Will SMBs Operate Differently in the Post-Pandemic Era?

The fintech publication PYMNTS  has been in the field with surveys a few times during the coronavirus crisis, most recently on April 6 and 20. 

There is a lot in the data about how small business owners are thinking about whether to apply for some of the $669 billion in the federal Payroll Protection Program (PPP). As I wrote in another post, depending on the denominator that you choose to use, PPP is either a pittance (assuming 30 million) or substantial (assuming 6 million to 7 million small businesses).

In either case, as we focus on the local small business world, we hope that much of that money will find its way to legitimate local and small businesses. The Los Angeles Lakers may be local, but they’re not small. 

Adapting to a Post-COVID World

The PYMNTS data I was most interested in addresses how business owners see the world going forward. When asked how they will change their business operations after the pandemic, here’s what they said.   

More than 38% said they have made changes but “will return to the way I operated before the outbreak.” Roughly another 30% indicated that although they were forced to shut down during the outbreak, they would “reopen as before.”

More than two-thirds of the respondents do not appear to have any plans to change their operations post-crisis. I find this staggering. Another quarter of the respondents said they would “maintain some of the changes” after the outbreak has passed. What is also staggering is that consumers are more than likely to insist on some of the changes. For example, we suspect many consumers will want to maintain the six-foot distance from other customers. 

Less Physical, More Virtual

I have just reviewed a patient communication from my friend “Dan the dentist” that outlines exactly what changes his practice is implementing in advance of the office reopening. I can tell you they are not trivial. Will the yoga studio eliminate all virtual classes? I doubt it. 

The respondents to the PYMNTS survey were asked about their physical infrastructure. Sixty-two percent said they would keep their physical location and operate as before. Another 36% said they would either reduce the amount of space (12%) or rely less on the physical space for customer sales (24%).

We imagine many businesses will rely more heavily on virtual meetings going forward. Lawyers, physicians, architects, financial planners, among others, will likely conduct more video meetings than in the pre-pandemic period. Retailers will also need to rethink how they use physical space. 

Leaning into Online Presence

Finally, respondents were asked about their use of online presence. Wisely, 43% said they would rely more on online capabilities than before the pandemic. This finding seems to fly a bit in the face of the considerable number who said they’d go back to operating the way they did before the outbreak.

Of course, we recognize small business owners are navigating through something they’ve never experienced before. We imagine many of these businesses will evolve their thinking over the coming weeks. Their answers today offer a window into how things may look as we get closer to reaching the light at the end of the tunnel.

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