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How small professional services companies can thrive in the face of COVID-19


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3 min read

It’s said that necessity is the mother of invention, and the current situation undeniably reinforces that notion, Small businesses like restaurants and personal services that rely on in-person customer interactions have been creatively reinventing themselves in response to COVID-19. As we’ve moved beyond shelter-in-place to a modified version of conducting business, we started asking ourselves how we can extend help to the small professional services companies that also need to embrace change to stay successful.

We conducted a survey of over 1,000 small business leaders, the results indicate that professional services companies were not impacted by COVID-19 as immediately or aggressively as businesses whose profit model depends on in-person transactions. For example, 50% of small businesses in arts, entertainment, and recreation (the hardest-hit group) were forced to close some aspects of their business due to the pandemic. Conversely, only 11.9% of real estate businesses (the hardest-hit professional services vertical) had to close.

Even though they felt little impact during the initial onset, professional services companies can’t escape the fact that we are all operating in a new paradigm and long-term success will require us to adapt to the new normal.

A majority of Americans hope to continue working from home after the COVID-19 crisis ends, and many say they will continue shopping online even as brick-and-mortar shops reopen — signs that we are seeing a permanent change in business and daily life. A quick review of headlines in any major business publication tells a similar story. Nearly every leading CEO is thinking about how to change their business model, so how does a small business embark on that journey?

Learn how to streamline your professional services firm’s communications with this free playbook.

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Professional Services Can Learn from Brick and Mortar

While they may not be immediately obvious, there are many similarities between the foot traffic-based small businesses and boutique professional services companies. During the Small Business School Challenge, we identified three areas where small business owners can make small adjustments that position them for long-term success: client service, collaboration, and productivity.

Client Service: The Most Important Aspect of Business

First and foremost, all small businesses need to deliver exceptional customer service. Whether you are selling a physical good or trading in your expertise, relationships with customers are key to long-term success. As a small company, you probably enjoy a more personal relationship with your clients than larger competitors. Be creative about how you can continue to strengthen these relationships. Increasing interaction through message, video, and phone interaction is an obvious first step, but what else can you do?

Unprecedented times create unique client needs. Remaining focused while managing stress and uncertainty is a top concern for everybody these days. Are there any additional services that you can offer to help your clients deal with stress? Converting client challenges into unique offerings benefits everyone.

Collaboration: Making Work an Activity, Not a Location

When we think of “work,” we usually think of “going to work.” But work is no longer a place, it’s part of our lives. You need the right tools to keep employees connected to one another and clients. Offering integrated message, video, and phone technology improves interaction, collaboration, and client experience.

Productivity: “9 to 5” is No Longer Reality

The notion of office workers keeping rigid business hours came to fruition in the early 1800s. The reasons that it made sense then are no longer valid, and it’s time to rethink this construct. Our personal and professional lives are increasingly blended; employees need to be able to work any time, from any place, on any device.

Putting It into Practice

A3K Consulting based in Pasadena, California is an architecture, engineering, and construction consultancy. They worked with a team of students from UCLA during the Small Business School Challenge to develop a new pricing model that blends a traditional fixed-fee structure with back-end revenue sharing. A3K is able to keep overhead in line by working remotely and using message, video, and phone technology to stay in touch with groups of subcontractors working on construction projects. In combination, these two creative approaches give A3K a unique way to cater to clients’ needs.

Good News

Innovation and adaptation have long been the name of the game for successful SMBs. And it’s much easier for a tugboat to change course than it is for an aircraft carrier. By carefully assessing the situation and listening to customers and employees, smaller companies can out-perform their larger competitors. But you probably already know this, as two-thirds of respondents to our small business survey say they are “very optimistic” about the future. We are, too, and we’re ready to help.

Nominations are open for the next Small Business School Challenge, learn more

Originally published Aug 10, 2020, updated Dec 30, 2022

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