The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the uncertainty of the future weigh heavily on NH businesses; but the pandemic has also served as a catalyst for creativity, collaboration and planning, says Liz Gray, state director for the NH Small Business Development Center (SBDC).
To assess the effect of COVID-19 on NH’s small businesses, SBDC and the University of NH Survey Center conducted the 2020 Business Resiliency Survey. Gray says SBDC needed to understand the challenges and needs of NH businesses to more effectively help them recover, reopen and become more resilient. More than 1,500 businesses from 172 cities and towns completed the survey.
Gray says the survey revealed businesses initiating creative adaptation, including new e-commerce initiatives and the unexpected efficiency of work-from-home. “What I love most are the stories about new partnerships and collaboration. That was the best type of innovation I saw. It gives me hope.”
Gray says 61% of the businesses surveyed took advantage of the federal Payroll Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loan. At the state level, 39% applied for or took advantage of the Main Street Relief Fund; the SELF program wasn’t announced until after the survey.
“A lot of the federal programs were extremely helpful and came along at a time when they were really needed,” says Gray.
Among the key findings from the Resiliency Survey are:
• One in six say they are not very or not at all confident that their business will be operating 12 months from now.
• While six in 10 expect a recovery to pre-pandemic levels within a year, one-third are dubious of a recovery even by then.
• Asked about innovations or modifications made due to COVID-19, more than a quarter of respondents made physical changes to their location or started offering new products or services.
• About one in five say they are now collaborating with other businesses, engaging in e-commerce or offering curbside delivery.
• More than four in 10 respondents say their business employs fewer people than it did in February.
• More than three-quarters of respondents say their business has seen its monthly revenue decrease as a result of COVID-19 and nearly half say their revenue has fallen by 50% or more.
• Although only one in five respondents say their business had a resiliency or continuity plan prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, 73% say that resiliency planning will be important to their business in the future.
• Four in 10 have maintained or brought employees back under the Payroll Protection Program. Less than a quarter have laid off and furloughed employees.
• When asked about one successful thing their business has done in response to COVID-19, respondents most frequently mention changing delivery or production of their products, implementing remote or virtual work, protecting the health of employees or customers, or practicing better external communication or advertising.
• Maintaining sales, revenue and customers are by far the biggest concerns. The majority are also concerned about timely payment of bills, access to capital, supply chain disruptions, liability with following CDC and health guidelines, and cleaning the work environment.
• Few say that they are concerned about access to COVID-19 testing, defaulting on existing loans or working remotely.
For its part, the SBDC has also employed creativity and collaboration to be as responsive as possible, while also thinking ahead and to what businesses would need three, six, and 12 months on, says Gray.
“We launched webinars with advice on which programs to apply for, how to pivot to e-commerce, how to manage marketing and communications when they couldn’t be face-to-face with customers, and how to maintain healthy work environments,” Gray says.
She says businesses are now turning to SBDC to learn how to operate in the new normal. “We had more clients sign up for our in-depth, one-on-one advising in the first six months of 2020 than in all of 2019,” Gray notes.
To improve on the percentage of businesses with resiliency plans, SBDC is partnering with UNH Cooperative Extension on the Small Business and Community Resiliency Academy, which should go live next year.
For more information, visit nhsbdc.org/2020surveyresults.