11 Characteristics of a Pandemic-Ready SME

Dec 2, 2020 4:45:00 PM

Part of the devastation wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic is its grave impact on the business sector. In addition to afflicting millions of global citizens, COVID-19 has paralyzed businesses in many industries. The pandemic has caused layoffs, increased the costs of business operations while lowering profit margins, and eaten away at precious working capital. Small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs), in particular, have taken some of the hardest hits because they are extra sensitive to supply chain fluctuations and austere financial conditions

The Asian Development Bank’s July 2020 survey of almost 2,500 Filipino SMEs and large firms (mostly in the retail and wholesale industries) yielded these insights:

  • Almost two thirds of the 2,481 survey respondents were forced to shutter their businesses temporarily.
  • Of the businesses that stayed open, almost 80% had to do so at half-capacity or less.
  • Liquidity and the scarcity of credit were two major concerns among the respondents, since much of their cash reserves had run dry.
  • 38% of the respondents, mostly from SMEs, had sought out wage subsidies from agencies like the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).

In spite of the circumstances, however, a number of Filipino SMEs still wish to step up and take on the challenges of entrepreneurial life. A September 2020 survey done by German cloud software company SAP-SE and Oxford Economics revealed the following:

  • 88% of Filipino respondents have faith that their SMEs will continue to grow, despite the pandemic.
  • 89% of the same respondents have already implemented changes in their company operations to adjust to the so-called “new normal.” Such changes included remote work operations and work-from-home arrangements for employees.
  • 69% of the Asia-Pacific Region, the Philippines included, has made further investments in IT and digital solutions to achieve continuity in business activities, whether they’re held online or offline.

The question for you is this: do you want your business to be among those that still choose to look upwards? If the answer is yes, then it’s time to work on becoming a pandemic-ready SME. Here are eleven qualities embodied by the most adaptable and most resilient businesses.

A Pandemic-Ready SME is Aware of the Present Reality

The most bitter pill that SME owners have to swallow is that business can no longer go on as before. The pandemic has taken a permanent toll on the economy and on consumer behavior at large. It is indeed a harsh reality to confront, but entrepreneurs that want to stay in the game have to acknowledge that this is what happened.

As an entrepreneur, you must greet each new day with an awareness that things are not as they were before. Your habits and your perspective have to change in order for you and your business to truly move forward.

A Pandemic-Ready SME Has an Adaptable Business Model

An SME that can accommodate business activity from anywhere - whether onsite or from a network of home offices - has a better chance of surviving this pandemic. If you haven’t already, you must think of ways your business can operate from multiple locations or channels. See how you can expand your operations to include in-store experiences, ecommerce, client or customer meetups, and deliveries.

One concrete thing you can do to make your business more adaptable is to accommodate customer payments that are befitting of the “new normal.” Beyond traditional payment methods like cash or card, you can equip your business to accept e-wallet and QR code payments. Invest in technology that allows staff of your SME to transact anywhere, like a PayMaya ONE Lite portable point-of-sale machine. This is a device that either you or your employees can carry on the go to process touchless payments and cashless-on-delivery transactions with customers.

A Pandemic-Ready SME Stays Compliant to Local and National Laws

The future-ready SME owner knows that they’re not operating in isolation. They join an entire community of entrepreneurs in keeping a balance to serve the needs of the community. Part of maintaining that balance lies in following local and national laws, which are meant to safeguard health and keep order in everyday life.

So whether it’s Enhanced Community Quarantine or General Community Quarantine that is being implemented in your city or municipality, stay updated for the sake of your business. Be responsible in complying with ordinances, such as ensuring you and your staff are equipped with face masks, face shields, and alcohol-based sanitizer. If your business can set a good example for following the rules, everyone from your staff to your customers benefits.

A Pandemic-Ready SME Takes Proper Care of Its Employees

No SME will prosper if it does not take care of the people holding it together. The key to your future success lies in your employees, who must stay physically, emotionally, and mentally healthy enough to continue their work. Your job as the business owner is to strike a balance between your staff’s productivity and their overall condition.

There are several ways that you can address the welfare of your employees. You can organize shift schedules for onsite work, allow work from home, and subsidize health-related needs like protective gear or vitamins. Also be understanding about difficulties they may be facing outside of their work life, such as needing to support a sick family member. Encourage a culture of compassion and honesty among your staff, and demonstrate your willingness to work with them through their problems. In turn, you will win their loyalty, respect, and motivation to see your company succeed.

A Pandemic-Ready SME Prioritizes the Health of Its Customers

To a pandemic-ready SME, the customer’s wellbeing is a priority and will continue to be so in the months to come. Whenever you transact with customers - especially in a physical location - you have to make it easy for them to follow proper health measures. If there’s a risk of them forgetting, you and your staff should be ready to remind them.

Most brick-and-mortar establishments now provide barriers or other cues to help customers observe proper social distancing in their store. If you do many of your transactions onsite, take their cue. You may also want to implement a QR code system to allow contact tracing for your visitors.

