“Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow. It’ll soon be here.”

Small Business Planning for a Post-Pandemic 2021

By Jeff Bodenstab

These can seem like rather dark days in the pandemic, but for most small businesses it is time to look ahead. Almost a year ago I wrote a blog describing how small businesses should prepare for an epidemic that at the time was still observable only in Asia and parts of Europe. I had no idea how bad it would be, so my guidance was not nearly far-reaching enough. But the blog got one thing right. Planning ahead would make small businesses far better positioned to weather the impending storm.

Today the reverse is true. By some measures it seems like we are still in the worst of this pandemic. Yet leading indicators are already trending strongly in a positive downward direction. Vaccines are rolling out a bit messily, but each week more Rhode Islanders are vaccinated, and not only will the rate increase, but the aggregate number of fully vaccinated people will grow quickly.

Perhaps most important, the degree of uncertainty surrounding the pandemic has already been greatly reduced. Not long ago we didn’t know if there would be an effective vaccine, let alone how many viable vaccines would emerge, nor when they would be available. Now we have a much clearer picture. Some uncertainty remains, and always will, but planning for the future is not based on certainties. It’s based on prudent estimates of what most likely lies ahead.  With that in mind, here are my recommendations for planning for 2021.

  1. Look ahead. Don’t look back - Yes, above all you need to get through the next few months. Managing your day-to-day business is still job one. But 9-12 months ago was the time for pandemic planning. Now is the time to start planning for a post-pandemic future. 

  2. Try to project what “normal” will look like for your business – There is no one answer for this because each market will be impacted differently. For example, as things return to normal, restaurants may see clientele similar to they did before. My unscientific survey indicates that not many people are saying that since they have now tried takeout restaurant meals, that’s what they will want most when they have better options available again. In fact, with some restaurants closed for good and diners wanting to eat out, business for the remaining venues may surge. But “normal” may look much different for gyms. Many people have invested in in-home exercise equipment and even on-line classes, and may be reluctant to switch back to their former monthly gym memberships. It all depends on how consumers will adapt in your market.

  3. Estimate when “normal” might begin – May? September? Or maybe bracket your expectations with optimistic and pessimistic scenarios. Again it will be different for different markets. Just remember that consumers’ habits will change long before everyone is fully vaccinated. Once the risk and fear of severe repercussions is largely mitigated, most people will want to get back to their former lives. We live with all sorts of risks, including viruses like influenza (“i.e., the flu”). Yet most people intuitively appreciate that as long as the risks are extremely small (e.g., flying in a plane) or the potentially relatively mild (e.g., jogging or riding a bike) they will willingly accept them. And that is what will happen. People will carry on with their lives as soon as they feel comfortable that they can do it with either a very small risk or relatively mild potential consequences.  That will happen much sooner than the “end” of the pandemic, which could stretch on until next year or longer.

  4. Start planning even if you are not ready to act – The good news is that you don’t necessarily need to invest right away. But you need to start planning, preparing, and be ready to take action when the moment arrives. For example, if you formerly sold through retailers until the pandemic hamstrung that channel, now is the time to rekindle those relationships and perhaps add some new ones to rebuild your network. If you modified your business model to suit the market during the pandemic, it’s time to start considering what business model will work best in the future. If you cut back your workforce due to reduced revenues, now is the time to start considering what roles you will need to refill and when.

  5. Consider how and when you will transition – As previous SCORE on-line workshops have addressed, transitions impact all aspects of your business, from cash flow to HR. Getting to where you want to go may be a journey in itself. You will need not only a goal, but a plan to get there.

If this all sounds a bit optimistic, there is an old saying that when change happens, it often happens faster and more dramatically than you expect. That certainly describes 2020. This year will be different, and it’s time for a different sort of planning to go with it.  SCORE volunteers are available to assist you. Feel free to reach out to your local SCORE chapter at or call 401-226-0077.

For more than 50 years, SCORE has helped more than 11 million aspiring entrepreneurs and small business owners through mentoring and business workshops. More than 11,000 volunteer business mentors in more than 300 chapters serve their communities.  

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About the Author(s)

Jeff Bodenstab is a Providence, Rhode Island-based SCORE mentor and recently retired marketing executive, board member and co-founder with a career of helping build young businesses into larger enterprises.