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NerdWallet: Big changes to small businesses: Some pandemic trends that are sticking around

This article is reprinted by permission from NerdWallet

When the pandemic hit, Carolina Sanchez-Hervas had to make some big changes to her small business. Limited by government restrictions, her company CSH Translations, which provides live interpretation for court cases, began offering virtual services to support clients whose needs couldn’t wait. While the transition was challenging at first, it helped her company grow in unexpected ways.

Operating virtually, “you can work with talent from all over,” Sanchez-Hervas says. “I can find the best Italian translator and not just the one that’s close to me.”

She’s one of many small-business owners who have embraced pandemic-era trends for the long haul — not just to adapt to public health guidelines, but to diversify and grow revenue. As the pandemic passes the two-year mark, here are three trends that are here to stay.

Going virtual

How it started: For small businesses offering professional services, social-distancing requirements made daily operations difficult or impossible. To keep cash flow moving, some companies transitioned to virtual services.

Before going virtual, “we were all in a closed room for eight hours with no mask or anything,” Sanchez-Hervas says, “I think everyone has had to kind of adapt because it wasn’t an option to do in person” anymore.

According to TD Bank TD, +1.18%, a quarter of small-business owners who modified operations during 2020 transitioned to virtual options like video conferencing appointments.

Why it’s sticking: Going virtual “opens a lot of doors and possibilities,” Sanchez-Hervas says.

Now, Sanchez-Hervas’ translation business not only offers a new service for virtual language lessons but also can hire the best candidates regardless of location.

Many small-business owners who have found that similar changes in their business models have helped their companies grow are likely to continue with virtual services, as Sanchez-Hervas plans to do.

Watch: 3 common reasons small businesses fail-and how to avoid them

Leveraging social platforms

How it started: In 2020, Stephanie and Kevin Lin, siblings and co-founders of the clothing brand Kestan, had to close their storefront temporarily due to lockdown orders. During that time, they leaned into social media to connect with customers.

“That’s where we started to see a lot of changes,” Kevin says.

Stephanie began posting about how she selected designs for their store and used the Instagram Live feature to interact with followers while she sketched potential ideas. The new strategy paid off, and Kestan started receiving orders from across the country.

“I think that the nature of the relationship between brands and consumers is kind of getting a bit closer these days,” she says. “And I absolutely love that.”

Why it’s sticking: A mid-2020 survey by GWI, a global marketing research company, showed that 47% of internet users typically used social media to discover new brands.

“Pre-pandemic, people sort of thought that social media was a nice-to-have,” says Elyse Flynn Meyer, owner of Prism Global Marketing Solutions, a digital marketing company specializing in inbound marketing. “It’s really a need-to-have.”

Check out: How Buy Now, Pay Later – worth $100 billion – impacts small merchants

Embracing online sales

How it started: As public health guidelines encouraged more people to stay at home, many small businesses that used to rely on in-person sales quickly moved online. Seeking these alternative sales channels was a quick lesson for brick-and-mortar shops. Among businesses that started accepting online payments in 2020, 52% started doing so between February and April, according to the payment platform Square.

And the growth continued. In the U.S., e-commerce grew 3.3 times faster in 2020 than it had on average during the previous five years, according to a 2021 McKinsey Global Institute Analysis.

“It’s no longer e-commerce. It is commerce,” says Justin Bauer, senior vice president of product at Amplitude, a digital optimization company. “It is all about that digital experience.”

Online shopping rose about 47% in the earliest months of the pandemic, according to a 2021 study by Amplitude. It peaked last summer, says Bauer, and has plateaued at a level that he anticipates will be a new e-commerce baseline.

Why it’s sticking: After nearly two years of online shopping, consumers have become comfortable with the convenience of ordering from home.

“Consumers are increasingly telling us that they are not going to be changing their behaviors,” says Jeni Mundy, the global head of merchant sales and acquiring at Visa. “What we’ve heard from small businesses is that these changes are here to stay.”

Also on MarketWatch: ‘The world has changed, and I’m reconsidering where I call home’: I want a three-bedroom house near a ski resort — where should I move?

Online sales have also become a major revenue stream for some businesses. A Visa study revealed that small businesses that had e-commerce channels brought in more than half of their earnings from online sales in the last quarter of 2021. It expects these trends to hold given consumer expectations.

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Whitney Vandiver writes for NerdWallet. Email: wvandiver@nerdwallet.com.

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