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Small Business Week 2021: Celebrate Your Resilience.

There’s nothing like a year-long pandemic to remind small business owners just how much blood, sweat and tears go into making their business thrive.

The events of the past twelve months threw many businesses for a loop, upending routines, traditions and long-proven business practices to deliver successful results. Many had to return to the drawing board, reinventing their businesses as they adapted to the new “stay-at-home” mandate.

As we celebrate Small Business Week (May 2 – 8), let’s honor the ingenuity and perseverance of those who successfully made the pivot. While achieving more than survival, many have brought forth innovations and reshaped markets in ways that will continue long past the pandemic’s end. Here are just a few of the lessons small businesses learned – and leaned into – that make this year’s Small Business Week one to remember.

It really is important to shop local. Conscious of the need for physical distancing, many consumers realized that bigger is not always better. Many felt safer doing business with small, local businesses rather than chains and big box stores. Witnessing the impact the coronavirus was making on their communities, many consumers saw local shops and restaurants as places worth supporting as they tried to do their part in saving them from financial hardship or extinction. Owners responded by introducing new ways to stay connected with their customers and fine-tuning their services to address pandemic-era needs.

Contactless experiences improve customer satisfaction. Brick-and-mortar stores are always looking for ways to make customer experiences more enjoyable. Rather than encouraging customers to linger, the pandemic mandate was intended to make visits quick, easy and “contactless.” For restaurants and coffee shops, that meant pivoting from in-house dining to takeout and curbside service. New mobile apps and point-of-sale systems helped streamline those processes. Other retailers found success with online sales and contactless pickup. Customer uptake suggests these tools are here to stay.

Cashless payments have reached the tipping point. While digital money and cashless transactions have been on the rise for years, COVID-19 increased that appetite. Shoppers who feared cash would help spread the virus have now joined early adapters who saw the convenience of cashless payment methods long before the pandemic. Contactless cards, digital wallets and other technologies that digitize checkout will continue to bring us ever closer to a cashless society.

Sometimes even great business models benefit from change. The pandemic helped to reshape consumer thinking. Items that may have been deemed nonessential before the pandemic were perceived as mandatory after long days of parents working at home alongside their kids, such as the home entertainment industry.

Likewise, the virtual meeting sector, whether for work or play, is another area that exploded in popularity. As employees began working from home, and as friends and family wanted to stay connected, the need for a virtual meeting space quickly became part of our everyday lives.

No business was unaffected. For example, some small bakeries that saw sales drop due to the decline in parties and events responded by selling home cookie-decorating kits to make their products useful in the absence of social events and gatherings. Art supply and gift shops offered DIY art kits and virtual workshops. Businesses that recognized these opportunities and quickly filled the gaps may see their operating models changed forever.

Telehealth and other video services can be great alternatives. The integration of online video services into normal workflows enabled small therapy and medical clinics to serve patients at a safe social distance during the pandemic. In the process, clinics saw how these services reduced travel time and expenses, while often enabling them to serve more clients. Many patients also appreciate their accessibility and flexibility. From retailers to financial professionals, a variety of businesses have used this method to engage customers as well. While they won’t entirely replace in-person visits, they have demonstrated their value as an alternative.

If this pandemic has taught small businesses anything, it’s that flexibility and creativity in the face of adversity are what move a business forward and help you to be resilient to changes out of your control. For the past year, small businesses have creatively adapted their products and services to manage a difficult economic landscape. Looking ahead, they are now challenged to take what they’ve learned and adapt it going forward. That could make Small Business Week 2022 even more special.

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