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3 Approaches to Continuing Operations through COVID

covid

3 Approaches to Continuing Operations through COVID

COVID has impacted every aspect of our personal and professional lives. Businesses across different industries and verticals are adjusting their strategies and day to day processes in an attempt to make the best of this unprecedented moment. For this reason, different types of technology have become more prominent as they allow businesses and professionals to maintain the pace of business in light of how COVID has transformed the way we work.   

A recent survey from the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that half of Americans are currently working from home. Along with these changes in work come new challenges regarding problem-solving, engagement in work tasks, and productivity. But as the trend of working remotely is here to stay – especially for Dev teams, for whom this was already somewhat the norm. In fact, in a recent IBM survey, 80% of respondents want to work remotely occasionally, and over 50% want to work from home primarily.

In particular, businesses within the logistics industry need to be able to address the logistical issues of keeping employees safe and aware of the risks, as well as maintaining internal operations so that business can continue. Here are three tips and suggestions for technology and process shifts that can help logistics businesses continue operations through COVID. 

Large Scale Consent with COVID Waivers

As employees at all levels of the supply chain continue to work, and as plans to reopen the office are being built out, there needs to be a way to keep everyone safe and healthy. This involves letting employees know about risks associated with COVID. Using liability waivers – legal agreements that must be signed before a particular activity is undertaken – can be a good solution for this. But rather than use pen and paper contracts (which require face to face contact) or traditional eSignature (that does not scale, especially when there is a high volume of signers), consider one-click contracts. They allow for rapid and seamless acceptance and still carry the same legal weight as a normal contract. They can also be accepted via text or email.

Use Clickwrap to Present Standard Agreements

Because of COVID, businesses are seeking ways to improve their current processes by cutting down on the time or money spent completing them. When it comes to contracts, many use pen and paper or eSignatures to send agreements and collect acceptances. However, these old processes have no place in this new world. One solution is to use clickwrap agreements to present your standard agreements, or market terms. A clickwrap agreement removes the necessity of signing and replaces it with a box or button that users can check or click to signify acceptance. That way, there is no need for face-to-face contact, and contracts can be executed remotely as necessary. 

Automate Everything 

With the changes in business priorities, logistics teams will no longer have the bandwidth for some repetitive tasks that previously received a lot of attention. Instead of hyper-focusing on them or ignoring them altogether, automate those processes so you have time to focus on others. Workflow and Content Automation (WCA) is a growing category of technology that businesses should leverage. After identifying the repetitive processes, WCA enables you to identify high volume, low-value transactions and automate the document workflow associated with them such as implementing clickwrap agreements. This includes standardized agreements like terms and conditions, privacy policies, and NDAs. 

As these constant changes require businesses to make changes to their current internal processes using technology that helps them adapt better to the ongoing circumstances. Using clickwrap agreements can help significantly reduce the amount of contact between transacting parties. It can also be a massive internal lift as it helps with workflow and content automation, thereby enabling you to reduce repetitive processes. Finally, using COVID liability waivers that scale with your business is a sophisticated way to ensure that your business minimizes physical contact and protects its best interests in this new world.

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Brian Powers is the founder and CEO of PactSafe and a licensed attorney. As the CEO, Brian leads the strategic vision of the company’s high-velocity contract acceptance platform.  Prior to founding PactSafe, Brian’s law practice focused primarily on representing the transactional needs of tech companies. Brian is a frequent speaker, instructor and author on topics ranging from clickthrough contract acceptance to privacy-related consent management.

business

Leading a Small Business Through COVID and Other Troubling Times

With the coronavirus shaking up the economy and upending the day-to-day operations of businesses, it’s perhaps more critical than ever that corporate CEOs and small business owners summon up all their leadership skills.

Employees who usually are just down the hall are now working remotely from home. The supply chain is disrupted. And customers and clients may be changing their spending habits.

But, as important as business savvy and financial expertise can be in riding out all the economic effects of the pandemic, other traits also come into play and may be just as essential, says Marsha Friedman, a successful entrepreneur who still leads a business she launched three decades ago.

“One of those essential traits is courage,” says Friedman, founder and president of News & Experts (www.newsandexperts.com), a national PR firm. “Thirty years ago when I started my company, I probably would never have said it takes courage to lead a small business, but without it, I assure you, you’ll fail.”

Friedman, who is also the ForbesBooks author of Gaining the Publicity Edge: An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Growing Your Brand Through National Media Coverage, understands this first-hand. Her firm, like many businesses, endured tough economic times after the 9/11 attacks. Revenue dropped and bankruptcy loomed as a real possibility.

“I had to figure out how to turn my company around,” she says. “It took courage, endurance, and perseverance, but I knew I could not go back, so I had no choice but to go forward.” 

Courage is just one of what Friedman calls the 5 C’s for building and maintaining a successful business through the good times and bad. “They’re the guiding principles I’ve learned through the ups and downs and all the mistakes,” she says. “They can work during the difficulties we now face as well.”

