ComplianceApril 05, 2022

Expert Insights: Navigating small business challenges in 2022

Over the past two years, small businesses have had to adjust to economic disruptions due to COVID. More recently, they’re faced with a whole new set of challenges, including inflation, worker shortages, high consumer expectations, and supply chain woes.

Mike Enright, Operations Manager at BizFilings, shares ways in which businesses are handling these issues, including strategies for employee retention and using technology to empower both employees and customers. He also discusses small business trends for 2022 and what areas owners should focus on to get their businesses back to “normal”.

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Greg Corombos: Hi, I'm Greg Corombos. So our guest in this edition of Expert Insights is Mike Enright, service manager at BizFilings. Today, Mike joins us to discuss many of the changes business owners have had to navigate over the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And now, how to think about those issues as the COVID concerns seem to be easing. It's a lot to consider, just like it was over the past two years. And, Mike, thanks very much for being with us.

Mike Enright: Thanks for having me, Greg, it's good to talk to you again.

GC: Well, there's a number of different areas that business owners need to deal with, some of which pretty much every business owner is dealing with because of national economic challenges, namely, the supply chain issue that we've heard so much about, and of course, rising prices due to inflation.

ME: Yeah, that's the first one that comes to mind. And we're seeing it impacted from a lot of different things going on in the world right now. But inflation is the one thing that we hear about a lot. It's impacting all parts of the economy. But small businesses, particularly those who operate on slim margins, are definitely feeling the pinch. And along those lines, you know, we also hear a lot about supply chain and inventory. And this disruption in the supply chain looks to continue, likely through at least the first half of this year and even beyond. So, because of that a lot of businesses are bringing their purchasing plans forward, they're trying to plan ahead a bit, which is a really good idea. You know, ordering supplies earlier than they have before. I think it's a good idea to, if you can even, to diversify your business's vendor portfolio so that you have some options to source goods from different places, you know. We've had challenges even getting [things] like envelopes. And I've had to look at a few different places to order those from, so it comes in a variety of ways. But you know, it is something we expect to continue this year.

GC: Well, one of the other things that we saw, Mike, of course, at the very beginning of the pandemic, and really throughout the past two years, is changing workplace environments. Really on the fly. Some places had gone to a more open, you know, work from home policy before that. A lot of places were kind of figuring out as they were going along. So how well, workforce issues and what it looks like in the workplace and outside the workplace now going forward?

ME: Yeah, and this is a big one, because it's sort of been the constant throughout all of this is how are we handling and reacting to our people, as this pandemic has progressed, and even regressed a little bit here recently. I guess the first thing is, if you've hired new employees in 2021, it's really important to think about how you retain those workers. I mean, there's a service shortage out there. And I think it's really important to intentionally focus on your new folks, while selling that attention to your existing folks in a way of getting better capacity for your overall team.

I think also, if you've lost employees, you know, what changes can be made to attract new hires? Workers right now in a very tight labor market are increasingly demanding things like flexible hours, work from home benefits, better benefits. Other perks. Learning and development, and just changes in how productivity is measured. I think it's important to be flexible, that's something that I've said a lot over the last few weeks. But also don't assume what was attractive two, three years ago, it is still going to be attractive now. You know, as we've brought on new team members, I've gotten a sense from potential candidates that I'm being interviewed by them just as much as I am to them. So they are kind of assessing their options right now, because they do have a lot of options. On that note, I think the pandemic, obviously quickly dispelled a lot of myths that working from home could lead to decreased employee productivity. So hybrid workplaces is a very, very hot topic right now. You know, even his work from home orders come to an end, the hybrid workplace trend looks to continue, as employers are trying to seek and attract top talent. Particularly those who care for children or elderly relatives, they definitely want to see this hybrid workforce continue. So, again, being flexible and continuing with that flexibility is important. The hybrid workplace seems like it's very prevalent right now as an option for employers. You know, I think a lot of places are almost using the office as a way to come together periodically just to collaborate or see each other, but also allowing that flexibility to still work from home. So I think that's something that's going to remain here as we move forward.

GC: Well, the workplace has certainly changed, probably permanently as a result of the pandemic. But the customer has changed too, because of the patterns that they used to have. They didn't have them again for a while. So they've adjusted, and business owners need to adjust with them. What are you seeing when it comes to consumer channels?

