It’s hard to believe it’s been over a year since we experienced what felt like an overnight shift in the way we work, do business, shop and live. The early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic were unlike anything businesses have ever had to face, and it required them to make critical changes and decisions to keep their businesses alive.

While some businesses overcame challenges posed by the pandemic – some even shined – others struggled on. While it’s true certain industries were hit harder by restrictions than others, I’ve witnessed some commonalities among the businesses that were most successful during the pandemic. Here are four factors that set successful businesses apart and how they can help you prepare for the next time a crisis strikes.

1. Strong relationships.

As many businesses learned, it takes a village to enact a business continuity plan, apply for an emergency loan, adjust budgets, communicate action plans to your team members and do everything else required to keep your business afloat during a crisis. That village is often comprised of a trusted CPA, attorney, lending partner and many others.

Having strong relationships in place before a crisis hits is incredibly important to ensure you have their support when you need it. Establishing strong relationships among all your partners before a crisis is vital too so everyone can effectively communicate with one another during a rapidly changing environment. If you found yourself establishing these partnerships and lines of communication for the first time during the COVID-19 crisis, be sure to maintain and further develop them for future needs.

2. A business continuity plan.

If you didn’t have a business continuity plan in place at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, you now know how helpful it would have been to have an approved plan for how your business would maintain critical operations, quickly communicate with team members and partners, secure necessary funding and work from an alternate location. While I sincerely hope we don’t experience another pandemic in our lifetimes, I imagine you may run into other unpredicted situations again in the future. Take some time with your leaders to create a written business continuity and disaster recovery plan addressing how you will handle them.

3. A recently updated business plan.

Like a business continuity plan, you don’t realize how important having a living, breathing business plan is until your entire industry and business model is impacted. During times of crisis, reviewing your business plan can remind you of your business’s mission and give you clarity on how to move forward.

Additionally, it’s important to keep an updated budget and other financial documents, such as quarterly reports, accessible and up to date within your business plan in case you ever need them to apply for emergency financial assistance. If you don’t already have a business plan, follow these steps to create one and set reminders to evaluate it periodically.

4. The ability and creativity to adapt to changing customer demands.

Another common factor – and possibly the most important factor – I witnessed among successful businesses during the pandemic was the ability to adapt to changing customer demands. Whether that meant moving their shop online, providing their services social-distancing style, or utilizing their operations to produce in-demand products, business leaders that were able to think on their feet and quickly shift their approach were able to use the changing environment to their advantage.

The biggest lesson we can learn from businesses that capitalized on the changing environment is that you never know when the next business opportunity will present itself. Remain aware of changing customer demands, be flexible to meet them, and don’t assume the behaviors that shifted during the pandemic (or any other crisis) will ever return to the way they were before.

While we welcomed the new year with optimism, let’s not forget the lessons we’ve learned from the challenges of 2020. Use these lessons to strengthen your business plans so you may be better prepared for future crises.

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