In addition to courage, Friedman’s other C’s are:

Caring . First, care enough about yourself and your dreams to believe you can achieve success even in these daunting times, Friedman says. “Just as important is caring about your staff and creating a positive work environment for them despite the troubles we face,” she says. “Be supportive of them throughout this situation that is bringing additional stress to everyone’s lives.” Finally, a good business leader cares about customers, Friedman says. Be willing to listen to their concerns, take responsibility for mistakes, and correct them.

Confidence. Most people have faced and overcome challenges in life. The confidence that allowed them to prevail over those challenges needs to be brought into play in business more than ever right now, Friedman says. “Believing you can reach for and achieve your short-term and long-term goals is essential to getting you there,” she says. “Maintaining your confidence is important to get through these unsettling times.”

Competence. It’s critical to stay up on the disruptions in your industry that the coronavirus is causing. “If you’re forced to downsize, this may be the time to reorganize and tap into the skills and abilities of your remaining team that are different from the roles you hired them for,” Friedman says. “That’s why it’s always important to have hired competent people who you can rely on no matter what the situation.”

Commitment . Stay dedicated to your goals no matter how difficult that becomes during these challenging conditions. Friedman says there may be times when this will be not only difficult, but downright painful. That was the case for her during those tough times after the 9/11 attacks. “I had to make drastic cuts, including letting go beloved employees.” she says. “But I never wanted to suffer a failure, and so I stayed committed to the goal and succeeded in pulling the business through those rough times.” 

“As we face the current challenges, you have to stay the course, remain positive and show caring for everyone related to your business,” Friedman says. “Most of all, no matter how dismal it seems right now, you need to have confidence that you are going to get through it.”

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Marsha Friedman, ForbesBooks author of Gaining the Publicity Edge: An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Growing Your Brand Through National Media Coverage, is a successful entrepreneur and public relations expert with nearly 30 years’ experience developing publicity strategies for celebrities, corporations and professionals in the field of business, health and finance.  Using the proprietary system she created as founder and President of News & Experts (www.newsandexperts.com), an award-winning national public relations agency, her firm secures thousands of top-tier media placements annually for its clients.  The former senior vice president for marketing at the American Economic Council, Marsha is a sought-after advisor on PR issues and strategies, who shares her knowledge both as a popular speaker around the country and in her Amazon best-selling book, Celebritize Yourself.

PPP

What is the Paycheck Protection Program?

After the signing of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the Small Business Administration (SBA) received funding and authority to modify existing loans. Programs were put in place to assist small business nationwide that had been adversely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The purpose of these programs was to provide emergency assistance and healthcare response for individuals, families, and businesses affected by the coronavirus.

One of these programs is the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which is granted, in full, by the SBA. The SBA is authorized to grant loans through August 8th, 2020 due to the CARES Act’s intention to provide relief to America’s small businesses expeditiously. Lenders will rely solely on certifications made by the borrower and use of loan proceeds. They must rely on specified documents provided by the borrowers to determine loan amount and eligibility for loan forgiveness.

The PPP has seven key characteristics business owners should familiarize themselves with. By knowing them, owners will know how the PPP works and whether they are eligible or not.

The first one is eligibility. The most important step is to submit the appropriate documentation to establish eligibility—such as payroll processor records, payroll tax filings, or income and expenses from a sole proprietorship.

You are eligible: if you have 500 or fewer employees whose principal place of residence is in the United States; if you are a business which operates in a certain industry and meets the applicable, SBA employee-based size standards for that industry; if you were in operation on February 15th, 2020 and had employees for whom you paid salaries and payroll taxes; if you are an individual who operates under a sole proprietorship or an independent contractor, or eligible self-employed individual; if you are not engaged in any activity that is illegal under federal, state, or local law; if you are not an individual who employs nannies or housekeepers; if you are not the owner of 20-percent or more of the equity of whose applicant is incarcerated, on probation, on parole, or has been convicted of a felony within the last five years; and if your business is not owned or controlled by anyone who has obtained a loan from the SBA or any other federal agency that is currently delinquent or has defaulted within the last seven years and caused a loss to the government.

The second one is the loan amount, which is less than $10 million, or the calculation of a payroll-based formula specified in the CARES Act. To calculate this formula, you must add payroll costs from the last 12 months for employees whose principal place of residence is the United States; subtract any compensation paid to an employee in excess of an annual salary of $100,000 or any amounts paid to an independent contractor or sole proprietor in excess of $100,000; calculate the average monthly payroll costs; multiply the average by 2.5; and add the outstanding amount of an Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) made between January 31st, 2020 and April 3rd, 2020 minus the amount of any advance under EIDL COVID-19 loan.

The third one is the interest rate, which will be 100 basis points, or one percent. After that, we have the loan maturity. The CARES Act established the loans will have a maximum maturity of up to 10 years from the date the borrower applies for loan forgiveness. However, the SBA determined that a two-year loan term is sufficient, due to the temporary economic dislocation. Payments are deferred six months from date of disbursement. Interest will continue to accrue during that period.

