When COVID-19 began to take hold in March, small businesses were among the first to feel the effects. Many, however, were quick to find that the flexibility of being a small operation allowed them to move fast and adapt through technology. When theConnected Commerce Council conducted a survey in May, 76% of U.S. small business owners reported relying more on digital tools than before the COVID-19 crisis. Nearly one-third of owners said that without digital technology, they would have been forced to close all or part of their businesses. Though many small businesses have folded in the last eight months, digital tools have helped others stave off loss and even grow revenue during this hard time.
From restaurants to retailers, fitness trainers to farmers, small businesses have implemented new tools to help them navigate the pandemic. Here are seven ways technology has become a lifeline for entrepreneurs.
Opportunities to learn. With physical stores closed, small business owners and employees had time to learn new skills. For some, it was a matter of getting up to speed on platforms that would keep their businesses afloat. For others, professional development filled hours that might otherwise have been idle. Thousands of local and national organizations continue to hold regular virtual seminars and discussions designed to help entrepreneurs develop new game plans. Coursera CEO Jeff Maggioncalda saysthe pandemic created “unprecedented demand” for his company’s online courses. LinkedIn Learning now offers 16,000 free and paid courses on topics ranging from leading in a crisis to pricing strategies and getting PR placement. Time Management is the title of the platform’s most popular course of 2020 so far.
Reduced sales friction and improved safety. At the start of the pandemic, many small businesses temporarily closed their brick-and-mortar operations. Some with established online stores saw sales skyrocket as loyal customers continued to demand the products they love. Others, however, had to move fast to implement or optimize e-commerce operations to stay top of mind with customers. To make it easier and safer for those customers, many began using QR codes instead of printed menus, apps that help people find parking, and touch-free payment options, such as PayPal QR Codes.
Cheryl Hisey actually started a business during the pandemic. After being furloughed from her full-time job, the Texas mom turned her hobby of baking into Cheryl’s Confections. She first integrated PayPal into her website for online orders. Later, she began selling at a local farmers market, where she used PayPal QR Codes to accept payment for her cupcakes and other treats. “I had my menu printed out, and the QR code was just right there on it for customers to scan while they decided what they wanted” Hisey says. “Everyone is so concerned about physical contact right now, so being able to have an electronic, touch-free payment option — even though I am not a big business that has a lot of resources to spend on a card reader — has been important to the business. It’s very easy and doesn’t cut into my profits very much. It’s well worth it.”
Restaurants and bars, grocery and convenience stores, most types of retailers, and service-based businesses such as movers, house painters, housekeepers and babysitters can all benefit from touch-free payments. PayPal QR Codes allow shoppers to use the PayPal app to scan a QR code with their phone and complete a transaction without an exchange of cash. For shoppers, it’s as easy as scan, pay, go. For retailers, it’s money in the bank fast — plus, PayPal is waiving seller transaction fees for QR Code payments until 2021. (Does not apply to PayPal Here QR Code transactions. Other fees may apply. Fees are subject to change.)
Setup is a cinch. A small business owner simply goes to PayPal.com and logs into their account (or sets one up if they don’t already have one) and downloads their unique QR code. They can then print it to display at the register or on menus or marketing materials. They can save it to their camera roll to have it handy for phone-to-phone transactions. The code is free and never expires.
Connection. Most of us hadn’t heard of Zoom before March, when the video conferencing toolshot to the top of the pile of virtual meeting apps. Simple to use and free for calls under 40 minutes, the platform was quickly embraced by small business owners who needed to communicate with their teams and connect with clients. For small businesses that provide services such as fitness classes or therapy, these tools let instructors or counselors continue to see clients. The owner of one small restaurant chain is even using Zoom to teach empanada-making classes.
Updates on changing conditions. “Are you open?” Early on in the pandemic, the question was common and the answer could change from day to day. Social media and good old-fashioned email became critical tools for keeping customers informed. As small businesses have evolved, whether implementing new safety standards or beefing up online offerings and in-person services like curbside delivery, they’ve remained in play. Now consumers are trained to watch their social feeds and inboxes for updates from their favorite retail outlets and depend on them for notifications of both current conditions and new offerings.
Brand awareness and new customers. Forty percent of small business owners reported using digital tools to find new customers in theConnected Commerce Council survey. Small businesses are wise to focus on growing a following and creating interesting content that’s relevant to their customer base. Instagram Reels and TikTok have helped with brand awareness in certain demographics. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest are top platforms for targeting and engaging new audiences. Hisey started getting the word out about her bakery through neighborhood Facebook groups. Soon she was flooded with orders.
Facebook also allows businesses to create a community of fans who often act as unofficial ambassadors, spreading word about businesses they love to their networks. “Your following is your repeat business,” says social media expert and CEO of Icon Social Marketing Alex Shue. “As you concentrate on building your following, pull that into a strategy that fills your pipeline and delivers increased sales.”
The challenges of COVID-19 slowed most things down, but they accelerated the adoption of technology by many. And though the effects of the pandemic will be felt for years to come, when it comes to the tools that help small businesses flourish, that’s a good thing.
To learn more about PayPal’s touch-free payments through QR codes, go topaypal.com.