Entrepreneurs share their pandemic strategies to stay in business

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to touch all corners of the world, businesses have been struggling to stay afloat. Many have been forced to close their doors, and others forced to pivot or even change their business model entirely.

Reports from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics have documented the devastating impact of economic uncertainty. More than half (56%) experienced a decrease in demand for their products or services, while 19% were forced to close due to government-mandated restrictions; almost 72 million workers were employed at establishments that discontinued operations.

As someone who works in the live event space and consults for many brick-and-mortar businesses, I’ve seen, firsthand, how the pandemic has decimated our industry. My marketing agency, like many others, had to pivot to survive and think outside the box of our normal service offering.

Using digitization as a way to build relationships

The pandemic forced businesses to digitize in order to stay afloat. For some, this meant setting up an online store for the first time. For others, it meant moving their entire in-person operation to a virtual space. Embracing technology has been a key survival strategy for businesses during the pandemic–and it’s allowed many to reach a wider audience and continue operating despite the restrictions.

Hospitality is one industry that has been hit hard by the pandemic. It’s no surprise that many businesses in this industry had to take some drastic measures to stay afloat. Jason Giagrande, CEO of Hospitality Farm, says that technology has been key for their business and tackling the challenges of the pandemic. “With the right tech stack and resources, you can position your business for success,” he notes.

Many businesses have turned to virtual platforms and distance-friendly services in order to continue operating. This has been a huge adjustment for many businesses, but it’s one that has been necessary in order to survive.

Yan Chelly, vice president of business and operation at Fiverr, pointed out that since their platform was already digital, they were able to not only keep their business afloat but also grow during the pandemic. “As an online-first company, talent on Fiverr has always been offered digital versus in-person services.” However, as the pandemic progressed, it became abundantly clear the sheer number of businesses that were going to need to digitally transform and provide an online-first experience for their customers. “This led to new innovations across our platform,” Chelly says. “We opened a number of new categories to support digital transformation, including one that allowed talent to provide online lessons to clients instead of in person.”

Show customers value

Businesses that have been able to continue to provide value have been the ones that have been able to not only survive but also thrive during the pandemic. Instead of working in the event space, we pivoted to designing and selling hundreds of masks for my online store digitally until business on the agency side picked up again. This was something that I never would have thought of before the pandemic, but it ended up being a lifesaver for my business.

Brandon Fay, founder and president of Pasta by Hudson and The Perry Club, has a similar story. He says, “sticking to the basics at this time, I take a step back, loom around me, try and figure out what I’m doing wrong and right.”

Fay explains that people want value and comfort, and that’s exactly what they tried to provide. “I gave away cookies and mini slushies during the summertime. Anything that would make my guests remember me and set me apart from the competition. People want value, they want to know they are appreciated, and they spend their hard-earned money in a place that cares. The basics.”

From restaurants to gyms, customers at all establishments were looking for value and comfort during such turbulent times.

Jim Rowley, CEO of Crunch gyms, also explained how gyms were focused to innovate—and quickly: “Our entire Crunch team, from the corporate staff to our network of franchisees, found innovation essential for survival. First and most importantly, our biggest lesson learned was that communication was critical in staying connected with our teams and keeping our members engaged as everyone grappled with a new normal. We launched new, innovative approaches to our operating model. This included taking equipment and classes outdoors in markets and climates where feasible, and making our streaming online workouts complimentary for all members.”

The chain of gyms also negotiated their leases and closed several office spaces to help stabilize their finances.

Give them something creative

One particular way to stand out is to be distinct, which can be achieved by thinking creatively. During the virus’ continued uncertain path, businesses were forced to get creative with their products or services in order to appeal to a wider audience. These companies needed to come up with entirely new products or services that were more relevant to the world and shifting circumstances. The restaurant industry was one of the hardest hit by the pandemic, with many restaurants having to close their doors.

Momoya, a sushi restaurant with locations in New York City, was no exception. The Japanese eatery immediately got creative. KwangHo Lee, owner of Momoya, says that his employees have exceptional while facing the pandemic. “I can never thank them enough for their selfless cooperation,” he says. “Momoya tries to build and maintain a work environment where employees feel recognized, respected, and protected; Because of this, Momoya employees feel Momoya is their second home, and thus many employees are long-term members.”

He also points out that the strong “take-out game” has been key for their survival. “We expanded our delivery business quite a bit during the pandemic by signing up for more delivery platforms, running promotions, increasing delivery radius, and developing menus specific for promotions. If your food is good, promotions that increase your restaurant’s exposure to new customers will pay you back through returning customers,” he explains.

Whether it’s pivoting their business model or getting creative with their marketing, entrepreneurs are constantly asked to innovate in good and bad times. And though the last few years of the pandemic have not made it easy, many are managing to make it work and remain optimistic for the future.

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