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7 tips to help Canadian businesses during COVID‑19

It’s been just over one year since the COVID‑19 pandemic reached Canada and created unprecedented challenges for small and medium‑sized enterprises (SMEs). Throughout the year, Canadian entrepreneurs have demonstrated great resilience but we understand that they continue to face new challenges and evolving market conditions around the world.

“SMEs have been hit the hardest by COVID‑19,” says Ada Luz Rodriguez, senior trade commissioner for Cuba. “I hope these tips and resources help companies that are currently exporting or interested in exploring international markets become more resilient and find success.”

Backed by the experiences of some of our clients, we hope these seven tips can help your business as we continue to operate in the ‘new normal’.

1. Implement policies and protocols to help stop the spread of COVID‑19

Whether it’s in your store, office, warehouse or factory, implementing additional health and safety policies can go a long way in making your employees and customers feel comfortable. This includes modifications to the workplace, physical distancing, and making hand sanitizers, personal protective equipment and teleworking available.

Consult with local health officials in the markets where you have operations for advice and recommendations on health and safety measures.

2. Survey employees to determine the effectiveness of communications & tools

Effectively communicating new policies and updates with employees is also important for reducing the spread of COVID‑19 and continuing operations. If you haven’t already, consider testing different communication formats — emails, audio recordings, virtual meetings — as well as the frequency of your messages.

Employee surveys are a good way to determine the most effective means of communication for your company. Additionally, providing reliable communication tools is critical to keeping employees connected and able to work efficiently. Determining the effectiveness and employee preferences of communication tools is another area where a simple survey could provide valuable insights.

“Another key to our ongoing success in limiting the spread of COVID‑19 has been regular communications with our employees throughout the pandemic. It seems that one of the favorites is a series of audio messages from the executive team.”

Sherritt International is one of the world’s largest producers of nickel and is the largest independent oil and power producer in Cuba.

What you need to know about doing business in Cuba

Small economies like Cuba, which is highly dependent on tourism, have been devastated by the pandemic. Cuba has experienced a decline in foreign currency income, which has exacerbated delays in payments to suppliers and reduced demand for imports. This has created further hardship to Canadian exporters in the market. While Cuba offers opportunities in the longer term, SMEs should exercise strict due diligence to mitigate risk.

  1. Cuba has a planned economy dominated by state‑run enterprises and a strongly centralized government structure which sets the market apart from other countries in the region.
  2. Despite introducing some market liberalization reforms over the last 20 years, private companies and cooperatives are not permitted to import goods to Cuba. Consequently, state‑owned enterprises are the only potential customers in Cuba currently. However, there are reforms now under consideration which would allow more flexibility to directly import and export as part of new economic reforms.
  3. Payment terms in Cuba vary, but terms of between 360 days and 720 days on unconfirmed letters of credit are normal. Late payments and re‑negotiating payment dates are challenges that have been exacerbated by the economic impact on Cuba of COVID‑19.
  4. Important events: The Annual International Fair of Havana (FIHAV), normally held in November, is the largest multi‑sector fair on the island. The Government of Cuba attaches great importance to it, both politically and economically. New exporters to the Cuban market should consider attending when it’s safe to do so.
  5. Trade commissioners at the Embassy in Havana can help you navigate the complexities of the market and provide details on local contacts. They can advise you on local market conditions and potential opportunities and challenges for your product and/or services.

Learn more about doing business in Cuba.

3. Go digital with e‑commerce and digital marketing tactics

With the frequent changes to brick and mortar store regulations, SMEs have been looking online for new sources of revenue. E‑commerce and digital marketing can be effective ways of reaching new customers and identifying leads.

If you can’t physically demonstrate your product or solution to prospective customers, consider producing video content that helps you explain your unique selling proposition.

This also applies to Canadian companies that provide services. Now more than ever, international buyers will be looking for digital products and tools that offer reliable service delivery and support.

Learn more about how you can grow your global presence with e‑commerce.

4. Pivot your focus to other areas of operations

If travel restrictions, supply chain interruptions, reduced production capacities or other challenges related to COVID‑19 are affecting your sales funnel then consider pivoting your focus.

If you have the capacity to do so, look at other areas of your operations that can create future sales and value for your company:

Canadian companies interested in pursuing international R&D opportunities for their technology can apply for funding through CanExport Innovation and the Canadian International Innovation Program.

“In some markets with lockdowns or curfews, we have seen that some of our customers do not have permission to install our streetlight products. One way that we’ve pivoted during the pandemic is to increase focus on customer testing of new products, which is easier to carry out.”

5. Target new customer segments with increased demands

The pandemic has impaired many businesses, but it has also increased the demand for others. Scan for new opportunities with potential customer segments that are more active in the markets where you operate.

This could be portable technologies in the health sector, transportation inputs to support increased movement of equipment and materials or software as a service to help implement and protect new digital systems.

With a network of trade commissioners in more than 160 cities worldwide, we can help eligible companies develop their market‑entry strategies and connect with qualified business contacts.

6. Explore opportunities in new international markets

When domestic sales slow, entrepreneurs can build resilience by pursuing opportunities in new international markets. The pandemic has demonstrated just how quickly conditions can change in individual countries as well as the world. Companies that diversify the markets where they sell can help reduce the financial risks of outbreaks and natural disasters.

Canada has 14 ratified free trade agreements (FTAs) that offer preferential access to 1.5 billion potential consumers in markets that include North America, the European Union and Asia Pacific regions. Learn more about how you can expand globally with Canada’s FTAs.

“It is not an easy period for the great majority of our Canadian SMEs given all the uncertainties, nonetheless exports will always remain a way of compensating, when our local markets are a little more restricted.”

7. Leverage TCS programs and services

Now more than ever, the Trade Commissioner Service helps Canadian businesses grow with confidence by connecting them with our funding and support programs, international opportunities, and our network of trade commissioners in over 160 cities worldwide.

We are continuing to deliver services and support programs virtually to help you on your international business journey:

“One adaptation that we are finding successful is to participate in virtual trade missions to meet new customers in new markets. The Trade Commissioner Service, for example in Cuba, and our local representatives have been critical in maintaining contact with customers in international markets and learning how the pandemic is changing local economies and regulations.”

Ben Forsyth, Sales Manager, LED Roadway Lighting

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