Coronavirus Lockdown and the Fate of Small Businesses

Since the commencement of the lockdown sequence which is being implemented in most cities across the globe to curb the spread of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, the internet, and social media have been a major pastime and source of entertainment for many, who are learning to cope with the new realities.

Social distancing makes E-communication the safest means of communication. Unlearning old methods of warms hugs, pecks, handshakes and fist bumps, we are forced to connect with work colleagues, carry out official duties, chat with loved ones and socialize online through digital communication. We are faced with the new reality and understanding the importance of digital communications.

This new reality also makes me wonder, what happens when we curb the spread of the pandemic? Will we go back to hugs and kisses, and unlearning the social distancing, or would the end of the pandemic create a permanent barrier that will leave us telling stories like – “there was a time when people hugged each other as a sign of greeting”? I wonder. We will discuss this aspect on a different date.

Today, Let’s take a look at Micro businesses, and what this new reality would mean to them?

There is no doubt that before the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses had embraced the digital age of emails, telecommunication, remote work, and e-meetings. Remote work (which allows people to work outside of a traditional office environment) has been on the rise over the last two decades. An October 2019 survey by Gallup (American analytics and advisory company) found that 43% of Americans work from home occasionally, a 4% increase from the 39% who did in 2012. In 2017, Quartz, U.S. Census data indicated that 5.2% of U.S. workers completely worked from home. FlexJobs & Global Workplace Analytics report also found that the number of people telecommuting in the U.S. increased by 159% between 2005 and 2017.

So when I ask, what will be the new reality for small businesses, I see a lot of information online saying grocery stores and data service providers are making a kill during the lockdown, or that people will work remotely, and I’m thinking Yes, this will work for certain kinds of businesses, but for many others, it’s a whole different scenario.

A few days before the announcement of the index case of coronavirus in Abuja – Nigeria, my friend, and colleague, Ms. K, as we often call her, invited me to a friend’s opening party for her new beauty spa. I was very interested because the invite offered teeth whitening services, something I have wanted to do for a while. After the party, I made an appointment for a session the following week. Three days later, Abuja recorded its first COVID-19 case, then followed the lockdown and here we are, two weeks running. Certainly, that beauty spa would not be offering any services in the coming weeks, or maybe months. I don’t know about others, but I know for a fact, that I would need to have a lot of confidence in their service to let them poke around my mouth when the lockdown is over, and that is the story of so many small businesses.

The pandemic has jolted all businesses into the digital age, prepared or not they have to rise to the challenge. Consumers are also forced to see that some businesses are not relevant. I have learned to make some foods that I would normally order, I know I won’t be going for a pedicure anytime soon because I can do that now. My friend just informed me she’s completed an online fashion class in corset making for $200, she had earlier planned to pay $750 to an instructor for the same course. This trend simply means that many businesses like the beauty spa would need something extra to get back on their feet; INNOVATION.

What will set them apart when the race resumes? Their client service, products, or freebies? It all boils down to innovation. For small businesses, this will play a key role in bouncing back to operations. Business owners need to think outside the box while working within the restrictive environment that will linger in the aftermath of the pandemic.

Therefore, while the lockdown may seem like an “E-Holiday” with friends and family, this period also provides business owners a chance to innovate, create or improve on their products and services.

Plato said “Necessity is the mother of invention”, but Johnny Flora says, If necessity is the mother of invention, then adversity must surely be the father of Re-Invention.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a global adversity that has created the time (lockdown) for a re-invention of businesses, dreams, relationships, life goals, etc. but hey; that’s one way to look at it.

By Boma Benjy – Iwuoha

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