Procurement has been technologically evolving for years, but many small businesses have not fully engaged. The disruption of COVID-19 has accelerated this technological change and prompted longtime entrepreneur Nell Merlino to relaunch his organization Count Me In, which helps women-owned businesses and small businesses grow.
This is important because, as businesses moved their work-from-home operations online, it highlighted the need for strong technology infrastructures to support businesses of all sizes.
However, it can be more difficult for small businesses to take advantage of these technological advances. Brick-and-mortar or mom-and-pop stores may not have the funds or expertise to overhaul their systems to include more technology.
But a few tips can help.
Merlino, also an author, activist and consultant who helped launch Take Our Girls to Work Day, focuses on promoting women-owned businesses and has secured resources and funding for many small businesses over the years. She told Spend Matters about her recent efforts and the success she has seen with two companies.
Although she has been in the industry for decades, she has seen the importance of adapting to the changes around you in order to be successful.
“I would say your online sales, you have to really look at that and then you have to re-evaluate everything you do,” Merlino said. “It’s very important if you haven’t done that to sit down with your team on Zoom or the way you do your job – maybe together in an outside social distance meeting – and figure out what you have and what you do that could be changed, eliminated or reduced.
“And emphasize that this is a thorough review of your goals, your mission, your people. Whether you are into brick and mortar. Whether you are thinking of going back or continuing to work from home. How to reduce costs and take advantage of the opportunity as it currently exists? “
Merlino sees an opportunity for small businesses to add a little more technology and data to operations and see how they can thrive from there.
A crisis transformed into an opportunity
As the disruption of COVID-19 has led to massive changes in the world of shopping and business today, one of Merlino’s organizations has seized COVID-19 as an opportunity to reorganize.
Count Me In, a charity founded in 1999, was relaunched this year in response to the COVID-19 crisis.
The organization provides financial assistance, business support and advisory services to women-owned businesses across the country who are in the market to grow and further develop their businesses. Count Me In was one of the first online micro-lenders, but eventually focused on education and resources for women to grow and find finance for their businesses.
Like any successful business, Count Me In has adapted to its environment and is now helping women-owned businesses use a critical eye and make improvements in light of the COVID-19 crisis.
Small Businesses Add More Tech Capabilities to Their Organizations After COVID-19
Two companies that worked with Count Me In this spring are examples of how certain industries could change drastically in the future.
Merlino told the story of Corona Farms, a central California farm that operated primarily as a B2B organization, selling directly to restaurants and large grocery stores. However, they realized during the coronavirus pandemic that people were looking for local produce because it was fresher and included less touch in shipping.
Corona Farms used their Count Me In award of $ 10,000 to purchase new equipment to package and move their boxes of produce with minimal contact.
In the second example, a Miami-based speech-language pathologist primarily saw clients who lived near her hometown because they were physically coming to the office for pre-COVID-19 therapy. But the therapist has learned to move operations online and provide a new way of delivering service that can help people in light of the pandemic.
“Not only did they need to learn the technology right away, which they did, because they wanted to stay in touch with their customers, but then they realized they needed a marketing program. national as opposed to a local marketing program to sell them across the country, which is a huge novelty for them, ”Merlino said.
Both are examples of companies that have managed to find new sources of revenue and a whole new way of working with customers in the wake of the pandemic lockdowns. Customers have taken a closer look at health and safety concerns in light of the coronavirus, but that won’t change anytime soon. This is how small businesses use technology to adapt to the health and safety guidelines sought by their customers.
COVID-19 and its long-term impacts on small businesses
Merlino said that for some companies, the disruption of COVID-19 was a key indicator of the importance of using technology nowadays. For some businesses, it was as easy as building a professional website. For some, this includes maintaining a documented list of sources for different products. For others, this might include using more contract or labor workers.
While every business faces different implementation challenges, technology can provide a way forward to ease the difficult functions of owning a business. Owning a small business is all about data – crunching the numbers, reporting on profits – and technology can do it all without costing a small business owner an arm and a leg.
“You have to look at all of these different offerings that make CRM to see what gives you the data you need,” Merlino said. “And estimate how much data you can handle? Do you need to make some of the buying, marketing and selling decisions? Finding a way to get data that you can read and use is a critical step in all of this. “
Merlino sees a change for both local and global businesses in the future in response to COVID-19. She said people will always want to shop at a local store. It builds the community.
That doesn’t mean, however, that the tiny boutique can’t also provide technology on its website that allows customers to try on a new top or pair of jeans to see what that might look like.
In this way, Merlino says part of everyone’s business will always be done online and practically now. There is simply no way to combat the fact that COVID-19 has caused us all to turn to the virtual world for work. But at the same time, it allowed a lot more innovation.