Tips to help small businesses thrive despite COVID-19 tremors

December 28, 2021 | By Sophie Hares

Nearly two years after COVID-19 sent shockwaves around the world, the pandemic continues to impact nearly every facet of how small businesses operate.

On the downside, the coronavirus’s unpredictable nature is still a drag on the economy, which makes it tough to find flexible and affordable credit. But COVID-19 has also spurred rapid growth in online sales, cracking open opportunities for local businesses to compete in global markets they could only dream about two years ago.

All of which means small businesses must continue building on the skills they deftly acquired during 2020, as well as invent creative tactics to forge ahead into the digital future.

Here are four tips to help SMEs both survive and thrive in 2022:

Design a long-term digital strategy

Scrambling to stay afloat, the number of small businesses that ventured online each month tripled early in the pandemic compared to pre-pandemic levels, and has persisted at an elevated level globally since, according to Mastercard’s recent Recovery Insights: Small Business Reset report. But many quickly learned that there’s more to building a successful e-commerce brand than a slick landing page, particularly amid the tsunami of businesses pouring into the digital space during the crisis.

Small businesses need to play the long game. The ­Mastercard Economics Institute estimates that up to 30% of retail’s shift to digital is likely to be permanent.

Instead of competing with bigger rivals who can afford to slash prices, these entrepreneurs can dedicate limited budgets to developing personalized digital strategies. Investing the time to learn about search engine optimization, producing quality content, and creating eye-catching social media posts are a few inexpensive and effective methods to attract new customers.

Expand your horizons

Customers bought up to 30% more goods from overseas in the first year of the pandemic, with Germany and the United Arab Emirates among those leading the way. The boom signals that big-thinking small businesses have an easier path toward going global.

To build digital trust with customers in far-flung markets, small businesses need to assess their cybersecurity risk and bolster their efforts where necessary. Although the current supply chain bottlenecks are affecting businesses of all sizes, small businesses should try to line up reliable shipping providers to assure buyers they can rely on their brand, platforms and payments.

Prioritize payments

The pandemic sped up the shift from cash to digital payments in the U.S. by a year as customers swapped banknotes for contactless cards or mobile phone payments.

That means small businesses increasingly need to keep up with the latest electronic payment technologies and offer a range of secure, cashless checkout options in-store and online.

Besides making life easier for customers, solutions like contactless card readers and mobile phone payment apps can save time and make operations more efficient for small business owners.

Ask for help

As the wave of government loans and grants that kept small businesses afloat during the pandemic fade, many still need affordable funding and technical support to capitalize on new digital markets.

Fortunately, resources are still readily available in many countries to support small businesses. The Business Development Bank of Canada, for example, is offering working capital loans and financing to help small businesses fulfill orders. In Chile, business owners can tap into programs, tools and webinars designed to help digitize their businesses. Mastercard’s own Digital Acceleration Program offers tools and training for entrepreneurs to pay and get paid, get capital and get digital, all customized to dozens of markets.

There are also plenty of free resources to protect against cybercrime. A toolkit from The Global Cyber Alliance, a Mastercard partner, helps small business owners identify and protect against phishing and malware attacks, and there are more tools and resources available at the Mastercard Trust Center.

And, though 2022 will likely come with its share of unforeseen challenges, small businesses can continue to find strength from the survival skills they’ve developed and solace from the knowledge that they have the dexterity to keep going.

Sophie Hares, Contributor