The fifth key characteristic is the uses of the loan. The PPP can be used for payroll costs, costs related to the continuation of group healthcare benefits during periods of paid sick, medical, or family leave, and insurance premiums, mortgage interest payments, rent payments, utility payments, interest payments on any other debt obligations that were incurred before February 15th, 2020, and to refinance an SBA EIDL. The loan forgiveness can be up to the full principal amount of the loan and any accrued interest if the borrower uses it to cover at least 75-percent of compensation—based on 2019—but not exceeding $100,000. Also, if not, more than 25-percent of the loan forgiveness amount may be attributable to non-payroll costs, and the borrower must have claimed a deduction for 2019 for the abovementioned expenses.

Last, but not least, the seventh key characteristic is the amount of PPP loans a business can apply for. Each business owner can only apply for one PPP loan.

The PPP is a great loan opportunity granted by the SBA. If your business has suffered due to the COVID-19 pandemic, you should check your eligibility and try to apply for this loan. However, if you find you do not meet the requirements, there are other SBA loans you can apply for. Make sure to have the proper documentation and select the loan that will benefit your business the most.

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Mirel Barcelo is the founder and owner of Corp 1 Financial Services, LLC, where she offers her comprehensive services as a CPA in Florida.

Barcelo comes from extensive education and experience in accounting. She graduated from Florida International University with a Bachelor’s in accounting, as well as an Executive Master in science of taxation. Barcelo then went on to become a Certified Public Accountant in the state of Florida.

Her company, Corp 1, LLC., specializes in personal and corporate income tax services, IRS audit management and representation, tax preparation, accounting educational course programs, and sales tax compliance. Barcelo also offers accounting and bookkeeping services, compliance consulting, corporate services, and notary services.

Prior to owning and operating her own company, Barcelo acquired nearly a decade of work experience in tax services, first as a senior associate in state and local tax services at Grant Thornton, LLP., then advancing to a senior property tax consultant position at Ryan, LLC. During this time, Barcelo was responsible for national property tax compliance, valuations for property tax purposes, accrual analysis, managing clients’ budgets to ensure projects are handled efficiently, and overseeing and managing the preparation of over 5,000 tangible property tax returns.

For more information, please visit https://corp1llc.com/

essential business

4 Factors to Consider Before Buying an Essential Business in COVID Times

The shutdowns and rollbacks of businesses due to the COVID-19 pandemic continue to play havoc with the U.S. economy. But the least-affected businesses during the crisis, for the most part, have been those deemed “essential” by state and local governments, allowing those companies to remain fully operational or close to it.

Meanwhile, with the idea that essential businesses can be recession-proof and even boom during a public crisis, buying one is becoming a more attractive prospect for some people, says Chris Buitron, president of Mosquito Authority® (www.mosquito-authority.com).

“Our current economic challenges as a nation are showing that owning an essential business can be a solid financial strategy for an individual,” Buitron says. “They are practical purchases. They are not often glamorous businesses, but they make sense largely because they offer services that are currently in demand, and as such they can weather economic downturns.

“Some essential businesses, such as ours, are busier than ever as people are trying to maintain social distance by staying home and not taking many vacations. People consider protection from mosquito bites and the diseases they carry as a high priority for their family’s health and outdoor enjoyment. Like other essential businesses, our franchisees provide measures of security and comfort, allowing people to enjoy being in their yards at a time so many are cooped up inside due to the pandemic.

“And at the same time, all kinds of essential businesses provide ownership opportunities while millions of unemployed people are looking for new opportunities or new career tracks. Perhaps they’re looking to be their own boss and to have more control over their financial future.”

Buitron suggests considering the following when weighing whether to buy an essential business:

Focus on successful types of essential businesses. Among the essential businesses  that have the potential to succeed even during difficult economic times are: delivery services, grocery stores, convenience stores, e-commerce, gas stations, cleaning services, liquor stores, auto repair, lawn care, pest control, mailing/shipping services, and contracting. “The pandemic may be with us for a while,” Buitron says. “People will be home more often, and businesses that can service their needs while home will gain customers.”

Consider franchises as ownership opportunities. While some franchises are struggling during the pandemic, others are in a better position, Buitron says. “For franchises in general, much of the industry will be entering a buyer’s market, and those with the means will find some good opportunities,” he says. “People need jobs, and franchises annually employ 9 million people in the U.S. One benefit of buying a franchise is having an organizational and management team already in place to train you and help guide you. Reach out to other franchise owners to get a sense of the company’s commitment and support.”

Know a bargain vs. a bad investment. A relatively low sale price tempts some people into making a poor buying decision on a business. Buitron says it’s important to pore over the business’ financial numbers that it recorded before the pandemic and do all the research possible – especially of the market where the business is located – to determine if it was on a growth track and what the competition is like. “Two questions you need to ask yourself as a potential buyer of an essential business are: What can you bring new to the business to make it more successful, and why was or wasn’t it profitable?” he says.

Be sure you’re up to owning a business. “There are no guarantees with owning an essential business,” Buitron says. “The pandemic has put a spotlight on their importance, but they take lots of work and organizational skills to run. If you are someone who can’t deal well with uncertainty, buying a business any time, let alone during the most uncertain time in our history, isn’t the right choice. Buying a business and committing to it requires thorough research, a passion for the business, a solid financial foundation and a leap of faith.”

