The past year has been another challenging year for small business. But in positive news, finally there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel. We’ll probably never be back to business as usual, and we’ll be living the new ‘COVID normal’ for some time, but as we start to see the early signs of recovery many of us are somewhat optimistic about the road ahead.

In fact, the NAB Business Confidence Index in Australia jumped to 21 in October 2021, after a downwardly revised 10 in August. This was the highest reading since April – after lockdowns ended and vaccination rates increased – showing signs of a strong rebound since lockdown.

The world as we know it has changed, and business owners and entrepreneurs now need to play the long game and think about what steps they can take now that will have a positive impact later down the track.

Despite yo-yo lockdowns for most of 2020 and 2021, Genesis Health + Fitness still received a steady stream of enquiries from potential franchisees, who took a long-term view to the current situation.

It’s promising to see that the general sentiment has been positive, with potential franchisees confident that COVID has an expiry date and that there are good future opportunities in the health and fitness space. But opening a new gym also doesn’t happen overnight, so we’re seeing these enquiries coming through now with a view to opening in 2022.

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we need to be agile to survive. Our existing franchisees that have continued to survive and thrive, understand how important it is to be flexible and adapt to the ever-changing world around us.

Innovation has never been so important. When COVID first hit it was unexpected, organisations had to respond in innovative ways so they weren’t left behind by competitors. At Genesis we introduced our Home Fitness Network, for example, to allow members to workout at home.

Customers wants and needs have also changed. For example, after lockdown, people who have gone back to their gym are looking for social interaction, the support from coaches and to get out of the house and into a motivating environment. They are also prioritising wellness over many other goals. This is very different to our pre-COVID world and one of the reasons why we’re introducing new offerings like Reformer Pilates nationally. As business owners, we need to think about how we can respond to these new wants and what we need to do differently to evolve with our customer. And if you don’t know what they want, ask them.

It’s also clear that the businesses that are doing well are the ones that have a two-way relationship with their customers. For most of us, COVID has been tough on mental health. So being authentic, transparent, and providing a safe and open environment is critical.

There needs to be an ongoing level of trust that businesses are doing the right thing and customers should be kept up to date with developments because ‘post pandemic’ isn’t a destination we’re going to arrive at overnight – it’s an ongoing process.

And if you’re looking at starting a new business venture – like entering a franchise arrangement – start thinking quality over quantity. They should be vetting you as much as you are vetting them. A two-way interview helps provide a good base for achieving a profitable and successful long-term relationship. You should expect to be asked a lot of questions by a good franchisor.

If a franchisor is not asking you about your financial situation, your previous business experience, your goals and your passions – and instead seems more interested in getting you to sign on the dotted line and pay your up-front franchisee fee – that’s a red flag.

Being properly qualified by a franchisor should fill franchisees with confidence too – because it means the franchisor has done their due diligence and believes the candidate has the skills, the financial backing and the right attitude to build a successful business.

There is still uncertainty ahead, but the pandemic has taught the business world a lesson or two. So hopefully we can come out of this stronger than before.