We all know COVID-19 has not been kind to the small business community. And with the latest Omicron variant sweeping the nation, many Canadian cities are again in lockdown or under reduced capacity restrictions. The challenges to these business owners keep coming.

It’s been a long ride with dire consequences. By March of 2020, average small business revenues were already down at least 20%, with 40% of Canadian small businesses with five to 19 employees needing to request credit from a financial institution, and nearly 41% of businesses in Canada reporting that they laid off staff, according to Statistics Canada. Moreover, of those businesses that laid off at least one employee, 45% laid off a whopping 80% or more of their workforces in 2020 alone. 

These are alarming numbers, but the good news is that business owners have learned a lot about surviving and adapting two years into the pandemic. There are specific actions that you can take today. Here are five tips that can help:

Business closure sign

1. Go digital, communicate, and get social

It may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s startling to see how many companies do not even update their websites or answer customer questions sent over social media.

In these times of uncertainty, when things often change daily, this line of communication is essential. Investing more heavily in a social media presence that is updated regularly will not only keep your relationship going with your customers but allow them to see what your products are. They can share your posts, ask questions, and communicate with you. Consider working with a co-op student if you don’t have time to manage or cannot afford to hire someone to manage your social media and web presence.

Also, if you haven’t already explored e-commerce offerings or an online store, now may be the time. Canada Post offers this advice: include easy-to-find product availability information, shipping fees, speed of delivery and your returns policy. Consider customers’ evolving needs, as their lives have changed during the pandemic. Also, they stress it’s essential to be realistic and transparent about shipping and delivery delays to maintain trust and mitigate customer frustration. Offering things like curbside pick-up where possible can also help.

2. Offer gift cards, coupons, and promos

Suppose your business offers in-person services only (such as a hairdresser or a spa). How do you make money when business is slow or non-existent due to restrictions, staff shortages, client hesitancy or other challenges you may be facing? Now is a great time to offer gift cards online and heavily promote them. They will give you the cash flow you need in the short term to keep your business afloat and encourage your customers to return to your physical location in the future. They also help gain new customers who may not have heard of your business before. 

3. Adapt, scale, and reinvent

Restrictions have forced small businesses to get creative. The most successful have learned quickly that they often cannot offer the same kinds of products or services that they usually would. For example: 

  • If your small business is a spa, consider having an online store that sells use-at-home spa kits and a certificate or coupon for a future spa visit.
  • If your business is a restaurant, offer a take-out friendly, limited menu that is significantly scaled down and focuses on dishes that will travel well. That will increase efficiency and reduce cost by using ingredients that can be used in a variety of dishes (reducing waste) and streamlining preparation time. For example, a restaurant that usually offers a complete sit-down brunch could sell take-out breakfast sandwiches instead.
  • If your business typically offers cooking classes, have online classes instead, and put together “make at home” kits to sell, with the ingredients and recipes included.
  • If your business is a cleaning service, offer to deliver at-home cleaning products and a discount coupon for in-home cleaning once COVID-19 numbers are lower.

According to the Government of Canada’s Trade Commissioner Service, the pandemic has impaired many businesses while increasing the demand for others. Their advice is to be on the lookout for new opportunities with potential customer segments that are more active in the markets where you operate.

 4. Tap into government relief. There’s more available than you think

Speaking of government funding and other financial resources, most of us are familiar with CERB and CEBA. But there are many more programs and services available, including:

  • Wage and hiring support
  • Rent and property expenses support
  • Jobs and growth fund
  • Extending the work-sharing program
  • Indigenous businesses support
  • Support for specific business sectors
  • Support for self-employed workers
  • Community support and organizations
  • Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit
  • Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit
  • Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit

 See a complete list of financial relief the Canadian government offers to people impacted by the pandemic here.

5. Don’t cut corners protecting your business

Providing a safe workplace for you, your employees and customers are more important than ever. Ensure you go above and beyond when it comes to everything from upping your cleaning protocols to providing hand sanitizer and using virtual meetings instead of in-person whenever possible.

It may be tempting to scale back on business maintenance and expenses such as cybersecurity measures and business insurance during tough times, but that’s a mistake. Your small business needs these protections in place more than ever, and it may even be the best time to strengthen these resources. 

Cyber liability insurance is becoming essential with the rise of online stores and virtual meetings. Our research shows almost half of Canadian businesses lack this protection. And if you rely on third parties for deliveries and social media, general commercial liability insurance is also strongly advised.  Talk to a Zensurance broker if you are unsure what the best options are.

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About the Author: Gail Balfour

Gail Balfour is a writer, editor, and senior content designer with more than 20 years of experience covering areas of business, finance, insurance, technology, and health care. A former editor of ComputerWorld Canada, she has worked with several organizations and publications, including Backbone Magazine, PwC Canada, and RBC Canada