“Owning an essential business brings with it the satisfaction of providing necessary services for people,” Buitron says. “In these times especially, that’s a noble pursuit.”

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Chris Buitron is president of Mosquito Authority® (www.mosquito-authority.com), a nationwide leader in mosquito control with franchises serving communities across the U.S. and Canada. Buitron has an extensive background in franchise industries. He was chief marketing officer for Senior Helpers, vice president of marketing for Direct Energy (home services division), and director of marketing for Sunoco Inc., where he supported the company’s 4,700 franchised and company-owned rental facilities across 23 states (over $15B in annual revenues).

remote work

Should Companies Rush Headlong into Permanent Remote Work?

New research from Stanford shows 42% of US workers are working from home full-time. After a successful transition for COVID-19, more and more tech companies are allowing their employees to work remotely for the foreseeable future. Twitter recently announced that most of their employees may continue working remotely as long as they want to. And 4,000 Nationwide Insurance employees recently became permanent telecommuters.

The benefits of an all-remote workforce are considerable and fairly easy to measure. But are we losing something equally important by ditching the office and in-person work?

The four benefits of all-remote work

When real estate startup Culdesac announced they were giving up their San Francisco headquarters, co-founder Ryan Johnson tweeted: “Remote work is going great for us.” Google, Facebook, and Zillow recently told their employees that they could continue to work from home until 2021. Google recently abandoned more than two million square feet of planned office space. “Our bias against working from home has been completely exploded,” Dan Spaulding, Zillow’s chief people officer, said. Zillow is “not seeing any discernible drop in productivity.”

Here are four reasons companies are ditching their offices for all-remote workforces.

1. Offices are expensive

According to commercial real estate firm Cushman and Wakefield, companies have been pushing more workers into less office space for years. Packing everyone in came at the cost of minimizing distractions, which is consistently the top driver of employees’ ability to focus on their work.

Not only that, but until there’s an effective treatment and/or vaccine, these uber-dense offices aren’t going to cut it. Spacious offices with thermometers, hand-sanitizer stations, phone sanitizer stations, new HVAC systems, touchless systems, and more they need to be safe are going to cost even more.

As we enter a COVID-led recession, Kate Lister, president of consulting firm Global Workplace Analytics, predicts that investors are going to insist that firms cut costs. Letting go of office space accomplishes this without cutting headcount.

2. Offices are distracting

Going all-remote not only saves companies money on office space, but also can lead to fewer distractions and more focus for workers.

A few stats:

–The average company sees a 10% to 43% increase in productivity after going all-remote.

–In a recent survey, 54% of workers said their productivity had improved since working from home full-time.

–64% of workers said their work quality has improved.

3. Commutes are terrible

Americans spend 30 billion hours commuting every year. Long commutes are one of the main reasons workers say they want to work from home. Research shows longer commutes are associated with obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, back and neck pain, divorce, depression, death, political disengagement, poverty, absenteeism, lower productivity, and even pregnancy complications. Long commutes also exacerbate pollution and climate change.

4. Talent is distributed

Firms that hire remotely can access far more talent and may be able to offer lower salaries. Currently, Facebook is paying employees based on their geography’s cost of living. It may also make it easier for teams to meet their Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion goals. For example, it’s easier to employ people with disabilities when you don’t have to worry about office accessibility. Companies with greater gender diversity are 15% more likely to be high performers, according to one study. Companies with greater ethnic diversity are 35% more likely.

Drawbacks to all-remote

Remote work isn’t without its drawbacks, including loneliness and boredom. In addition, we found that many workers are having more meetings and working longer hours after going remote. There’s evidence that full-time remote workers have a harder time problem solving and being creative than their in-office peers. Many contend that it’s easy to overlook the value of the spontaneous ideas and networking that in-person coworking facilitates.

“Many companies are jumping into ‘remote-first’ too head-on,” said Can Duruk, Product Manager and co-writer of The Margins newsletter. “Once people burn through the accrued social capital you will see productivity drop as relationships decay, new hires not gelling well, etc.”

Futurists have long predicted that as telecommuting became technically feasible, firms and workers would abandon high-cost cities. Research shows that physical co-location is still valuable enough to justify the rents.

One interesting criticism of all-remote teams is that trust and social capital are hard to establish and maintain over distance. As trust and social capital are measurably associated with higher performance, will we see performance dip as they erode?

“We are operating under the assumption things won’t deteriorate and we are making these sweeping changes without much data,” Can said.

More broadly, some fear that widespread adoption of the all-remote model will finally lead to the long-predicted de-urbanization. A move away from large cities would have negative impacts on the environment. Urbanites use less electricity, drive less, and spend about $200-$400 less on electricity each year compared with suburban dwellers.

Plus, people who live in cities have more access to health care, employment, and education.

Alternative models to all-on-site and all-remote work

Workers tend to be happiest and most productive when they have the freedom to live where they want and choose how to organize their time.

This is in line with a Gallup poll showing that just 40% of Americans who are currently working from home are excited to go back to working in their office full-time. Nearly 60% would prefer to work remotely “as much as possible” going forward.

