Sunday, December 27, 2020

Pandemic, Pain and Pivot for Small Business

Reflections on 2020 and the opportunities that emerged

COVID-19 was a major disruptor throughout 2020 for businesses across Australia, with many States imposing tough restrictions upon the way people could interact. 

Job-Keeper helped to prop up many small businesses, but never-the-less many were forced to “pivot” in order to survive and be innovative in the way they operated. 

During the “worst” of the COVID crisis, which was also accompanied by an economic recession, there were numerous small businesses that were unable to remain viable and others that experienced a significant drop in sales as customers reduced expenditure to their most basic needs. Small business owners struggled to avoid financial ruin.

As we emerge out of the worst of the pandemic, we have seen an increase in consumer confidence as well as several opportunities that discerning entrepreneurs were able to exploit. Some of these opportunities from 2020 are explored in this article …..


The e-commerce sector experienced massive growth during the pandemic, as most consumers avoided travel and public spaces. This reduced movement saw increased use of digital shopping channels as customers preferred them over physical stores. For existing businesses the push for an online presence has been one that can’t be ignored and many have had to seize this opportunity to maintain their sales.  An iteration of online shopping saw the use of strategies where customers would buy online but picked up the goods at stores in an arrangement that minimised contact. 

Online Education

Most learning institutions responded to the pandemic by adopting digital learning tools. Students attended online classes to compensate for the missed opportunity to learn in a physical environment. The shift in learning models created a demand for digital learning applications. Innovative firms have sought to collaborate with learning institutions to provide learning management software and AI-powered learning tools.


The demand for telemedicine was at its highest during the lockdown and forced patients to seek healthcare whilst staying at home. Research indicates that most healthcare consumers are receptive to telehealth solutions with some firms in the segment experiencing a substantial rise in demand since late last year. It is likely that more consumers will continue to utilise telemedicine post-COVID, as they will have become accustomed to this model of healthcare delivery.

The high demand for telemedicine translates to business opportunities for small businesses. Small firms can provide services such as ongoing patient support, health report management, and AI-powered solutions. The demand for partnerships will also increase as healthcare providers seek partners to support patient management and data analysis.

Digital Payment Platforms

The COVID-19 crisis saw an increase in the use of digital payment methods due to reduced movement and the need to reduce contact during interactions. Consumers complied with public health advice to make contactless payments as a way of reducing the risk of infection. Firms responded by developing inclusive digital payment solutions for their customers. This is an opportunity for small businesses to create intuitive digital payment platforms that customers who are not tech-savvy can use with ease.

Digital Communication Tools

The restrictions on movement forced many employers to find digital technologies that will aid communication and interactions with their employees. Employers came to increasingly rely upon teleconferencing tools such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams. The switch to remote work has further increased the demand for digital office tools.

Small business can exploit such business opportunities by developing (or partnering with existing) applications that enable client organisations to make real-time remote communication with their staff. Entrepreneurs can also help marketing agencies interact with clients using digital technologies. The opportunities include organising virtual exhibitions, trade shows, and product demonstrations.

The Delivery Industry

There is high demand for delivery services for food and other goods that are not available on mainstream ecommerce channels. Small business can use this opportunity to offer delivery services in areas such as ready-made food and groceries. Existing businesses (particularly in the hospitality industry) have the opportunity to add this as part of their own services as opposed to using third party providers such as UberEats and Deliveroo. Accompanying this, the surge in demand for ecommerce has overwhelmed the logistical capacities of many firms. This could present an opportunity for entrepreneurs to devise innovative order fulfilment and product delivery models for clients.

Digital Media

The COVID-19 enforced lockdown during the middle of 2020 boosted demand for digital media as most people spend time at home. People compensated for the lack of social gatherings by resorting to digital entertainment. Consequently, there was an increase in demand for streaming content, online gaming, and social networking applications.

Small businesses can exploit this opportunity by introducing new apps that make it fun to share content or connect with others over social media. Entrepreneurs could invest in the development of content and sell it to streaming sites like Netflix, Stan and Amazon Prime Video.  Some entrepreneurs could also invest in the development of online games as most young people have turned to gaming sites for entertainment and socialising.

Fitness Industry

The fitness industry was hit hard by the pandemic, but innovative instructors were able to reduce the impact by adopting digital technology. Instructors learned how to utilise digital instruction models to develop training programs that appealed to their clients. Meanwhile, equipment vendors integrated live (or recorded) classes and other forms of content with their product so that clients could learn independently.

"Necessity is the mother of invention"

The Need to Pivot & be Innovative

2020 saw many innovative entrepreneurs develop business models and applications that addressed critical needs that emerged through the pandemic. These innovations ranged from apps that alerted people to the lockdown restrictions in different states to engineers who developed low-cost healthcare equipment. One of the keys to successfully pivoting is being open to the need for change; being open to a new business model that allows you to adapt to a different environment. There were many examples during the pandemic of 2020 where small business owners showed they possess the courage and resilience to adapt to radically different operating environment. It has been said that “Necessity is the mother of invention” and 2020 was proof of this. 

In summary

The COVID-19 crisis of 2020 hurt numerous small businesses around Australia, but it also yielded business opportunities that a number of agile entrepreneurs were able to exploit. Most of the opportunities emerged in the digital technology sector. Small business owners who continue to succeed will likely be the ones who  use digital platforms to improve the customer service experience and will be relentless in their search for new ideas, products and services that offer a cost-effective solution to emerging and existing consumer "problems".

Acknowledgement - Some of the ideas in this post were adapted from an article published by UniSuper in their Business Blog