The pandemic, social unrest and natural disasters like wildfires have battered the small business landscape in 2020. And America’s small businesses are fighting back with digital tools to steer them through uncertain times.
That was the big takeaway from “The State of SMBs: Lessons from 2020 and Outlook for 2021.”
The virtual fireside chat featured Bill.com CEO and Founder René Lacerte and Dean Henry of American Express. Stephen Markwell of JP Morgan Chase and Rodney Fong of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce were the other panelists.
Gene Marks, Author, Small Business Expert and President of digital tools moderated.
Business Leaders Agree Hybrid Model Here to Stay
Lacerte started the discussion with a roundup of the year just passed.
“It was not a good year because of the uncertainty,” he said. “The challenge of that uncertainty has been hard for businesses of all sizes.”
He went on to say small business fought back with a significant push toward digital tools.
“We have seen an awareness to that end that’s been caused specifically by the pandemic,” Lacerte added.
Dean Henry of American Express spoke about the business pivots he’s seen. He’s the Executive Vice President of Business Financing & Supplier Payments for American Express’ Global Commercial Services business.
An Ominous Tone
He started with an ominous tone.
“We were pretty sure it was going to be one of the worst years for small business and ourselves. What has been amazing has been the pivots these businesses have made.”
He singled out the restaurant industry that’s taking advantage of the tools available that can help them go online immediately. Henry highlights another advantage of the move to digital tools for B2B businesses.
“You don’t need to see your customers every day to sell your services,” he says. Because many companies are global, American Express saw strength in areas like cross border pavements. It was one of the areas that stood up well against the pandemic.
Broad Based Pivot
“If you’re making widgets and selling them to your customers you’re still importing from abroad to feed your supply chain,” Henry said. He went on to report that 76% of the business owners in a survey said they had pivoted in some way. He noted the push was “broad based.”
Henry also said that e-commerce and payment flexibility were two important elements of the digital push.
Like his colleagues, Rodney Fong focused on solutions rather than the issues. He is the CEO & President, San Francisco Chamber of Commerce.
“I think COVID-19 has forced us all to learn a lot about efficiencies,” he said.
Fong sees working from home 100% of the time as an extreme.
“I do believe we’ll get to a hybrid model for all of us in some way shape or form,” he says.
That model is already evident. He points to restaurant deliveries and companies like DoorDash as successful examples.
“COVID-19 has taught us not to have all of your eggs in one basket,” he says. “Small businesses need to have different revenue streams and ways of taking in transactions.”
Digital World Has Taken Hold
He foresees an eventual movement back to the office and eating in restaurants. But he feels the digital world has taken hold and is here to stay.
Stephen Markwell of JP Morgan Chase added some other insights. Markwell is FinTech lead for the Commercial Bank.
He thinks there will be a return to the office once the pandemic is over. But he acknowledges the imprint digital remote work is having.
“All of us have gotten more efficient in collaborating with our employees, suppliers and clients in the digital world,” he says. “That’s led to productivity in spots by reducing things like commute time and stress on public transportation.”
Markwell says the future hybrid model will have people being more selective about in person meetings. And how often they go into the physical office.
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