Within a couple of years, Kate Lister from Global Workforce Analytics predicts that 30% of workers will work from home a few days per week.

“I’m partial to what Stripe is doing,” Can from The Margins said. “Treat remote as a hub to position it to succeed, ensure people are available in the same time zone. Seems gradual enough to be low-risk, discrete enough to measure and tangible enough to support.”

The major downside to the split-office model happens when some workers are working from home full-time. Those workers are going to have a different experience than workers who come into the office, even occasionally. Remote workers may have trouble establishing relationships, getting put on the right projects, and getting promoted.

“It’s important that we are conscious of this situation if we want our high performers, wherever they may be, to be recognized for their excellent work,” writes CIO Contributor Dan Mangot. “Similarly, we need to make sure that those who are struggling, get the support they need so they can continue to be valuable members of our organizations.”

Going forward

While the benefits of going all-in on remote work are considerable, it’s also worth considering the drawbacks. For many workers and many companies, a staggered or split-office approach may work best.

To learn how to transition some workers back into office work, check out 6 tips for transitioning into a split office setup.

disruptions

How to Manage and Overcome Disruptions in the Supply Chain

Regardless of the type of disruption, supply chain resilience is highly dependant on several factors, one of which being reliable end-to-end visibility created at the first sign of trouble. Whether it’s a health crisis, a series of policy changes, or other forms of disruption, proactive rather than reactive measures are critical in staying afloat when facing a variety of disruptions or bottlenecks.

Disruptions in the modern supply chain are simply inevitable and require a different approach in data management and predictability to successfully overcome the challenge at hand.  By effectively utilizing technology tools available and developing a solid crisis plan can make a significant difference in recovery times.

Below is a helpful infographic from DiCentral breaks down various predictable and unpredictable supply chain disruptions and what it takes in the planning, reaction, and response stages of managing and navigating challenges.

risk mitigation strategies

Moving Past COVID-19: Risk Mitigation Strategies to Drive Supply Chain Resilience

As the world begins to ease movement restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic, companies are wondering where they go from here and how they can reduce risks moving forward.

These questions are especially relevant to supply chains, as the pandemic disrupted trade flows across borders, from raw materials to finished products. The initial decline in production in China rippled across the world, as the country sits at the heart of many global manufacturing networks. As the virus spread west, more nations instituted lockdowns to protect public health, leading to an increase in factory closures and a sudden drop in consumer demand.

The shock to the global economy was breathtaking in both scope and speed. The search for efficiencies within disrupted supply chains is now driving organizations to look at the lessons that can be learned, in order to better manage and mitigate risk of disruption from future events.

Before you develop risk mitigation strategies, you have to first understand how your suppliers were affected by the pandemic. Are they considered essential? Did they have trouble sourcing raw materials or run low on critical inventory? Did they suffer a shortage of labor due to workers falling sick? Did they face transportation issues?

Once these questions have been answered, then you can start developing and implementing risk mitigation strategies: from immediate actions to enhance supply chain resilience and reduce future supply bottlenecks, to longer-term strategies that require a greater investment of time and resources.

Short- to Medium-Term Strategies

1. Develop a supply chain risk monitoring program

If not already in place, companies should integrate risk management into their supply chain, sourcing strategies and ongoing category management processes. A comprehensive risk monitoring framework should capture the following key elements:

-Understanding the critical risk-prone categories and level of risk across the supply chain

-Regular monitoring of different risk types across suppliers – going beyond just financial indicators, to cover operational, compliance, strategic and geographic risks

-Scenario and contingency planning for unforeseen situations

2. Identity alternative logistics partners for future contingencies

Companies trying to recover from economic lockdowns will face hurdles in shipping markets roiled by deep capacity cuts and weeks of disruption. Airfreight could be constrained for months as airlines continue to operate reduced schedules. Identify and qualify alternative logistics providers to mitigate service failures by an existing partner.

3. Shift supplier base to other low-cost countries

The drop in exports from China in the first quarter led to a significant increase in sourcing from other countries for many product categories. American and European manufacturers started sourcing raw materials and goods from low-cost countries such as India, Vietnam, Bangladesh and Turkey. A diversified geographical sourcing strategy is an effective way to ensure supply chain continuity. Larger companies are leading the charge in this respect: Apple, for example, recently pledged to invest more in Vietnam.

4. Adequate focus on ensuring compliance with new regulatory norms

Companies need to assess new regulations put in place by regulatory bodies across the globe, and identify those that impact their supply chains, manufacturing processes or end products. Dedicating time and resources to reviewing and adapting existing procedures will be critical to ensure compliance with the latest requirements.

Long-Term Strategies

1. Implement a Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) model for uninterrupted supply

COVID-19 has affected many e-commerce businesses as well as how consumers shop. Brands need to be agile and able to move at speed to find and meet demand. Many B2C businesses (and their partners) are pivoting to a direct-to-consumer model because it helps strengthen brand loyalty and increase consumer confidence in terms of certainty and guaranteed supply of goods and products.

