Planning in times of uncertainty amid COVID-19
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Digitalisation, Manpower, Internationalisation: Planning in times of uncertainty amid COVID-19

As a business owner, you are certainly no stranger to adversity. But the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about unprecedented disruption to the global economy. The evolving situation continues to throw up new uncertainties for enterprises across the globe, with efforts to contain the outbreak affecting business operations and supply chains worldwide.

However, not all is lost for Asia. According to Mr Suan Teck Kin, UOB Group Head of Research, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, are looking at a shallower recession and are expected to have a higher rebound in 2021, as compared to advanced economies elsewhere.

Now is the time to prepare for business recovery and the road ahead. Here are some strategies your business can take to translate disruption into opportunity, gathered from our iAdvisory seminar on transforming your business amid COVID-19.

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Stay abreast of current consumer behaviour trends

To stay current with your customers during this pandemic, businesses should pay attention to their behavioural changes. With COVID-19 keeping more people at home, consumers are naturally shifting towards online shopping and embracing contactless or digital payment.

Going online presents businesses with the opportunity to capture and engage with new customer bases. You must also be aware of changing safety measures and restrictions, and be flexible in the ways you conduct your business operations so as to adjust to new regulations that could be introduced at any time.

According to a study conducted by Boston Consulting Group (BCG), consumers from China – which was the first country in the world to ease their lockdown measures – are more likely to spend on preventive healthcare products, vitamins and supplements. They will also spend less on restaurant dining, travelling, entertainment and on luxury and fashion products. Your business strategy must be ready to address the evolving needs of your customers, whether it is through a refresh of your marketing strategies or pivoting your business model.

Relook at your current practices and make necessary changes

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about a new normal of remote working and learning – experiences which may become permanent fixtures in our lives. Many companies and individuals have fully recognised the need to embrace change and transition, said Mr Mark Amatya, Global Mobility Services Director of PwC Singapore.

To thrive in the COVID-19 world, businesses should evaluate their current set of human resources (HR) practices. Set a vision for your organisation, and plan the steps necessary to achieve that.

Before revamping your HR procedures, think about whether you have adopted technologies and automation to uplift your company’s overall work productivity. Start off by asking yourself these questions: Is your company making correct and effective use of digital technology? Are you wasting time on transactional work that can be done more efficiently by a third party, or outsourced? Do you have any tasks that can be eliminated completely to free up time for your staff to perform more strategic work?

It is important for you to review your company’s compensation and benefits in accordance with the changing business landscape. It is unrealistic to expect your employees to achieve the same targets that were set in the pre-COVID-19 world, as most businesses are not expected to pick up until 2021.

Do review your recruitment policies and consider adopting virtual platforms to host interviews online, instead of conducting traditional face-to-face interviews. There are also online aptitude tests that you can administer to candidates to aid you in making effective hiring decisions, as these tests can provide impartial data and reduce the influence of personal bias.

Change your business model to meet new needs

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the immediate need for companies to change the way they operate their business. This was especially apparent during Singapore’s Circuit Breaker period, where some business such as retail stores had to suspend operations, in line with preventive measures to reduce the spread of local transmissions.

Mr Pang Fu Wei, Managing Director of Kim Hin International (franchisee of baby product chain Mothercare), was quick to respond to the shift in consumer behaviour. With more mothers working from home, he responded to the increase in online shopping by launching a digital nursery advisor programme for Mothercare. The digital nursery advisor programme offers his customers one-on-one consultation for online purchases and to view product demonstration.

Due to the lower footfall in Mothercare’s brick-and-mortar outlets, Mr Pang was able to retrain and redeploy his frontline staff to backend operations, in accordance with safe management measures at the workplace, to cope with the 400% increase in demand via e-commerce.

The downtime during the Circuit Breaker period has also offered businesses the opportunity to redirect their resources towards building up areas they previously overlooked during the regular business cycle.

For example, homegrown game cafe Play Nation, which was unable to operate during the Circuit Breaker period, began renting out their video game consoles to customers. The company also revamped their social media presence to better engage their customers online during this time.

On the other hand, smart lock company igloohome, which produces smart lock systems, maximised the use of data to analyse their business strengths and weaknesses, opportunities, and future trends. This enabled them to engage in swifter decision making with regards to their internationalisation plans.

By taking reference from companies that adapted to the current climate, you too can improve on your business models to better meet the needs of the COVID-19 world.

Look out for opportunities to internationalise

With trade shows and business travel suspended amid COVID-19, internationalisation may appear challenging.

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However, businesses should not close off on their overseas expansion plans, given Singapore’s small domestic market. They should continue to keep a lookout for the right opportunities, says Mr Mike Lee, Director of Global Business Services at the Singapore Business Federation (SBF). Presently, companies may also consider expanding to emerging countries in the region, which is expected to experience shallower recession and higher rebound, according to Mr Suan.

Mr Suan also advised business owners who are considering going global to look at support measures that have been put in place by the local governments, and the comparative percentage of that nation’s GDP that these measures comprise. This indicates how committed the country is in supporting their businesses and workers during trying times, and the amount of resources they can offer.

If you are a Singapore company seeking to internationalise for the first time or deepen your presence in existing markets, you can approach GlobalConnect@SBF for advisory services and business matching opportunities. The business advisors at SME Centres can also advise you on how you can strengthen your capabilities prior to venturing overseas, and the relevant programmes available in Singapore.