The Resilience and Grit of Small Businesses

After a year of living with the pandemic, so many of us are looking back on our last memories of normalcy: Dinner out at restaurants; going to a gym; grabbing coffee before heading into the office; and just running errands without a second thought. And many of those memories involved frequenting a small business.   

We know how hard small businesses have been hit. Yet, they continue to adapt, demonstrating grit and determination in the face of evolving challenges. Whether shifting to virtual operations, marketing new products and services, or reassessing their workforces’ changing needs, small businesses remain resilient—a defining characteristic needed to survive and ultimately thrive post-pandemic. 

We’re not just saying small businesses have grit—the data backs this up. The latest MetLife and U.S. Chamber of Commerce Small Business Index shows a growing number (45 percent) of small business owners say they can operate indefinitely without shutting down in the current environment. This is impressive on its own, but it’s notable that this foundational confidence has increased every quarter: Up five points from last quarter, 17 points from July 2020, and 22 points from late April 2020, when only 23 percent believed they could operate indefinitely. And regardless of industry and region, fewer small business owners (21 percent) believe they are at risk of shutting down permanently, versus April of 2020, when 45 percent were worried about lasting six months (that’s a percentage shift of 24 points!). 

While this data shows a positive trend, the impact of the pandemic is still very much a reality. Despite an improving outlook, small businesses remain challenged. Nearly all small business owners are concerned about the pandemic’s effect on the national economy (91 percent) and most small business owners (59 percent) rate the overall U.S. economy as poor, up from only 12 percent in Q1 2020. In addition, certain swaths of small businesses have been more impacted than others. For example, more minority-owned small business owners (86 percent) are concerned about the financial impact of the pandemic on their business’s future, compared to 72 percent of non-minority business owners, underscoring the pandemic’s disproportionate impact. 

One cause for cautious hopefulness is the vaccine rollout: More than half of small business owners say that the vaccine makes them more optimistic about the future of their business (54 percent), the business climate across the country, and the business climate in their state. While they also recognize there is a road to recovery, it is starting to become more tangible: Six out of ten small business owners predict it will take six months to a year to get back to normal, which is the highest percentage measured by the Index, up from 46 percent when the survey began in March 2020.
In addition to a resilient and determined perspective, there are three takeaways that small business owners can—and should—consider as they plan to survive and thrive through 2021 and beyond: 

1. Consider reskilling your workforce

The needs of your business and your workforce are evolving. Now is a good time to look at the skillsets of employees: Does their expertise still meet business needs or are there opportunities to re-skill or shift their roles? For example, teaching sales associates about e-commerce and marketing may allow small businesses to grow digital operations more quickly and efficiently. 

2. Look for opportunities to recruit women

Women have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic—female small business owners and employees have lost or left their jobs over the past year at staggering rates. A vital part of the workforce and economy, women bring diverse perspectives to businesses. For small business owners who are hiring, focus on seeking out and tapping into this talent as part of your workforce and network. 

3. Assess employee benefits

Embracing the new normal and understanding the evolving needs of the workforce may mean it’s time for small business owners to review current benefit offerings. According to MetLife’s 2021 Employee Benefit Trends Study, more than one-third of employees report feeling stressed at least half of the time while working. Benefits like Employee Assistance Plans (EAPs) provide mental health support to employees about issues that may affect their day-to-day wellness, including work-life challenges, legal matters, and childcare concerns. 

It’s incredibly inspiring to see the resilience and determination shown by small business owners. The latest data shows that despite a year of adverse conditions, small business owners remain undeterred.