2. Develop alternative supply chains

Developing new supply chains in collaboration with respective governments can ensure faster delivery of key raw materials. Further, to avoid supply chain disruptions arising from factory shutdowns in the future, companies can develop a manufacturing network strategy that leverages government economic development programs that encourage domestic production.

3. Consider supply chain digitalization supported by automation

The coronavirus crisis may be a tipping point in the transition to digital platforms and applications that help establish an interconnected network of supply chain components. In a digital supply chain, every activity is able to interact with one another, allowing for greater connectivity between areas that previously did not exist.

Investment in technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and Internet of Things can help companies gain real-time visibility, better manage inventories, improve logistics tracking and make better-informed decisions. These alternatives to often error-prone ERP systems and manual spreadsheets can help businesses predict disruptions and design actionable mitigation strategies.

4. Adopt robust demand planning practices

Traditional planning tries to match demand with supply for the next 30 days. The problem with this process is that a lot of things can change in a month, or even a week. Today’s fast-moving markets require more forward-looking planning to correctly determine demand for future production and identify potential material and manufacturing capacity shortages. Companies should also invest in strengthening their online presence, and focus on quality assurance and delivery timelines, as more and more customers become reliant on e-commerce channels.

Outlook for the future

The COVID-19 pandemic has had significant effects on international supply chains. Going forward, the crisis is likely to give further impetus to trends already underway. More companies are seeking to leverage their production plants outside China or are planning to build production in new locations. The shift to online shopping will accelerate, putting more pressure on companies to meet expectations in an on-demand economy.

When planning ahead, timely, relevant market intelligence is fundamental to making complex decisions and embedding long-term strategies.

Access to timely, relevant market intelligence, conducting the right analysis and asking the right questions now, will provide the opportunity to build a robust, agile procurement strategy that minimizes risk and safeguards business continuity, without sacrificing profitability.

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Tavleen Kaur and P Vijay are Research Managers at The Smart Cube

brands

Research Shows These 5 COVID-19 Changes Really Can Help Brands Grow Market Share

“We’re all in this together.”  “We’ll get through this and emerge stronger.”

By now, the entire nation is familiar with these COVID-19 era mantras that brands are repeating on the airwaves, social media and in stores. But have consumers had enough of COVID-19 communications? And are these messages really helping brands — not just in the moment, but also with the future in mind?

Because emotions drive consumer behavior, we need to look at how consumers are reacting emotionally to each message to answer these questions. From several major studies with thousands of consumers my firm has conducted, we’ve seen that the brands that connect with consumers emotionally and in particular have a positive impact on how a person feels about themself, are the ones that are most likely to be purchased in general. We’ve also seen that during this period when people’s work and personal lives have been upended and worry, stress, frustration and anxiety are running high, companies that make consumers feel better are the ones that will gain market share and be recommended during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Product offerings are one way to make people feel better. Brands are certainly stepping up to the plate by providing products and services that help people feel better by fulfilling a need for indulgence, self-care and control.

Just as importantly, though, is what brands are saying and doing.  Messages of togetherness and reassurance—such as in State Farm’s Ad announcing, “For now, we’re all living a new normal…we’re here to make this new normal feel just a little more normal,”—are indeed helping. So are the actions that back these messages up, such as offering 0% financing, delivery and generous return policies.

Some actions and messages are more effective at making people feel good than others. They’re the ones that will help move the needle as far as retaining and growing market share. In a study of 1,000 consumers, my team and I uncovered the following 5 things brands are saying and doing that increase the chances of purchases and customer loyalty now and in the future by making people feel good:

Saying we will get through this and emerge stronger

A full 70% of those we polled said that since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, they have developed a more positive opinion of brands that remind them “we will get through this and emerge stronger.” Two-thirds (66%) say they will definitely purchase the product when this crisis is over, and 45% say that hearing this makes them feel very good about themselves. Of course, there are different ways to convey this message. Guinness ads acknowledged that St. Patrick’s Day was going to feel a bit different this year, adding, “we’ve learned that over the years, we’re pretty tough when we stick together” and “we’ll march again.” This Coca-Cola ad reminds us that for every loss, there is a gain, that for all the scaremongering there is also care mongering, and for every virus, there is a vaccine–implying humans are ultimately positive and resourceful.

Offering exclusive hours for at-risk groups

It makes good, practical sense that numerous retailers such as Whole Foods, Target, Walmart, Publix and Stop & Shop are offering special hours to those who are most at-risk of contracting the virus such as the elderly because these groups are less likely to leave their homes to make purchases.  But these actions and the messaging behind them are also helping from a short- and long-term marketing perspective.  Four-fifths (80%) of the people we polled said they have developed a more positive opinion of brands that offer exclusive hours for at-risk groups since the COVID-19 crisis began.  Almost three-quarters (73%) say they will definitely purchase from these providers when this crisis is over.

Reminding consumers that we’re all in this together

This is another phrase we are hearing from brands over and over again. In just one example, Hershey’s recent ad Heartwarming at Home begins by saying that we’re in this together and that these experiences give people a chance to come together in meaningful ways. It ends with pictures of people connecting through windows, several feet away, and with family members at home, sending a clear message: you’re not alone.  And it’s working.  Of the people we surveyed, 73% said that since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, they have developed a more positive opinion of brands that remind them “we are all in this together, while 67% say they will definitely purchase the product when this crisis is over. Hearing this makes 42% feel very good about themselves.

