‘Keep going. Keep growing.’ Chapter 1: The impact of the pandemic on SMBs

This article was done in collaboration with Facebook.

The pandemic hasn’t been easy on most businesses, but possibly one of the sectors hardest hit was SMBs. When the pandemic struck last year, many SMBs were caught completely off guard. Their plight was also not helped because their digital transformation procedures were nowhere close to being fully established.

Unsurprisingly, many establishments faced serious issues in keeping their businesses afloat amid the nationwide lockdown which occurred in Singapore in April 2020. This resulted in the shuttering of businesses and widespread lay-offs across SMB industries.

According to an article on The Straits Times, a 2020 SME Digital Transformation study found that while 83% of small and medium businesses in Singapore had digital transformation strategies in place, more than half (54%) reported delays in their digitalisation plans due to COVID-19.

Also, despite a higher adoption of digital transformation, only two in five SMBs perceive their efforts to be successful.

Clearly, the economic uncertainties brought about by the global pandemic also exacerbated the challenges that SMBs faced. 

Cost also generally comes in as the top barrier, with many SMBs in Singapore saying they found it too expensive to digitalise due to high implementation costs, in addition to other factors such as a digital skills gap, and low awareness of government initiatives to support firms in their digital transformation journeys.

However, fast-forward to 2021, clearly the adoption rates of digital technology has improved. Amidst this evolving backdrop, MARKETING-INTERACTIVE collaborated with Facebook to find out how SMBs are coping with the myriad of changes, and we followed the journey of an SMB and agency coming together for a campaign during these challenging times.

Through our conversations, we uncovered that many SMBs are now upskilling their staff to embrace and understand digital and social media marketing, as well as data analytics. 

SMB leaders are also seeing that digital marketing can optimise their marketing spend and offer them a two-way communication channel with customers they might have previously been completely cut off from. Product innovation is being fuelled from customer recommendations and feedback.

While the impact from the pandemic is expected to continue well into 2021, the development of vaccines has provided greater hope for an economic recovery to build over the year. The World Bank forecasts significant growth in global GDP of 4%, albeit from lower 2020 levels. 

In particular, it will be important to consider what the uptick in economic activity might hold for SMBs given the acute impact the pandemic has had on them.

To that end, Facebook has also undertaken a survey of SMB leaders across 26 countries outside the US to further understand the impacts of COVID-19, and build on Facebook’s broader commitment to supporting SMBs globally. 

This report provides an update on the state of SMBs at the start of 2021; investigates the financial impact on these businesses; how they have adapted to current circumstances; and their expectations for the future. It also highlights the important impact COVID-19 had on women-led SMBs globally.

Taking us through some pertinent findings on the first episode of our four-part series is Karen Teo, VP, and Head of APAC Global Business Group (Scaled) at Facebook.

Learn more about tools and resources to help SMBs here.