As COVID-19 took hold, worldwide lockdowns had a profound impact on the services sector. Enforced shutdowns cut service businesses off from their customers. And while the necessity to minimise contact was obvious, the economic effects were far-reaching.
The World Trade Organisation (WTO) confirmed in May 2020 the importance of service businesses to the global economy:
“Services now generate more than two-thirds of economic output […] provide most jobs globally and account for over 40 per cent of world trade. Furthermore, since services account for most of women’s employment globally and a large share of micro, small and medium-sized enterprise (MSME) activity, the disruption in services supply also impacts social and economic inclusiveness.”
Not only was the services sector impacted severely by the pandemic, the odds were stacked against small service businesses in particular. The only option was to shift online.
Two years later, small service businesses find themselves in a new, technology-driven norm. Many did embrace technology to survive and are now thriving online, however some are still on the journey towards digital transformation.
Here’s how technology is key to the survival of service micro businesses.
Flexibility and scale: Reaching new audiences
Services are often highly localised and delivered in person. The gym owner who delivers classes in their studio or the therapist who sees patients in their office, for example.
People now expect to access the services they need online. That doesn’t just mean banking and paying utility bills anymore. It means fitness classes, social activities and entertainment.
Service businesses are not restricted by their locality now. These small business owners have greater flexibility in how they work, enabling them to:
- Deliver online workshops not limited by the size of a physical venue
- Connect and engage with people in different countries
- Have a better chance of scaling their business with broader reach
Technology such as Google Meet, Zoom and Microsoft Teams is key to this flexibility. Mass adoption of video conferencing for everything from work to socialising has benefited service businesses. For more than a year our lives played out on digital devices – why should services be any different?
Automation: Seamless bookings
When small service businesses take online bookings, the process is much smoother for the business and the customer. Email and telephone tennis is eliminated. Customers simply choose an available date and book a slot, in some cases while they’re close by.
Booking online is simple and straightforward. The real benefit is that a booking system unites the different kinds of technology they use to run the business. It connects with everything from their calendar and their payment system to their CRM.
Automation means business owners can concentrate on delivering great service – not on being stacks of admin! It’s better for the customer too; in a few clicks they book, pay, relax and look forward to their experience.
Here at BaseKit we know how powerful an effective booking system can be. Talk to us and discover how our partners are delivering seamless 24 hour bookings to small business customers with our new scheduling software.
Product diversification: ecommerce
The shift to online has changed how customers interact with service businesses. It also allowed business owners to experiment with different routes to market. For instance, productising their service.
This may be a physical or a digital product. It could even be a combination of a physical product with a digital service. For instance, an online coaching programme that includes a physical notebook and writing materials. In this example, the small business combines a service with a physical product to generate more revenue and deliver greater value. An example of a purely digital product, might be a graphic designer who creates video courses to teach design principles.
Products mean diversification for a service business. By creating something that doesn’t rely on face-to-face contact, it enables them to trade, even if confined to home. It also opens up the possibility of scale, something that often eludes small service businesses limited by time.
The possibility of adding a responsive, reliable ecommerce function to an online business is key to the success of this avenue. Check out BaseKit’s store builder software – delivering safe and secure payment options and attractive designs which make small ecommerce sites look big, and have room to grow.
Low maintenance and speed: Contactless payments
With services shifting online, it makes sense that payment for those services does too.
Online payments taken upfront mean there’s no need to chase money after a service has been delivered. They also reduce friction. In the past, small service businesses may have delivered work and taken payment at the end. It’s time-consuming and clunky. It takes away from the time spent doing the work and delighting customers!
Where work is still delivered face-to-face, contactless is king. The pandemic has shifted the move away from cash and towards digital money faster. This makes life easier for the service business as they no longer have to bank cash, cheques or carry change.
Technology such as Sum Up, Square and Zettle work for both in-person and electronic payments. Customers tap their card or device to a terminal in-person and small business owners can also issue invoices and payment links via online systems. Stripe and PayPal are alternatives for online payments; all of these systems connect to the small business’ bank account. Money is deposited directly in their account making it a low maintenance way to charge customers.
The landscape has shifted rapidly, especially for small service businesses. In recent years the huge growth of ecommerce has dominated the headlines but COVID-19 has shifted the goalposts for service businesses: who are realising the power of trading online.
There is a wealth of products that can help small service businesses. Today technology is a necessity in ways that were previously incomprehensible. Growth, pace, scale, reach, diversification – these are just some of the endless opportunities digital transformation can bring to small business services.
As an industry it’s our responsibility to constantly innovate and evolve our digital offering to enable businesses to thrive in the new digital economy.
If you’re seriously considering how to best evolve your digital product suite to support small business customers – get in touch to learn more about how BaseKit software can help.