Helping SMEs Getting Back to Business: A Marathon, Not a Sprint


Relating to the joint webinar organized together with vcita on July 16, we’re publishing here an article by Adi Engel (Chief Business Development Officer at vcita) and some suggestions on helping SMEs to survive during the current crisis.

When the COVID-19 crisis unfolded and was then declared a worldwide pandemic, many business owners and their staff hoped that the virus would be a short-term interruption. But as the lockdowns, closures, openings, and reclosures continue affecting the global economy, small businesses are starting to change their mindsets and according to Adi Engel, “We’re not here for a sprint, we’re in for a marathon”.

As a large portion of small businesses around the globe have been severely affected by COVID-19, including a direct impact on their day-to-day operations, a significant number of these businesses might not survive the crisis without help. To help SMEs get back to business, they need solutions that support them throughout the different stages of this race.

Adi Engel, Chief Business Development Officer at vcita

The Starting Line calls for Short-term solutions

Key trends in Central Eastern European banks during this time was to help customers stay in business. For example, ING in Poland launched a “Keep doing business” campaign where they offered their customers the opportunity to move their business online with free e-shops and payment gateways. mBank in Poland also supported their customers with a similar campaign: “Move your business to online”.

No One-Size fits all for digital inclusion

It’s important to address the needs of businesses in their individual stages. Some businesses were able to continue working as-is; some needed to adapt their business models; whereas others were completely shut down.

The businesses that had to close down completely, for example, were mainly the ones that involved touch and could not move their business online, such as hairdressers, acupuncturists or massage therapists. Even though they were not able to deliver their services in a traditional way, they could prepare for the day after lockdown — by focusing on communicating with their customers. These businesses could inform their customers that they were closed or advise them that they were now compliant with the health regulations needed to reopen.

Chiropractor and Medical Doctor Dr. Julie McLaughlin is one of these proactive business owners. Like many others, she had to adjust her service delivery overnight. When she reopened her practice after three months of closing her clinic and furloughing some of her staff, she used vcita to automate many of her appointments online, have her clients pay in advance, and even fill out digital health forms before their appointment.

By adjusting their infrastructure, small businesses can maximize efficiency in a truly short time. Banks can alleviate pressure whereas automation tools can create actionable results while supporting existing models. They can take a personalized approach to examine what their small clients need and then provide the solution accordingly.

Mid-marathon: Maintaining energy so that your business endures the hardest part of the race

Small businesses are like endurance athletes: They can’t run too fast or they will run out of energy. The same thing applies to digital transformation — so while not everyone was able to move their business online or is now coming out of lockdown, some of them have found creative ways to deal with the crisis.

For the mid-term, banks can alleviate financial pressure whereas digital platforms can provide actionable tools such as automation to support existing business models. Providing a solution that can be backed up with easy to use tools, training and support will offer true value to the businesses in a bank’s portfolio.

Digitalization as a method to expand business models

Although the new reality presents plenty of new challenges for SMEs, it also opens the doors to new opportunities. These include being able to reinvent oneself, remove geographic barriers, strengthen a sense of community and solidarity, upgrade routines, and recalculate expenses. They also spur new staff relations, such as hiring freelancers instead of full-time employees, or automating tasks done by furloughed contractors.

Some business owners, as Ishai Aloni, a trainer and sports psychologist, is not a newcomer to digital platforms and social media. Although sporting a successful personal training business, COVID-19 still had a major impact on his activities. Since he wanted to support his dedicated customers and wanted to survive as a business, he moved some of his training sessions online.

“The pandemic forced me to move 70% of my training online but I couldn’t wait to go back to face to face sessions with my clients”. Ishai Aloni, Strength and Conditioning Coach and Mental Health Trainer

After emerging from his city’s initial lockdown, Ishai was happy to reconnect with his veteran clients face-to-face. However, he’s now prepared to transition online, even on short notice, should lockdowns resume. Online savvy also opened his eyes about being able to train people in other cities and countries, expand his business into new geographies, and thereby turning this challenge into an opportunity. While people are resistant to change, whether it’s business or a workout, positive results are an incentive to learn new routines and break through the business stagnation.

The Finish Line: Not the end, but the start of the next race

Maybe this is the opportunity I’ve been waiting for…get extremely focused, work less and get a bigger result”, says Owen Hemsath, a YouTube marketing coach known as Owen Video.

Owen theoretically would not have been affected at all as his business was online, to begin with. As a cancer survivor, it’s not the first time he has had to scale down business and due to this experience, he was able to learn how to be flexible during a crisis and be more prepared for the long-run.

Long-term solutions require resilience and agility

SMEs can leverage their agility to become better, stronger, and more resilient in the long-term. Banks should be creating a supporting learning culture that empowers and enables an agile mindset of entrepreneurs. Whether you call it the new normal or the next normal, digital toolsets need to be in place to help in a myriad of tasks. Partners need to adapt so that they are better positioned to support their clients with their digital transformation and timely challenges.

Now is the opportunity to invest in partnerships that can deliver value and create real impact. By sharing knowledge and inspiration, SMEs in the same vertical can learn from mistakes as well as successes. By combining as many business aspects into one digital platform – from marketing, sales, payments, and business plans, banks can provide value and create stickiness from the customers they need the most.

Embracing SMEs beyond banking

While banks played an important part at the start of the race with deferred payments and loans, we need to look at a much longer marathon strategy. Businesses need to reevaluate their business models, one step at a time, perform a thorough risk assessment, and prioritize money-generating activities that will help them stay in business for the long run. To embrace digital transformation beyond the pandemic, banks need to invest in awareness, training, and new skills and employ smart tools with technology that meets them where they are.

SMEs are still turning to their banks for financial relief and assistance to raise more working capital. Banks can use the reach and trust to go the extra step, beyond banking —and provide real added value that will not only help SMEs get back into business but also stay in business within the race of this new reality. Proving access to skills and aid in the adoption of relevant technology that will help them with money-generating activities and ensure their survival.

Want to learn more? Watch the entire webinar “Helping SMEs Getting Back to Business” below:

or get in touch with the vcita team at

vcita is changing the way SMEs run their business and remain competitive in a digital economy by delivering a dedicated CRM and education hub that covers the day-to-day needs of small businesses, from a single app.