By Karima-Catherine Goundiam,CEO at Red Dot Digital.
Illness is a factor SMEs must consider, but few organizations have contemplated the magnitude of managing an illness like the current COVID-19 pandemic. At B2BeeMatch, we’ve heard from many owners of SMEs watching multiple countries shut down non-essential services, severely restrict travel, and close their borders. Social media feeds are filled with references to cancelled conferences, airline ticket refunds in limbo, and people everywhere self-quarantining to limit the possibility of community transmission. Economists are looking at the daily news updates tallying everything from the cost of supply chains squeezed dry by factory closures in China to the inevitable shuttering of restaurants, markets, and other small businesses which contribute so much to community social and economic well-being. We put out a call to see what was happening to SMEs during the pandemic. A consistent response was the loss of growth opportunities because of cancellations of major trade events as countries grapple with containment. Priya Bates, founder of Inner Strength Communication Inc, based in Toronto, Canada, said her growth plan included several conferences and workshops. “We’re keeping a close eye on advisories and registration and discussing contingency plans. Also as someone who uses speaking at conferences for business development, this will reduce my networking.” Bates said she’s looking at the opportunity to try online solutions for conferences and workshops. “I will also launch my mentoring and one-on-one consulting programs since remote may be an advantage and there will be budgets available. I think this is a major opportunity for the internal comms tech platform companies I partner with.” A representative of a second company, who’s watching the coronavirus pandemic unfold, has offices in both North America and Europe. He asked not to be named as his company works in a highly competitive and sensitive environment. He said they were planning on attending three key trade shows: “These are six-figure investments in production, travel, and professional time. The impact is not just ‘do we go or not’/’will they be cancelled?’ The impact is also about how we continue our growth efforts when we can’t have the big meetings.” We don’t know what’s coming next for businesses as the pandemic progresses. As with any crisis, there is the knowledge with COVID-19 that something else will emerge, but what is, no one knows for sure. “The ‘novel’ part of ‘novel coronavirus’ is not just the virus; it is the novel challenge that businesses have to face, as market conditions are dictating things to us in a way that has not happened in this company’s lifetime,” our anonymous contact said. “How cautious is too cautious? What is the reliable information?” A key component of surviving the pandemic ready to do business daily is communication. Caroline Sapriel is the founder and managing partner of CS&A International, a global risk and crisis management consulting firm working with multinational clients across industry sectors in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe and the Americas. She says there are several things businesses can do to stay on track. These are: 1. Fight the media panic with facts and reason. 2. Continue to engage with stakeholders (your customers, suppliers, employees). 3. Communicate, communicate, communicate. 4. Coordinate your response. 5. Help employees adjust to working from home. 6. Engage in worst-case-scenario planning. 7. Make a plan to mitigate the threats. Sapriel said, “while the human angle cannot be underestimated, possibly the biggest business risk is financial: from loss of goods to loss of customers to loss of markets and loss of revenue. Travel and tourism are already facing unprecedented scale-back. Supply chains with high turnover (e.g. the food industry) are likely to be hard hit. Deliveries will be disrupted and in some cases, you may not be able to contact suppliers. Small companies unlikely to have a plan may be less likely to survive.” Over the next little while, we will explore these approaches in more detail, giving you, our readers, a toolbox of helpful hints and links to help you manage and reduce the impact of COVID-19.