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6 creative responses to coronavirus challenges from UK small businesses

From focusing on delivery and collection services to experiments in crowdfunding, discover how businesses in Britain have adapted to the challenges posed by coronavirus

If you look around any British high street or shopping centre at the moment, you’re likely to see closed signs and shuttered facades. And, it doesn’t stop there: with as many businesses as possible required to operate remotely, offices are empty, public transport is reduced, and the roads are quiet. 

Coronavirus is proving to be a major challenge for UK business, and it’s uncertain how long this situation will last or how much worse it's going to get. While these are undeniably trying times, we’re here to highlight some of the most innovative responses from the small business community to the challenges posed by the pandemic.

We’ve searched high and low to find the best examples of how small businesses are taking big steps. Whether you’re looking for inspiration or reassurance, read on to discover how businesses across the country are fighting back.

Operating delivery services

If people have to stay at home, how can businesses bring the outside world to their customers? Retailers and other outlets have responded by ramping up their existing delivery services, or even introducing new ones. By doing so, not only can businesses find a way to keep trading during these testing times, but once in place, it’s a function that can continue to boost business after the pandemic has finally passed. 

Business examples:

  • Signature Brew has created the ‘Pub in a Box’, designed for people to drink its beers at home. And what's more, musicians whose tours have been cancelled have been hired to make the local deliveries!

signature brew

Business case study: Michael Burt, marketing and events supervisor at Brew by Numbers

Michael Burt offers advice on how small businesses can adapt to the coronavirus situation.

  1. What top tips can you offer to our readers about creative ways to sell online?

“One of the best tips I can offer is to find what makes your business or product unique in your marketplace, and focus on a way to sell as authentic an experience as possible, in an online capacity. 

“We used the variety of our beer range to offer a taste of the whole Brew By Numbers experience in our ‘Bring the Brewery Home’ box, for those who could no longer make it down to the brewery site in person.”

  1. How do you think small businesses can get through this challenging time?

“This is going to prove to be a challenging time for many small businesses around the world, and evolving your business to be reactive and nimble will be a key feature of many successful operations. 

“Being able to quickly adopt changes in how your business operates to reflect how society adapts to isolation will prove to be integral for many. Working alongside your community and collaborative projects (for example, shared deliveries or mixed boxes) will help businesses today, and forge strong bonds for tomorrow – we are definitely stronger together.”


Providing collection options

Another option that’s particularly ideal for hospitality and retail businesses is letting customers collect items from the premises, if safely possible. 

Business examples:

  • Pidgin – this restaurant now offers three course meals that are prepared by the team and can be reheated at home, available for collection or delivery via Uber

Raising crowdfunding finance

Ensuring a business has enough money for paying staff, suppliers, and other bills is a major concern during the coronavirus pandemic. Depending on the amount of money and its intended use, businesses could turn to their communities to help them out. And by sharing on social media, they could reach a wider audience, too. 

Business examples:

  • BargeEast is running a crowdfunding campaign to raise funds for staff and projects

barge east


Changing content formats

Whether it’s moving offerings online, or creating content that’s relevant to the current situation, businesses have adapted by making their products available in different ways. This could be as a response to avoiding non-essential contact, or to connect with customers online and via social media, providing a sense of community even while the country is practicing social distancing.

Business examples:

  • Little Yoga Stars has changed its children’s yoga sessions from in-person to online
  • Baby2Body has launched new content focusing on health and workouts for pregnant women and mothers in isolation
  • PopUp Business School is running a series of Facebook Live sessions offering free advice for small business owners

baby2body


Supporting the community

It’s clear that at times like these, people need each other and businesses can use their platforms and resources to facilitate connection and offer support. Whether it’s promoting a worthy cause, or helping to make life easier, businesses can step in and create change for the greater good.

Business examples:

  • Florence has launched National Care Force, a free platform that connects healthcare workers, volunteers, and social care services
  • Hastee is an app that allows staff to access some of their earnings before payday. The service is now available free of charge to the NHS and other critical services for six months
  • Saveg is offering promo codes for NHS staff, and two free pies for those who order that are aged 65+

hastee


Saving staff jobs

As more and more businesses have either had to close temporarily or find new ways of operating, it’s meant that the status of some jobs has become precarious. There’s so much uncertainty surrounding coronavirus itself, and staff not knowing if their jobs are secure can only add to it. Fortunately, some businesses have found ways to redistribute staff to keep operations going, and to retain their team members. 

Business examples:

  • A.M. Custom Clothing has set up an online shop to sell printed clothing to the public. This is to offset the decline in commercial orders, and in turn helps save jobs throughout the process

a m custom clothing

Business case study: Aimée Madill, owner at Phlox Books

Aimée Madill shares insight into how businesses can respond to the challenges of coronavirus.

  1. What top tips can you offer to our readers about creative ways to keep selling?

“Think about your supply chain: what bits can you reduce/do yourself (safely)? Approach and ask them to help. It's key not to think about what you think is desirable i.e fast, cheap and instead think about what is sustainable and reliable.

“Is there an area in your business that was just a sideline or add-on that would really flourish with some attention in the current pandemic?

“Explain changes to your customers. Most really won't mind a new postal charge or price increase if they understand why it is important for both your business and their safety.

“Consider services over products what can you do that is unique to you, and useful to your customers? Can you do recommendations, tutorials, online events?”

  1. How do you think small businesses can get through this challenging time?

“We are going to have to be open to asking for help. It's surprising how supportive your community will be if you just ask, and present some really easy ways they can help you. 

“It's also going to be really important to understand that we are all part of a small business ecosystem: try to pay any small suppliers that you owe, so they are there to continue working with you on the other side of this crisis.

“Be as informed as you can. Follow the government updates on measures to help small businesses; start researching organisations in your sector that could help. Basically, don't throw in the towel, and start thinking in terms of finding solutions, one problem at a time.”


Summary

UK business has had to change suddenly and drastically because of issues created by coronavirus. Although it’s been difficult, many businesses have adopted creative and innovative ways of getting by during these testing times.

Whether it’s a restaurant or retailer switching to only offering collection or delivery services, or organisations providing content for free (or other support to the community), businesses in the UK have displayed ingenuity and resilience.

While there’s no timeline or template to follow for this scenario, our article showcases some of the best small business solutions to the coronavirus crisis. For more information, read our pages on:

Scarlett Cook
Scarlett Cook

Scarlett writes about a wide range of topics on the site, from business security to digital marketing and EPOS systems. She can also be found writing about diversity and sustainability in business, as well as managing the Just Started profiles.