A Pandemic-Ready SME Accepts Help When It’s Struggling

You may be proud of what your SME has been able to achieve on its own. But you should never be too proud to avoid asking for help or seeking outside intervention altogether. In tough times, it may actually be good to go beyond your company’s resources and seek either financial aid or an additional line of credit. It could help you manage your company’s cash flow and allow you to pay your employees a rightful wage. Both are crucial in keeping your business afloat.

Use this time to learn more about available subsidy programs, like those from your local government or a national government agency. You may also want to see if you are eligible to take out a loan from a bank or other credible financial institution. Just make sure that you fulfill all of the conditions expected from you as a borrower.

A Pandemic-Ready SME Pays Attention to the Data

An SME with high chances for survival is one that is especially attentive to market trends in their industry. To know how to operate in the future, you must be in tune with what’s happening in the present. Keep your eyes peeled about important developments in your field, such as which products or services are in high demand. You’ll know this by checking on the news or speaking with other entrepreneurs.

Don’t forget to study your own company history and how it’s doing given the circumstances. You may want to perform data analytics and get the numbers on your revenues, how many new customers you’ve reached, how many products you’ve sold, and the like. Once you have these, you can have informed decisions on which business processes to improve on and which market segments to tap into.

A Pandemic-Ready SME Collaborates with Other Stakeholders

Cooperation and collaboration are two values that will keep your business alive, both during the pandemic and the years after it. The business partnerships you have now may strengthen over time and continue to reward you - that is, if you pay them proper attention.

Aim for solid relationships with any third-party provider your business subscribes to, such as for shipping and delivery. The same goes for your suppliers, both for your raw materials and finished products. Keep each other updated and make sure all tasks are taken care of in a timely manner.

Beyond your existing relationships with third-party providers and suppliers, you may want to pursue new ones among your customers. Be proactive in finding markets that could actively patronize your products - for example, a distribution network within a homeowner’s association or a cooperative.

A Pandemic-Ready SME Is Willing to Digitize

A business-wide modernization plan should be part of any small business’s aspirations to grow. But this is even more important in the wake of the pandemic, now that consumers are seeking higher levels of efficiency from businesses.

New technologies can even the playing field between your company and its larger competitors by helping you perform more quickly and proficiently. Now is a good time to move some of your operations to the cloud and upgrade to software that can take care of several business management processes at once. Soon after you digitize your operations, you’ll see the difference in your productivity levels - both onsite and in other locations where your work is done.

A Pandemic-Ready SME Invests in Upskilling Its Staff

Upper-level managers of your SME aren’t the only ones who have to upskill. One of the best things you can do to keep your company competitive, even in adverse circumstances, is empower your staff with new skill sets. They can use their new skills in the service of your business, as well as in other endeavors outside of work.

Encourage your staff members to learn about financial management, new media, speaking and presentation, and the like. You can even find training opportunities that are free of charge, such as webinars that are free to the public, and attend these together. Your investment in your people may prove very rewarding, as they will be well-equipped to handle several aspects of the business alongside you.

A Pandemic-Ready SME Stays True to Its Vision and Mission

The pandemic-ready entrepreneur is one who knows that, in spite of everything that needs to be changed, certain things about the business can’t be compromised. That entrepreneur will act as a paragon for the company’s core values - which, fingers crossed, will be known to customers in the years to come.

At the end of each long business day, remember why you pursued entrepreneurship and what impact you want to create in the world. Perhaps your original dream was to support local craftsmen, sell food products of the best quality, or provide an innovative service. Whatever it is, commit to adapting your methods for doing business, but never ever lose sight of your mission and vision.

The Best Advice for SMEs in the Era of COVID-19

Now that you know the top eleven qualities of a pandemic-ready SME, it should be your goal to turn your own business into one of them. Here are some last tips on how to keep your business thriving amidst the COVID-19 pandemic—and make it ready for what is yet to come.


Your first takeaway from this article should be the value of being adaptable. You have to acknowledge the many challenges that you’ll face in the coming months, or even in the coming years. Be ready to think outside of the box when it comes to running your business, because doing things the old way may no longer work. Invest in new technologies and take a chance on expanding to other platforms.

Be in Touch with Your People

Few entrepreneurs work alone. Many have a dedicated staff behind them. No matter how many employees you have, remember that they are the backbone of your business. Take care of them and ensure that they are healthy in mind, body, and spirit.

Engage Your Customers

Listen to your customers and find new ways to be responsive to their needs. When the opportunity presents itself, ask them what you can do to improve and welcome their suggestions. Not only will this increase their rate of engagement with you - it may pave the way for meaningful, pleasant experiences that they will want to come back to.

Be Generous and Compassionate

Follow the standard of behavior that you wish to see in the world. After all, your business could be doing more than just making money—it could provide livelihood to those who need it and extend help to the less fortunate. Have a listening ear and a generous heart for important stakeholders, like your staff. You may also want to consider donating a portion of your earnings to charity or partnering with organizations with whom you share an advocacy. Think not only of the survival, but also the legacy of your business - which you want to be a positive and long-lasting one.

For sure, becoming pandemic-ready won’t be an easy task for any business. You’ll likely experience a multitude of adversities as a result of the pandemic. But from this day on, you can choose to dream forward for yourself, your employees, and the customers you wish to serve. The preparation you undertake for your SME today will clear the path for greater success tomorrow.