The Congressional Budget Office recently announced encouraging news: The U.S economy is on track to recover substantially by the summer.
Small businesses, battered by a year of lockdowns, are eyeing the horizon with a mix of eagerness and concern. Many had to scale back operations, lay off workers, or temporarily close. Will they be ready to serve customers and reap the rewards of the coming boom as the economy heats up?
Planning to Outmaneuver Big Business
It's typical for chains and big box stores to reap the rewards of a rebound after recessions, while smaller businesses struggle to get back on track. Some small business owners are already alert to that possibility and working to outmaneuver their larger competitors.
"Bigger firms have an advantage regarding the volume and market percentage, so it's the aim of a smaller business to gain an edge in the given industry," says Christopher Clarke, founder of PlanM8, maker of SaaS Yachting management and maintenance software. "That is the most important asset—a unique competitive advantage."
But Megan Mitzel, founder of Queen Ballers Club, the premier WNBA content brand, is not waiting around to find out if her own competitive advantage will be big enough.
"Bigger chains will have advantages as the recovery starts," she says. "Because they see more volume, they're potentially able to better forecast the recovery."
To make up for this challenge, her company is doing its own version of forecasting. She's already hiring freelancers to ensure she can keep up with demand and stay out ahead of the wave of recovery the business community is waiting for.
While 2020 may have felt like an eternity, some businesses found a valuable opportunity to retool and rethink while the market was sluggish.
Arrowmail Print + Mail Services, an essential business and a preferred vendor of the United States Post Office, has remained open through the pandemic but used the months of slower-than-usual business to analyze business structure and procedures and to strategize new ways of engaging clients.
Other businesses used the time to focus on technology, adopting software to support remote working and upgrading existing tech to ensure their companies are ready for prime time.
"We will need to make sure our site is up to snuff and able to handle a heavier load," says Dan Bailey, president of WikiLawn Los Angeles Lawn Care. "We recently did a security overhaul, so now we need to focus on stress-testing and ensuring all the elements work the way they should."
Some businesses found that the pressures of 2020 forced them in new directions that have opened up fresh avenues for success.
Celebrity entertainment reporter Alexus Renée, CEO and co-founder of Celebrity Myxer, a positive celebrity entertainment media company, responded to the shut-down of face-to-face celebrity coverage and red carpets by shifting "from news chasing to more magazine style."
"We took several months to regroup, retool, and relaunch our business in 2021," she says. While borne of the pandemic, the new approach offers a promising model for the future. "The benefits offer long-term traffic and readership loyalty."
Marketing has played strongly into many businesses' efforts as they've weathered the pandemic and started planning for an uptick.
"Being very aggressive with my marketing will assist in my rebound," says Reese Jackson, owner-operator of Savor Training Company LLC, a provider of food safety training and consulting to restaurants. "Small businesses that are focused on being creative in their marketing and evolution will thrive."
With many companies in the same pandemic boat, some entrepreneurs found advantages in teaming up and cultivating new partnerships.
Kris Whitehead, owner of Iconic Alliance and New England Custom Remodeling, aligned with strategic partners to stay strong during the slowdown and position his business for growth.
"I began to network heavily locally as well as across the country, with other entrepreneurs who were looking for pivot-points to generate sales and nurture existing clients who might be thrown off by the pandemic," he says. "We grew our company volume last year, and the networking is paying huge dividends now as we are ramping up for the summer months."
For many small businesses, summer and the return to normal can't come soon enough. The true spirit of entrepreneurship is on display as business owners plan for the rebound and beyond.