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4 Ways Small Businesses Are Making Ends Meet Amid a Labor (and Now Revenue) Shortage


The labor shortage is cutting into businesses’ bottom line–and not just because many of companies had to boost wages in the last few months.

Nearly 23 percent of small businesses have cut their operating hours to compensate for their reduced workforce, according to a survey published by the small business referral network Alignable in September. And fewer hours on the job often means less revenue. 

While you might be able to stomach a loss of income for a time, a prolonged loss–particularly one that’s liable to cut into the oh-so-crucial holiday shopping season–can be too bitter a pill to swallow. You do have some options:

1. Adopt technology. 

You don’t have to purchase robots to introduce increased automation into your business. Something as simple as QR code menus, can help ease your labor burdens while upping your efficiency. Half of restaurants have adopted QR codes since the start of the pandemic to help them cope with fewer waitstaff, according to the National Restaurant Association.

Businesses might also want to consider tech upgrades that allow them to compensate for a smaller workforce, like robotics that can perform physical tasks (like preparing food) and automation services (which can help with customer service, among other things). According to a survey published by  Verizon in August, 30 percent of small businesses say they’ve implemented new technology to make up for worker shortages–and that number could soon rise.

2. Cut your costs. 

While your labor costs have dropped, as you’re paying workers for fewer hours, your fixed costs–for things like your rent or a mortgage–are less malleable. So, try to cut those. You can attempt to refinance a mortgage or underlying debt into lower costs loans. Similarly you can renegotiate leases if you didn’t already try this during the depths of the pandemic. 

Restaurants and retailers can also cut back on menu and inventory offerings–determine what’s most profitable for your business and eliminate the rest, Mike Whatley, vice president for state affairs and grassroots advocacy at the National Restaurant Association, recently told Inc. It’s important to meet customer demand, but setting more strategic inventory levels could help you trim costs.

3. Find new lines of business.

While there’s a limit to how many burgers you can sell–particularly if you have fewer employees–there is effectively no limit to the number of e-cookbooks you can sell. Think of out of the out-of-the-box ways you can meet your customers where they are: Adding a virtual option to in-person fitness classes to increase the number of attendees, selling packaged food like sauces and meal prep kits that restaurant-visitors can take home to bolster revenue, or even installing a vending machine where shoppers can pick up small novelties without having to head to a cashier, like pastry chef Cheryl Wakerhauser did early on in Covid.

4. Be willing to train. 

If you can’t find workers among the traditional avenues you’re used to visiting, try a new route. From attending job fairs to hiring straight out of high school–or even the formerly incarcerated–if you’re willing to train new hires, you might find great potential workers. The Mom Project is another great resource. The platform devoted to helping place new moms into jobs, can be a good option–particularly if you don’t need full-time support. The women who tend to utilize the service tend to value flexibility, so they may be willing to help out on an as needed basis. 

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