As small businesses continue to recover from the pandemic, the COVID-19 vaccine rollout — at 379 million doses distributed and counting — should provide a glimmer of hope: A Thryv Holdings study found that almost two-thirds of American small business owners expect their bottom lines to blossom thanks to the vaccines. While it’s difficult to predict when or whether small businesses will recover to pre-pandemic levels, the emergence of the vaccine provides a promising development and a light at the COVID-19 tunnel.
Still, the vaccines’ development and distribution haven’t been without their challenges. Shipping delays plagued health systems nationwide, skepticism about the need or efficacy of the vaccine concerned public health officials, and mixed messages about the AstraZeneca vaccine continue to cause confusion.
It almost goes without saying, but these are “unprecedented times” you’re living in. As an entrepreneur, you’re probably asking, “How do I handle the post-pandemic landscape?” The good news is that the vaccine distribution process holds many lessons that can help you adjust to yet another unprecedented phase: the “new normal.”
What the vaccine rollout can teach us
The COVID-19 vaccine is more than just a solution to the pandemic—its distribution also offers universal lessons for entrepreneurs. In some ways, the vaccine is a beacon of hope for business owners, and there are many ways to incorporate its lessons into your business strategy. Here are a few:
1. Build trust with your audience.
Early on, segments of the general public distrusted the vaccine, worried about its safety and the possibility of adverse long-term side effects. To meet the skepticism, vaccine makers and public officials partnered in never-before-seen ways to ease anxiety for the sake of public health.
Just as public health officials did with vaccine naysayers, you need to build trust with your customers. Customers faced unprecedented challenges last year, and they need support. This is your time to offer solutions that inspire trust among all your audiences. The slow rate of vaccinations in Black communities, for example, illustrates what happens when people lose trust in organizations.
“Acknowledge the elephant in the room. There’s no way to run from the uncomfortable truths of the past, so it’s better for state and local governments to recognize the roots of distrust among people of color and address their concerns directly,” SE2 Communications Creative Director Juan Cabrera said. “This is something the first American vaccine recipient, Sandra Lindsay, a Black nurse and the director of critical care nursing at the Long Island Jewish Medical Center, did when she explained she volunteered to ‘inspire people who look like me, who are skeptical in general about taking vaccines.’“
2. Partner with reliable vendors.
Vaccine distribution initially lagged because public officials struggled to find the best partner companies. That’s in part because companies typically treat vendors as if they are disposable. Historically, this may have made sense from a financial standpoint to hunt for savings and keep costs low. But these days, vendors are increasingly made of freelancers, small teams, or individuals, a trend that UpWork predicts will continue. It’s time to embrace contract and vendor relationships to find reliable partners with whom your organization aligns and works well.
“Develop a systematic selection process and treat negotiations as a win-win,” said ECA President and Managing Director Ken Kanara. “Treat the selection process as if you were hiring a new employee. Work with your team to develop objective criteria, agree on respective weightings, and then make a value-based decision.”
Even though the “gig economy” continues to boom, you should always be able to trust your vendors. They’re more than replaceable parts; they are integral parts of your company’s success. When you build trust with your vendors, you form long-term relationships that will yield rewards well into the future.
3. Focus on data management.
Vaccine data differs across state and local governments. Strive to organize your business data as soon as possible. You can do this by developing a vaccine-like policy and record relevant data to ensure you are making the right moves. For example, when it comes to data, you offer three choices: mandate it, encourage it, or defer.
“Nowadays, decisions are being scrutinized more and more, and those scrutinizing those decisions are asking for data and proof points on why they were taken,” said Simon Rolph, CEO and founder of Such Sweet Thunder. “This is where data comes in. Data gives business leaders the proof points, validation, and confidence to make bold decisions to take their business to the next level.”
Vaccine data carried certain implications such as the investigation into corporate vaccination policies, the continuation of remote work, and the ability to work in-office or travel. Your business data also holds weight when it comes to financial or customer-related decisions. After the pandemic, approach data collection and management strategically.
4. Prepare for future storms.
As awful as the pandemic was, it will not be the last bit of adversity your business faces. Continue to plan as if the world could shut down at any moment. A plan forces you to reassess your company’s income, susceptibility to government restrictions, employee availability, and purchasing decisions. Then, evaluate your actual revenue, employment, and activity under lockdown. Once you do that, you can adjust your expectations and find ways to adapt products and services for other crises.
“A flexible plan that accounts for ever-present uncertainties—and that you constantly revisit and update—can be the difference between a business that survives and one that folds during a crisis,” said Orange Leaf Consulting CEO Dr. Cindy McGovern.
While it’s tough to compare your business to a life-saving vaccine, you can draw distinct parallels from the COVID-19 vaccine distribution to your current business challenges. Remember that vaccine makers and healthcare providers constantly adapted during distribution to meet public demand. By using the same strategies, you can meet the needs of your customers, too.