The recent global outbreak of the COVID-19 virus brought a halt to many people’s plans and business activities. Most countries in Asia, Europe, the Americas and Australia had reported cases of the virus at the time of writing.
Air travel has reduced significantly; tourism and businesses in affected areas have suffered loss and uncertainty. In less than six weeks, the world as we know it has ceased to exist: huge sectors in some countries have been quarantined; movements restricted; guidelines are advertised across all media; governments have rallied to face this new threat – a potential epidemic in the 21st century.
In the UK, supermarkets ran out of toilet roll paper and hand sanitiser, as people indulged in panic- induced buying.
Not business as usual
For small businesses in affected areas, this was a new threat, but it is not the only threat to businesses. The ease of global travel, as well as the establishment of digital technology, the potential of digital advancements such as AI and blockchain, as well as the ‘changed’ habits of millennials… These are all threats to traditional small businesses.
But that is not altogether true; they are mostly opportunities.
The COVID-19 outbreak presents opportunities to grow your business – no matter which business sector you belong to. The key issues businesses face is how to define and frame these opportunities in the light of your current business products and services. There is one key question you should ask to help you identify the opportunities, and that is the value question.
What value is my business bringing to my customers?
It is easy to illustrate this question with an example.
A coffee shop sells various types of coffee drinks and snacks to its customers – frappucinos, lattes, hot chocolates, sandwiches, cakes and more. You would identify these as their products, and the benefits of the products are several. They:
• give you a boost of energy
• satisfy your hunger
• provide a place for lunch break
All this is valid, but the value proposition of a coffee shop is much more than this. It adds value to your life, as it also provides a comfortable secure place for you to meet friends, chill or relax. It enables you to communicate more naturally with the people you meet; it may improve your mental health; it could also ease loneliness for some people, and it could add value to the ‘laptop generation.’ It supports mothers, by providing a safe place to meet other mums and tots. Coffee shops offer immense value to their customers, not just by selling coffee and cakes.
To identify a business’s value proposition, it needs to look beyond its products or services to its customers, and beyond its direct customers.
So, whilst employees benefit from a coffee shop, employers benefit as well by not having to provide a cafe. Whilst universities offer value to students by training them, businesses also benefit by having a ‘trained’ workforce.
That leads us to the second question – not ‘Who are my customers?’ but ‘Who benefits from the value my business brings?’
Mapping out your customer segments by the value your business brings expands the reach of your business, and further identifies the role your business plays in the lives of your customers.
What is the future role of your business to your customers?
Customer behaviour is changing, and there are emerging customer cultures. A quick example is ladies shoes. Partying millennials are opting for more comfortable shoes, such as fashion trainers, as opposed to high heels. Climate-conscious young people are drinking more water than fizzy drinks, and making healthy choices. Mapping out these changes, as well as emerging threats and new technologies, will identify new ways of delivering services to customers.
Our world is no longer predictable; the new buzzword is still ‘disruption’, so it is important that entrepreneurs recognise the value they bring, and take an informed decision on whether it is sustainable.