from a nice-to-have to a business imperative – however, customers who want to transact and communicate from anywhere, 24/7 are also craving a real connectedness with the brands they buy from.
Your business should take a multi-pronged approach to creating deeper customer relationships in 2021. Whether you operate a physical shopfront or an online store, focus on making it easy for your customers to find you, communicate with you, and buy from you. Use your marketing and social media efforts to remind them of the value you deliver to them. Remember, it’s not all about ‘the sale’ – building a genuine relationship and true customer loyalty are where it’s at in 2021.
What can you do to provide a differentiated customer experience? Have you considered offering different payment options? Could you provide curbside pickup so buyers can collect their online purchase on the day of the sale? Think about what you can do to make a transaction with your brand truly memorable for all the right reasons.
5. Look for online opportunities
Ecommerce exploded in 2020. Businesses that had never considered selling online took the plunge, and hundreds of thousands of buyers shopped online for the first time.
Regardless of your business type or size, you should have an online presence. A website and social media profiles will help customers find your business online, learn about the products and services you offer and engage with your brand.
Think creatively about the online opportunities for your business in 2021. Service-based businesses are embracing online appointment scheduling and payment, giving customers the ability to book and pay for their services 24/7, rather than just during business hours.
2021 is shaping up to be another challenging year for business owners. While we’re not sure exactly what to expect just yet, it’s important to approach the new year as you usually would – with a business plan, a budget, and some goals. Reflect on the lessons of 2020 - think about what you’d do differently in hindsight, what you learnt about your customers and competitors, and how you’d respond today if similar challenges presented themselves.
Being flexible, having systems and processes in place that allow you to adapt to a fast-changing environment, and the ability to face challenges with a can-do attitude are likely to be important again in 2021. Backed by solid business planning, these attributes will put you in a strong position to make the most of whatever the year delivers.