Sharing reliable updates about the COVID-19 situation

Apple has released a new screening tool that allows people to determine if they potentially have the virus and if they should seek medical care. They created a new COVID-19 website and app with the CDC to help them understand how to manage the virus, and a Contact Tracing App with Google to help curb the virus’ spread. Quest Diagnostics’s website provides information about COVID-19, and consumers can sign up for email alerts for news and testing information. Although it’s helpful in the moment, being a resource for consumers is also likely to pay off over time: 81% of the respondents said they’ve developed a more positive opinion of brands that share reliable updates about the COVID-19 situation, 49% say that purchasing from such brands makes them feel very good about themselves, and 60% say they will definitely purchase from these brands when this crisis is over.

Reminding consumers to take care of themselves

Surprisingly simple messages such as Uber thanking people for staying home and not using their service, and Sesame Street explaining that “taking care of yourself is also taking care of others” during a campaign that features Elmo and three friends washing their hands to upbeat music are proving extremely effective for brands. A full 77% of those polled said they’ve developed a more positive opinion of brands that remind consumers to take care of themselves, and 57% say they will definitely purchase from these brands when this crisis is over.

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Anne E. Beall, PhD is the CEO and Founder of Beall Research, Inc, a marketing-research consulting firm that uses research to create solutions for Fortune 500 companies. Author of Strategic Market Research: A Guide to Conducting Research that Drives Businesses (3rd Edition) and 7 other books on reading body language, gender dynamics, human-animal relations, and fairy tales, Anne previously worked for the Boston Consulting Group (BCG). She received her MS, MPhil, and PhD from Yale University. A lover storytelling and walking, Anne lives in Chicago.

consumer

As Consumer Habits Change, How Can Businesses Keep Up?

American consumers don’t act and buy the way they did just a few short months ago – at least most of them don’t.

The pandemic and the need for social distancing led to an upsurge in online buying. Takeout and delivery replaced, at least temporarily, dining out. Many consumers, worried about the health risks of spending time in grocery stores, turned to services that would do their shopping for them.

Now, as the country tries to reopen and seek the next normal, businesses across the nation must figure out which of those consumer behaviors will become permanent, which were temporary, and whether any new ones yet unthought of might emerge.

“We live in a time when information can become outdated pretty quickly, and that’s become even more true because of COVID-19,” says Janét Aizenstros (www.janetaizenstros.com), a serial entrepreneur and the chairwoman and CEO of Ahava Digital, a company that ethically sources data on American consumers.

“The businesses that are going to succeed moving forward are those that grasp what consumers want and understand their changing habits.”

In contrast, those businesses that fail to understand what the latest consumer data is telling them, and are slow to adapt to the changes in consumer behavior, are going to be at risk, Aizenstros says.

She says going forward, businesses need to:

-Be prepared to pivot. Business leaders must be flexible. Many restaurants figured that out when the pandemic began, Aizenstros points out. Patrons could no longer dine-in, so the restaurants put an emphasis on takeout and delivery services. In the same way, each business will need to figure out how it can adapt and adjust its services or products to meet what customers want and need, she says.

-Gather reliable consumer data. With the internet, social media and numerous other sources, there is plenty of information available today about consumers, but not all of it is reliable. Make sure data comes from a quality source and that it reflects as much as possible the current thinking and behavior among consumers, Aizenstros says. “Businesses that fail to use reliable data and stay on top of the consumer trends,” she says, “will have a difficult time thriving as we go forward.”

-Take steps to make consumers feel comfortable. Even as people venture out more to dine in restaurants or shop in person, a Gallup survey shows they still plan to exercise caution. Businesses can help themselves by letting consumers know what steps they are taking to keep their stores, restaurants, and offices as safe as possible. “This is just another example of understanding and keeping up with what consumers want,” Aizenstros says.

Businesses have always had their plans and operations disrupted by both technological advancements and changing consumer habits. But rarely does consumer behavior evolve as quickly as it did in the early months of 2020 – and the changes didn’t always happen in easily predictable ways.

“Some areas such as home decor and fashion have done well recently,” Aizenstros says. “At the same time, we are seeing trends with businesses like J.C. Penney, Hertz and others struggling and filing for bankruptcy. It’s hard to keep up with consumer thinking unless your data is consistent, relevant and accurate. But if you understand what your customers want and work to give it to them, your business will have the opportunity to prosper.”

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Janét Aizenstros (www.janetaizenstros.com) is a serial entrepreneur and the chairwoman and CEO of Ahava Digital, which provides businesses and investors with ethically-sourced verified data about American consumers. Her background includes roles in finance at TD Canada Trust, Canon, and Brookfield LePage Johnson Controls, along with management consulting in a broad range of functions, such as supply chain operations, data analysis, and strategic thinking. She has a doctorate in metaphysical sciences with a specialization in conscious business ethics.

company

How Will Your Company Emerge from COVID?

