Denise Woodard, founder of Partake Foods
As small businesses struggle to survive the economic havoc caused by Covid-19, new research shows that small business owners are optimistic about the future. Some 75% of small business owners agree that if a crisis like the coronavirus pandemic were to happen again, they’d be better prepared to handle it, according to a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management.
Additionally, 52% of small businesses surveyed expect to recover to pre-Covid profitability in six months or less. This optimism is encouraging to Liz Supinski, SHRM’S director of research products, who says that Covid-19 has been a “big driver of innovation.” Many small businesses, spurred by the limitations imposed by the coronavirus, have invented new products, while one in three of those surveyed say they’ve found new ways to deliver services. “For the whole world of work, this has been a large, uncontrolled experiment in changing what work looks like,” Supinski says. “It’s opened the door to a lot of ideas that have been dismissed because change is hard. And if things are good enough, then why would you change?”
According to SHRM, 43% of small business owners have pivoted their business models. One of those entrepreneurs is Denise Woodard, the founder of Partake Foods, an allergy-friendly, gluten-free, vegan cookie company. Since much of her New Jersey-based company’s marketing involved live demos and local events, Woodard has had to come up with new ways of promoting her brand digitally, including partnering with minority- and women-owned brands on a “Spot Us at Target” campaign and teaming up with The Blackbird Collective on Instagram Live and Facebook Live events.
This sort of flexibility is something that Supinski expects to see from businesses of all sizes during this period of business recovery. Three fourths of small businesses are planning to change their policies in response to employees’ childcare needs, with 43% implementing or considering flexible hours or compressed schedules, and 31% offering full-time remote work. “Small businesses are in an unique position because often they’re able to be more flexible with workers than larger businesses. They don’t have the same kind of issues,” Supinski says. However, she adds that small businesses run on small margins, which makes it harder for many to offer this kind of help to employees.
Not only has the coronavirus pandemic spurred innovation, but it’s also led to an uptick in reskilling and upskilling. SHRM found that 22% of small businesses have asked employees to learn new skills to support changes in their business. “There’s certainly a lot of opportunity here for businesses and workers to explore different ways of doing business and having a career and new ways that those two things can come together and change the way the world of work works,” Supinski says. “Opportunity out of adversity.”
None of this is to say that small business owners aren’t without worries—53% report feeling somewhat or very concerned about the increased risk of lawsuits and liability while reopening amid Covid-19, as the cost of defending one can be burdensome. Despite these concerns, the way in which small businesses have been able to successfully pivot has made them optimistic about the future, and the support they’ve received from their local communities has only helped. “We’re seeing a lot of people put their money where their mouth is and really work hard to support local businesses during this time,” Supinski says. “You would hope that people would continue to appreciate those local businesses going forward.”
Woodard has witnessed this increase in support from the community around her. The company first saw an uptick in sales in March, when consumers were stockpiling groceries due to the pandemic. One of few Black-owned nationally scaled businesses in the country, Partake Foods saw another increase in sales in May, following the death of George Floyd. “Our business has really received a large outpouring of support from people wanting to support small-owned business, women-owned business, Black-owned business,” Woodard says. “I’m hopeful for the future of small business in America.”