How to start a business

10 business fundamentals for a post-COVID economy

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COVID-19 has completely changed the landscape for small businesses. Many of them have had to adapt overnight to brand-new regulations that upended the way they had conducted business for years, and others have had to shutter due to loss of revenue. 

While it’s no doubt a challenging time to launch a business, there are some tried-and-true fundamentals to starting one that can help you find your footing in this new world. We’ve also gained newer principles—lessons learned from this pandemic and new generations of consumers and workers—that can serve any business well. 

We’ve pulled together both these traditional and newer business fundamentals to help you launch and keep afloat a small business in any industry. 

Today, we’ll cover: 

  1. Pay attention to economic indicators
  2. Learn basic business skills… and when to delegate them
  3. Stay focused on the financials
  4. Location is more important than ever
  5. Understand your legal and municipal responsibilities
  6. Keep your plans simple and goals realistic
  7. Center the customer
  8. Place value—and resources—in marketing
  9. Remain flexible and ready for change
  10. Culture matters

What are “business fundamentals”? 

Business fundamentals are a set of time-tested principles for running a successful business. As you’re about to see, some of these fundamentals have been in play for a long time, while others have become more vital only in recent years—or even recent months, due to COVID-19. 

10 business fundamentals for a post-COVID-19 economy

1. Pay attention to economic indicators

There’s a common theme throughout these fundamentals: denial kills businesses. Sometimes, the truth is a bitter pill. Maybe the economy is in recession, or the cash isn’t flowing in like you thought it would be, or foot traffic you counted on hasn’t delivered. (Or maybe all three of these are true.) Without understanding exactly what is going on, though, it’s nearly impossible to fix. 

It’s important to understand and keep an eye on what’s happening in the economy overall and how it’s affecting you and other small businesses. This attention to reality might help you anticipate and prepare for future downturns or better position yourself to handle a black swan event (like a global pandemic) that comes out of nowhere. 

Here are a some economic indicators to keep an eye on as a business owner: 

Not sure how to track these? You can follow most of these indicators via the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Some regional Federal Reserves also offer excellent data, such as the St. Louis Federal Reserve’s center for economic data

2. Learn basic business skills… and when to delegate them

Every small business owner should have a basic understanding of the following skills:

This doesn’t mean you have to be an expert in all of these areas. It would be hard to find someone who is, since they’re each a very different set of skills. If you do decide to outsource some of these skills to a professional, it’s a good idea to have that professional teach you how to read basic reports and see problems coming, so you know when to reach out for help.

3. Stay focused on the financials

Financing a new business and achieving steady cash flow are more important than ever in a post-COVID-19 economy. The recession means there is less money to spend, both on investing and on non-essential goods and services. Here are some ways you can find funding for your new venture, even in an economic downturn: 

For any of these types of funding, it’s important to know how much money you need upfront to start your business: a clear dollar amount to share with your funders. Even if it’s your own money, create reasonable projections for spending so you’ll know if you need to find outside help.

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4. Location is more important than ever

Where to put a new business has always been an important decision for any new venture. But today, in the wake of COVID-19, small businesses have had to adapt to new health regulations and social distancing. This has been a huge pivot, as many have had to go either partially or completely online to keep their doors open: potentially forever.

Does your business need a physical location, or can it thrive online? Here are some things to consider for both scenarios: 

Finding a brick-and-mortar location for your small business 

As you shop for your very own storefront, it’s a good idea to keep these questions in mind: 

Where is your target market? Where you end up putting down roots often depends on how accessible that location is to your target customers. For example, you might not find a ski shop in Newport, Rhode Island, a classic New England sailing town, but you can buy boat shoes and other nautical niceties on every corner. Think about who your customers are as you shop for commercial real estate. 

Are there incentives to set up shop? In the interest of encouraging development in certain areas, states and the federal government sometimes offer tax breaks to businesses looking for a physical location in these areas. Check with your state government to find out more about these opportunities. 

What’s the tax rate? Depending on where and how you choose to do business, you could get hammered with taxes from all angles: income, sales, property and even corporate taxes can really add up. Be sure to account for these fees in your business plan, and be on the lookout for towns that are more tax-friendly to new businesses. 

What are the zoning laws? It’s important to stay up to date on the zoning regulations for any town in which you’d like to house your business since these laws dictate what can and can’t be sold or built within town limits. You’ll need to talk to the respective town or city councils to learn more about their specific regulations since they vary wildly from one town to the next.

What permits and licenses will I need? Are you selling food or alcoholic beverages? Working with flammable objects? Want to put up a sign on the sidewalk? Depending on where you choose to set up shop, you could need any number of permits per the town, state, and federal governments. Check in with the proper officials to learn more about the licenses you’ll need to do business in a specific town. 