ME: You know, for a lot of companies, the pandemic accelerated digitization. So many small businesses had to take action to reach customers via digital channels, such as mobile apps when they hadn't done that in the past, online ordering contactless payment, things like that. Obviously this will continue, and customers are going to continue to expect seamless and convenient interaction with companies they do business with. In some ways, this is kind of old news. I mean, we're seeing a trend, though, where customers don't necessarily want to have to call you. It's really about efficiency, while not sacrificing experience. And that can be hard to balance. But that's really the trend that we're seeing from customers, you know. What I tell our folks is really focus on the customer in front of you and make every effort to resolve issues in the moment if you can. Additionally, empowering employees to make decisions in the moment and not have to seek feedback, like from a manager on whether they can do something. If you can give your employees those tools to efficiently resolve those types of things, I think it'll lead to a much better customer experience. And again, expectations are very, very high right now from the customer standpoint. And combine that with the fact that we have, you know, a service person shortage, it can lead to some challenging times. But, you know, just being flexible, and making sure your team members have the tools to make decisions is really something that can help out a lot.

GC: Well, some things seemed like they were frozen over the past couple of years, as we've talked about a number of areas already, that changed significantly. And another one is technology, which is always exploding in many different ways. And businesses are always scrambling to keep up with the latest ways that technology can help them, whether it's cybersecurity or elsewhere. So what are you seeing on that front?

ME: Yeah, so from a technology standpoint, I mean, successful small businesses will continue to explore and invest in new technologies that can streamline workflows. You know, eliminate manual- and time-consuming processes, and allow employees to focus on the highest value task. I often asked myself as a manager, you know, what's the most important thing I can do right now to support my team and my customers. You know, what's the most important task that needs to be done. And technology in a lot of situations can supplement that decision. From a technology standpoint, as well, one thing that we are seeing continue to rise is issues with cybersecurity and data protection. As small businesses continue to digitize their operations and handle more employee and consumer data, they become a very lucrative target for cyber criminals. And we're seeing a lot of this right now. You know, if your business is targeted, it can face not only financial loss, but there can be downtime, there can be hits to reputation and consequences and things like that. These attempts that we're seeing have gotten even more creative in the last couple of years, and more frequent. So the best advice I can give is just review your cybersecurity plan, make sure you're applying, you know, software updates. These are obvious things that can be done. But it definitely should be done. You know, the risk, and again, the frequency is just increasing so much that it can't be something that's overlooked.

GC: We're talking with Mike Enright. He is the service manager for BizFilings. And we're taking a look at what has changed as a result of the two years of this pandemic and what business owners can do now, to get back to what was normal, at least as close as we can to it. Because as we just described, some things are going to change long term in terms of the workplace, in terms of technology. Which is always changing and evolving, and that sort of thing, and the customer trends as well. But let's look at where small businesses can focus to figure out what at least their new normal is, if we're not back quite where normal was. And, Mike, let's start with value. How do you identify where your business really brings value?

ME: Yeah, you know, I think some of the expectations I've talked about, you know, it's important to understand that these expectations of customers are not going to go away. This is going to be sort of the new normal, and we use that term a lot. I think it's really important to think about your products, your services, and your messaging, as well as delivery modes. And continuously ask yourself, do they still align with the expectations that your customers have? This is a question again, you have to ask yourself constantly. And also, don't be afraid to ask your customers this. Customers will give you great feedback, if it's done in a planned way. I mean, it's not something you want to spring on them. But if you can find a way to, you know, send out a survey or follow up with some of your high value customers, you know, in a planned way, I think that can really yield some great feedback. This pandemic has taught businesses that they have to be agile and flexible, and that mindset is unlikely to diminish. A really great way to delight your customers and show them that you're focused on their needs is to take their feedback, you know, make some changes based on the feedback that they've provided to you and circle back with them with something tangible that you've changed with your workflow, your website, whatever it is. And also something that doesn't just impact them, but it impacts other customers as well. I think you know, I've gotten some really good feedback from customers that that means a lot to them. But really, it's just a matter of focusing on what your customers are telling you and doing your best to align to those ever changing needs and high expectations.

GC: And then back to an issue we talked about just a moment ago, Mike, the workplace and the workforce and arranging how everything gets done. How much rethinking has been done and how much rethinking needs to be done in some places.

ME: I think rethinking does have to take place Just because again, you know, your employees are going to have new expectations for just how they want to work and what sort of balance they want to see. So some questions that I think you have to ask is, do you return to a fully on-premise model? Do you adapt this hybrid model we've talked about? Do you allow employees to work remotely on a full-time basis? Obviously that depends on the business. You know, we at BizFilings work with physical documents, so there's some need to be on site. But, you know, we also reevaluate that process constantly to give our team members the options. And in a lot of cases, I think this hybrid model is what businesses are finding, you know, gives the best of both worlds. It gives your staff the flexibility they've come to appreciate and demand, while also ensuring you have some oversight over the performance and continuing to allow them to see their coworkers. Which I want to sell that benefits short. I mean, I think there's a lot of value to being able to see some of your teammates, here and there, which, you know, in our case, we haven't seen some of them in a couple of years. Whichever you choose, I think technology will obviously continue to play a crucial role. As I mentioned earlier, it's wise to invest in technology so that your business has the tools to ensure a productive and collaborative work environment and seamless customer interaction. But I think the biggest thing here is the trust factor. Trust is of utmost importance. And I've learned that over the last couple of years. On a lot of days, or really any days over the last two years, you can't see your employees working. But I think, you know, laying some parameters around what you'd like to see done in a day or at work and allow them to get those items done within a reasonable amount of time, while setting clear expectations is something that can definitely work and allows you to maximize that hybrid environment.

