7 Things on the Minds of Small Business Owners Right Now

June 11, 2020
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Across the country, small businesses are getting back up and running to the best that regulations will allow. Some are opening their doors to welcome customers back into stores and restaurants. Others are enacting plans to keep office spaces safe for employees coming back into the workplace or designing long-term remote work arrangements.

Some small businesses are reopening after shutting down completely, while others have remained open with drastically different ways of doing business. No matter how they’ve been affected by the pandemic and varying degrees of lockdown, all small businesses are reimagining almost every part of their operations, from top to bottom and end to end.

During this inflection point, we’ve been spending time listening to small business owners and decision makers — hearing their concerns, hopes for the future, and everyday challenges presented by constantly changing circumstances. From in-depth interviews with customers and prospects to focus groups to calls to customer service, we’ve seen a few key themes emerge; a set of common concerns and priorities shared by small business owners of all stripes:

1. Agility

The sands underneath small businesses have shifted quickly and the future remains hard to pin down. At this time last year, many small business owners felt confident in making predictions about the next month, the next quarter, or even the next year. It can be difficult under the current circumstances to predict business needs, so small businesses need to be able to adjust on the fly.

In their words:
“The world’s been changing for every single year that I’ve been alive and I’ve been alive for 51 years. But we just came through a very traumatic experience from a business perspective. I think that we’re going to have to continuously adapt, because as soon as we adapt, it’s going to change again. Is it continuous? Are we continuously adapting with the changing world? It’s something that’s infinite. It’s not one and done.”

2. Speed

Speed and agility move hand in hand. Small business owners need to move fast to stay on top of changing circumstances and ready themselves for what’s next. To roll out changes and keep up with customer demands, they need their technology to work as fast as they do. Low bandwidth, throttled connections, and endless buffering simply won’t cut it. Having Internet and phone services that can scale to any demand enable small businesses to roll with changes and never miss a beat.

In their words:
“We don’t have long lead times now - we’ve got 3 weeks—so we’ve come to rely on providers who can match that speed and equip you to embrace change.”

3. Simplicity and ease

Small business owners wear many hats, from administration, to HR, to IT. Some businesses have extremely complex technology needs, requiring extensive customization. The needs for others are more simple — they want the right phone to ring when a customer calls and for the Internet to stay up and running no matter what. In all cases, small businesses are focused right now on forward momentum — rolling out new tools, strategies, and solutions to help them grow without getting bogged down in length implementations or cumbersome training regimens. Essentially, small business owners are thinking about simplicity — how can they tap into solutions that “just work” and get back to focusing on what really matters to their business?

In their words:
“The simpler the systems are, the easier to have our staff adopt them, and get trained on them, and use them. I really don’t like to pay for systems that nobody uses, only 5 or 10 use, and the other 40 are like, “I don't know how to use that,” or, “I didn’t know it was important.” For me, I’m going to rely on the connectivity company to be the expert.”

4. Expertise

Small business owners are experts in what they do. Right now, they’re focused on sharing that expertise with their customers — not only to differentiate themselves from the competition, but also maintain connection in a time when face-to-face interactions have dropped significantly. However, small business owners might not be experts in the tools and technology they need to bounce forward, so they’re also thinking right now about how they can get the help they need, when they need it, to avoid disruption and stay on track. They’re charting a new path forward, and need to lean on technology to get there. They know they need technical support, both in initial setup and on an ongoing basis. They want to get up and running quickly so they can focus on the services they’re providing to their customers.

In their words:
“It is important that (technology) function properly and that the technicians, the technical people we are speaking with when we have an issue or concern know what they are talking about… Their expertise, we are really dependent upon it. Particularly now, as technology has become mission critical to companies.”

5. Personal touch

Small business owners know their customers. Whether it’s having a custom coffee pre-made before a regular walks in each morning, preemptively ordering a garment you know a frequent shopper will love, or checking in with a financial advice client to see how things are going, personal service is the key to building meaningful relationships and long lasting customer loyalty. Especially now, small business owners are laser focused on maintaining those personal relationships, even when stores may be closed and face-to-face time is limited. Being experts in providing bespoke service, small businesses are looking for their vendors to respond in kind. Small businesses are facing new and unique circumstances and are looking for suppliers, utility providers, distribution networks, and other partners to take the time to look at their unique needs and provide the right solution for their business.

In their words:
“Our uniform provider came to us to tell us they were cutting our jacket rentals for the summer because they knew we didn’t need them in the heat. They actually take time to find a solution that works for us.“

6. Reliability

As small businesses ramp their operations back up, stakes are higher than they were a year ago. Any amount of downtime can cost in terms of revenue, productivity, and customer experience. Small business owners need to keep lines of communication open so they can work with employees, customers, and partners.

In their words:
“There’s a million and one things going on and (connectivity) is just something that is necessary to function as a business. I just don’t really want to think about it. I don’t want to think about poor connections, low bandwidth, things freezing up, anything like that.”

7. Charting a path forward

Lastly, small business owners are looking at a new type of future — one that looks very different from operations before the pandemic. Small businesses that are able to adapt to new ways of work will be better-suited to handle the challenges ahead. Those looking for a return to “normal” will have a more difficult time. From new approaches to remote work to evolving supply chain strategies to shifting customer communications, small businesses are working together to share stories and best practices on what they’re doing to chart a new path forward.

In their words:
“Because of the lockdown, we have seen that remote work is actually working for us. And because we want to grow, we need someone that can help us grow. Someone to help us understand how the tech operates and how to actually utilize it.”

Key priorities and challenges that are top of mind for small business owners amidst re-opening.

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