Small is a Big Advantage: A People-First Guide for Small Businesses Managing Big Change

Around the world, businesses are suffering. Shuttered stores, empty restaurants, furloughed employees.

Amongst the gloom, some of the most powerful stories are coming from small businesses. Entrepreneurs are making dynamic pivots and rapidly deploying new innovations to chart a fresh path through the mess.

LOCAL is a small business working inside some of the biggest and best companies in the world, helping employees’ large communities navigate culture, structure, and technology change.

For us, these stories prompted a question: How can we use what we know about big company culture to codify opportunities for EVERY small business to ride through this change?

During times of change, people are asking three things: How can this help me, my community, and the wider world?

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Below, we put this model to work to identify ways any small business could use its speed and agility to survive and thrive during COVID-19.

A people-first guide to small businesses managing big change

How can you help your customers get through this?

  • Sell the future. We are all looking to the time when we can return to our lives, our friends, our favorite places. Smart entrepreneurs are packaging up this return to normalcy as pre-bought meals and “coffee futures.”
  • Lower the barrier. People aren’t ignoring you; there’s just more noise and confusion. Stop advertising and start solving problems. Even a simple solution like pre-order with a sanitized collection station can help you stand out.
  • Go to them. People love what you do, not where you do it. If your physical location is closed, what can you still do? Look at the chefs now cooking take-out meals from home and musicians putting on virtual gigs.

How are you keeping your community together?

  • Give them inspiration. Right now, we are being bombarded with facts and details, often in conflict with each other. The pain we are all feeling comes in part from a loss of hope. What community story can you tell to bring hope back?
  • Fill the gaps. Show that you are not just keeping yourself afloat. Use your agility to find and fill what your community is missing. Your restaurant could become a fresh food market. Your Instagram a community hub.
  • Celebrate Local. In most neighborhoods, community has mattered so much. What makes your neighborhood so unique? Lean into that and help reconnect people to where they live.

How are you making the situation better for everyone?

  • Do anything that helps. We are in the middle of a huge problem, and the only way out will be lots of small actions. What can you do with your free time, spare inventory, or creativity that will help others?
  • Give away knowledge. There’s no such thing as competition right now. Another entrepreneur is facing the same problem you just solved. Share what you know as freely and widely as you can.
  • Put your people first. With millions unemployed, keeping your people paid, supported, and working matters. Are you adapting to shift work, creating new roles, flexing for homeschooling? If so, celebrate these small wins.

Brighter days ahead

When there’s chaos or crisis, your culture is all you have. And protecting your company means putting your culture, clients, and community first.

How you and your people respond today will be who you are tomorrow. Because COVID-19 will leave everything changed.

Neil Bedwell is a Founding Partner and President at LOCAL, a Change Marketing™ consultancy building culture, employee experience, and internal communication programs for some of the world's best companies.

His marketing career spans 20 years running work, teams, and agencies in London, Amsterdam, San Francisco, and Atlanta. Before founding LOCAL, Neil led global digital strategy at Coca-Cola and ran the brand’s digital program for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

Neil is a passionate advisor, instructor, writer, and speaker on marketing disruption and the “people-first” future of work. Over the last few years he’s featured on stages and pages in a wide variety of places, including General Assembly, Forbes, The Adobe Summit, SXSW, IAB Mexico, The Economist Big Rethink, ACMP, Worldz, DisruptHR, and SDX San Diego.

Alongside a busy working life, Neil is proud dad and husband, with a passion for building and racing rusty old cars.

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