We all learned growing up (hopefully) that our deeds define who we are. Times of crises especially reveal what kind of character people, and companies, have. The coronavirus pandemic is no exception. It’s forcing companies to evolve rapidly regardless of size, industry, or location. As we fear job loss and lament the dislocation from our work, we have to stay focused on improving our workplace cultures, processes, and environments, all of which define our organizations.

The Coronavirus Pause

Over time, leadership that’s bogged down by deadlines and daily quotas can forget the evergreen management principles needed to drive long-term success. The coronavirus offers companies a chance to reset their workflow, reexamine their offerings, let go of dead-end initiatives, and embrace emerging opportunities. The pandemic gives each of us an opportunity to remake ourselves—to disrupt the disruption.

Evaluate Yourself and Your Ideal

First, you must find ways to take stock of your brand impact. If you don’t appear to others as you intend, odds are you’re not the company you want to be. Evaluate who you are and why, then decide who you want to be and assess the action needed to get there.

-Find out who you are in the marketplace. Solicit opinions on your organization and its impact from trusted colleagues, friends, prospects, clients, and even honest competitors.

-Go through your workflow, your processes, your team, your client list, your vendors, your strategic partners—everything that you are currently doing that defines your company. Share and review it with members of all departments. Look at your current mission, revisit your original purpose, and find the direction to match that goal. Define what you need to change.

Next, assess, reassess, and harness all of your information and resources. This may help you find new business lines, action items, or process improvements.

-Amass all your institutional knowledge. Bring your leadership and staff together to codify everything you do. Capturing all the tacit and implicit knowledge of your people will reveal new paths to take and lessen the chance of missed opportunities.

-Have your leadership team focus on the near misses of the past and build a “recent lessons learned” catalog to facilitate self-examination. This will also show you how and where you need to mentor your team, build new working relationships, and improve collaboration.

Third, examine your leadership team through a new lens and rebuild—leaving your dysfunction behind.

I have heard countless times from colleagues (and experienced myself) how destructive it can be to be wholly removed from decision-making, and to have one’s hands tied when trying new things, or even just seeking counsel from outside your department due to trivial power dynamics.

-Share ideas and solicit them. Let people from all levels of your organization contribute freely and synergistically. You will be amazed at how much more engaged all your people are when they know they can contribute in a meaningful way.

-Treat your people well. Mental and emotional health are the wellspring of longevity, loyalty, and creativity. You simply get much better performance out of happy people.

-Break the taboos. Have people from different teams explain their roles to each other. Encourage them to talk to each other about the different functions in your business.

Becoming Who You Want To Be

An example of such a reboot is a small rideshare startup for kids and families. The company—RideAlong—was started by parents in New Jersey who were initially just seeking a safe way to get their kids to and from school.

RideAlong’s CEO Norbert Sygdziak was stunned by how much pent-up demand he discovered: “We started in September 2019 and had double-digit growth and double-digit profits. What started out as a local community need quickly snowballed into real demand across the country. It was incredibly fulfilling. But then came COVID.”

Schools shut down. The business went away entirely. RideAlong’s leadership was at a loss like everyone else. But then it clicked. Sygdziak and members of his Board and leadership team all galvanized around one question: “There are so many people in tougher situations. What can we do to help those people in this time?”

Sygdziak started by taking care of his people and asking his team to pull together. He made sure to take care of his drivers first as they were completely out of work. He paid them to keep the team intact and demonstrate his appreciation of what they were going through. The executives waived and postponed taking paychecks. He gathered volunteer teams of drivers and staff to partner with hospitals, food pantries, restaurants and non-profits to deliver food and supplies to seniors and families in need, provide meals to overtaxed healthcare workers, help children get to hospitals for much-needed regular medical treatments, and coordinate school deliveries for students.

It is not an uncommon pivot at this time, but it is a great example of the power of reexamination. These non-profit relationships and good deeds are leading to for-pay partnerships in ways they never dreamed. Pulling together the entire team, asking “why do we exist?” and “what should we do?” allowed them to reimagine everything.

Importantly, it crystallized what Sygdziak and his team wanted the company to be. They were not just a kids’ transportation company, but rather a mechanism for building community. Sygdziak is moved when he thinks about it: “We were forced to think more deeply about our purpose. By spending our resources on helping those less fortunate, by providing connection, and hopefully alleviating some difficulty, we found inspiration and grew tighter as a team. Now we understand exactly who we want to be.”

Who Will You Become?

Whatever you do with this time, if you have it, embrace it.

Despite the damage done, the coronavirus has inspired companies to pivot to philanthropy. Maybe you have the opportunity to prepare for change and pursue what the ferocious day-to-day never quite allowed. Reach out and expand relationships and geographies. Refine and redirect your team. Fully explore the ideas and solve the problems that always seemed too big to take on.

Rewrite your story and be better.

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Jennifer S. Bankston is the President of Bankston Marketing Solutions and has over twenty years of experience spearheading strategic initiatives for law firms and other industries including technology, financial services, life sciences, and healthcare. Jennifer is also rooted in technology, having developed various applications and products within the organizations she has worked. She can be reached at bankstonmarketingsolutions.com