GC: We'll look at the workforce again in just a moment, Mike. But let's talk about customers briefly. Because as we mentioned, they have changed. Some of them, I should say have changed. Some love the new contactless way of doing things — apps and all the modern ways of getting things done as swiftly and efficiently as possible. Some people absolutely love the way it was done. So while you want to adapt to the expectations of customers who are moving in a more advanced way, other people want it exactly like it was. So how do you accommodate both?

ME: Yeah, and that's a challenging balance to strike. There definitely has been an evolution in customer expectations. And now customer satisfaction is really core to the buying experience. But as businesses have shifted to these hybrid retail models, figuring out how to maintain customer satisfaction with folks that want it both ways is definitely key. I mentioned survey data earlier. I mean, using comments from surveys are gold for this, both positive and negative, can give you really, really good insights on what your customers are saying. If your business operates both online and off, consider how you can evolve this multimodal approach and continue to deliver the best experience possible. I think, you know, investing in showing customers online tools, and showing them how to use it, but not forcing it is sort of the line that I tried to approach here. Where, if you have a really great online portal where customers can check the status of their order, show them how to use it. But don't have that be the only option. If they want to call, great. You can get somebody on the phone as well. So options with all of these things we've discussed, I think, are key.

GC: And then you mentioned earlier also, Mike, how it seems like people you're considering hiring are also interviewing you. The people, the applicants, given the labor market right now have a lot of power. And so when you do get a good employee, you certainly want to keep them. So employee retention is a critical factor. How do you make it happen?

ME: Yeah, and I think, you know, a multi-pronged approach is really the way to do this. I think, you know, pay is always the first thing that comes up, right? And that might be a whole different podcast on how to address those types of things. But I think being prepared to have that question come to you, just to have a discussion about compensation, is important. Don't let it catch you off guard. Because I think employees right now are asking that question a lot. But outside of pay, I mean, there's a lot of things you can do to drive retention. And I think it's important not to underestimate some of these other things. Vibe, and just your sort of team vibe, it does a lot more than you would think; It's good to take time to be goofy. But also, you know, recognizing team members on different scales and in different ways is critical. I mean, that's something I hear a lot, that they want to see that recognition done in not just sort of a cookie cutter way. One thing that I like to do is try to give our folks a sense of ownership in the business. Make it clear that what they do matters, and they're not just a blip on your payroll. Their day-to-day actions really do matter towards small and large goals that you have. So, I think just a sense of belonging, but also that flexibility, has been really really important to employee retention over the next couple of years and will certainly continue.

GC: Mike, also one of the things, of course, we learned from the start of the pandemic especially, but really over the past two years, is you never know exactly what's coming. And so you say, the Boy Scout motto is appropriate here. Be prepared. So what's the best way to be prepared?

ME: Yeah, and it's a really good point. I mean, you know, COVID was one huge disruption. But disruptions can come in a lot of different formats. And, I think some of the things that we learned from the last couple of years, you could apply to some of these other disruptions. I think just being prepared to weather these periods, and particularly change, like the change they bring about, requires a proactive approach. It's important not to be reactive when things like this come up, I don't think you have to go out of your way to fret about what could be coming next. But, just some of the things we talked about, maintaining a flexible mindset, having an idea of what would happen if you had to close your office again, if it reopened quickly. Those are things that I think can help you weather any of these things that could come up. And I think taking time, whether it's on a monthly or quarterly basis, just to think about how you can move beyond being reactive to proactive and even laying out some scenarios like, hey, what if this happens, is something that more businesses are doing, and I think they're really benefiting from it if something were to happen.

GC: A lot of different areas to focus on here, Mike. How can BizFilings help?

ME: Yeah, you know, Bizfilings has remained a strong supporter of small businesses, and we can help in a lot of different ways. I mean, keeping your company in compliance and making sure that you're up to date with your state filings is something that is a small thing. But you know, [it] can get complicated depending on the state that you're in, and we can certainly help with that. Businesses have undergone a lot of changes. If you need to, you know, amend anything with your business we can help with that. Or even just, you know, talk through some of the things that concern you about your small business. Those are all things that our team is really great at and ready to help with.

GC: Mike. Tons of good information in here. is where folks can go for more. Thanks for your time today. Greatly appreciate it.

ME: Thanks, Greg. I enjoyed it.

GC: Mike Enright, service manager at BizFilings. I'm Greg Corombos reporting for Expert Insights. For more information on this topic, please visit

Mike Enright
Operations Manager
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