Putting your business online

Whether you decide to run your business 100% online or offer this service as a second “location,” here are some questions to answer as you build your plan: 

How will you reach your market? The internet is a big place, which can mean expanded opportunities. But it can also mean difficulty finding and influencing your target audience. Be sure to have a solid marketing plan that includes targeted advertising if you plan to do your business mostly online. 

What laws govern your online business? This one’s important. There are a lot of laws specific to governing aspects of e-commerce: taxes, payment methods, shipping, age restrictions, even how much inventory you’re legally allowed to keep in your home. It’s a good idea to read up on them as you build your business plan. 

How will you protect your customers’ information? Online security is a huge deal, and customers want to be sure they can trust you with their credit card information and other personal details. Don’t take security for granted; reach out to an IT professional if needed to ensure your online store is safe and secure. 

How will you stay connected to your team and customers? If you’re going 100% online, without a physical location for you and your future employees, it will be crucial to stay in touch with your stakeholders without physical face time. As you build your business plan, account for the costs of a cloud-based communications platform that includes messaging, video, and phone in one place, like RingCentral:

We’ve talked a little about this above. Be sure you’re in the know when it comes to local, state, and federal regulations for your business. Consult with the proper authorities and a lawyer to make sure you’re in compliance at every level to avoid fines or other penalties.

Depending on your state, you might also have annual requirements you have to meet in order to stay compliant. These might include submitting an annual report to the state, Articles of Amendment if any big changes are made, an initial report of your performance after opening, and more. As we’ve said above, the types of reporting you have to do will depend on where you do business, so check with local authorities. 

You can learn more about specific federal and state licenses and permits that might apply to your business through the Small Business Administration

6. Keep your plans simple and goals realistic

It’s easy to get swept up in the new ideas you have and want to make them all realities in the first quarter. But trying to do everything all at once is poison for businesses. 

Your business plan is your first strategic plan, so set the tone of focused, simplified strategy within the pages of that plan. Set a small number of meaningful goals that are as attainable as they are ambitious in the first year you’re open. Make sure these goals are aligned to your mission, and decide how you will measure progress.

Speaking of measuring progress, make sure this is a cornerstone of your goal-setting process. Thanks to technology, it’s easy to set and monitor all kinds of metrics, whether it’s through your customer relationship manager (CRM), customer satisfaction surveys, or performance data from your customer service software. Analyzing this data and taking action on the results is a good way to ensure your business decisions are based on facts, not just gut feelings. 

7. Center the customer

Consumers today will pay more for good customer service… and according to our research, they’ll walk away when the service is subpar: 

We’re living in the Experience Economy. That’s why, once you’ve determined your target audience, it’s crucial to consider their experience with your business at every stage of their interactions.

Today, being customer service oriented is table stakes. Try shooting for “customer obsessed” instead. Find ways to delight customers however they connect with you, even after you’ve made the sale, and you’re bound to create loyal customers who happily refer their friends and family members to you. 

8. Place value—and resources—in marketing

Marketing is one of those jobs that might seem easy and intuitive enough to manage on your own. But with the rise of social media, the landscape has gotten a lot more complex and important to get right. In fact, some experts say marketing is more important than ever before.

Now, with the economy on the ropes, every small business is fighting to get noticed. Be sure to include resources for marketing assistance in your plan. Even if you can only afford someone part-time at first, you’ll do well to have an expert on hand to help with brand reach and recognition in this climate. 

Today, you’ll need someone who can, at the bare minimum, manage your social media accounts, write and schedule email campaigns, and handle advertising end-to-end. Many marketing professionals are jacks-of-all-trades, so you might be able to find one person who can do it all. As a bonus, it’s helpful if they can set up and analyze marketing performance reports, so you can see how well different campaigns are impacting sales.

Having an in-house design specialist is nice to have, too, since they will make sure your branding is on point. But if you can’t afford it, find a reliable freelance designer who can take on projects as needed.

If you’re strapped for cash and space, look into freelancing sites that can connect you with part-time, remote marketing help, like Fiverr and Upwork. 

9. Remain flexible and ready for change 

This has always been an important tenet of business, and it rings even truer today. It might be hard to predict some swings in the economy, or planet as a whole, but there are a few things you can always count on changing: 

10. Culture matters

If you want to attract and retain top talent today, the quality of life you offer employees is an important piece of the recruitment puzzle. As the workforce becomes more diverse and socially conscious, it’s becoming increasingly important to people that they work for a business that lets them bring their whole selves to the job. 

Office culture is created, whether we put time into it or not. The choices we make in every interaction with our employees informs that culture. If you want to hire and keep the best and brightest, here are some good questions to keep in mind as you plan out your new business: 

Create a strong foundation with these business fundamentals

COVID-19 has sent a shockwave through the economy. No one saw it coming, and we’re still waiting to see what the overall impact will be. It might be challenging to imagine launching a new business right now.

Our biggest piece of advice to you? Plan for the worst and expect the best with the help of these classic and re-imagined business fundamentals. 

There’s more in store: click here to learn about small business best practices. 

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