How SMEs can thrive and succeed post-pandemic

Navigating a post-pandemic reality can be daunting for any SME, as they take this time to rebuild a strong foundation and rethink what encourages business recovery and stability. Find out how SMEs can survive, thrive and succeed in this new normal.


As the world eases back to normal, there has been much optimism about the business outlook for small and medium enterprises (SMEs). But this optimism remains relatively guarded, as many SMEs still err on the side of caution. In Singapore alone, 60% of SMEs[1] remain unsure and have no plans to expand overseas in the next two years as they continue to feel the pinch from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It is a more conservative outlook, especially since new challenges have emerged,” explains Mr Irvin Seah, Senior Economist at DBS Bank. High inflation poses an immediate threat to SMEs, undermining their profit margins through increasingly high operating costs.[2]The continuing labour shortage will also inhibit their operations and expansion plans.[3]

“With these new challenges weighing down their ability to expand, a majority of SMEs might focus on stability and adopt a more cautious approach,” adds Seah. Instead of expansion, business recovery and stability remain the top priorities among SMEs, especially among small food and beverage outlets and local family companies greatly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.[4]

As the world continues to navigate a post-pandemic reality, SMEs can take this time to rebuild a strong foundation and rethink what comes beyond business recovery and stability. Indeed, you can turn these pandemic-driven challenges into opportunities for future value creation. Here are five tips on how SMEs can survive, thrive, and succeed in the new normal. 

  1. Reassess your business model and operations.

Even if you have been in business for quite some time, what worked before may not work now. Markets change, and business models must change accordingly to ensure continued survival and success. As such, take this time to reassess and tailor your business model to better adapt to a changing business environment and capture your target market.

It might be a good time to pivot. A pivot can be as simple as migrating your legacy enterprise resource planning (ERP) platform to the cloud, or as complex as changing your entire business model. Some SMEs have gone fully online during the pandemic, while some online shops also explored brick-and-mortar operations and transformed into a “bricks and clicks” business.

“While a reassessment of opportunities is necessary, you must also recognise the need to reskill and upskill your manpower,” reminds Seah. “The overall business landscape has changed, and upskilling is one of the best ways to cope with disruption.”

Good Dog People, a pet supplies store, was able to pivot and upskill their employees with the help of DBS BusinessClass Online SME Academy. Good Dog People were among the non-essential businesses ordered to close during Singapore’s circuit-breaker period. However, when they took their business online, they saw a sudden surge in orders.

Upskilling the digital capabilities of their employees enabled them to improve the user experience and create more engaging content, shares Mr Terry Peh, founder of Good Dog People. Through the Online SME Academy, Terry and his team learned more about digital marketing and branding thanks to actionable insights from industry practitioners and subject matter experts.

  1. Change with the times, while staying true to your company DNA.

Disruptions are a call for change; you can heed this call without compromising what brought you success in the first place. “Disruption also comes with opportunities,” adds Seah. “And companies who can adapt to the new normal will succeed.”

As with any change, you can start small, but make sure to also move with speed and stability. Now is a good time to test agility, or your SME’s ability to adapt to rapid changes. Changing with the times while staying true to your company's DNA may feel like walking a tightrope, but it is a necessary sacrifice to make to see your SME through to the next chapter of its development.

Unidbox Hardware had to temporarily close for business during Singapore’s circuit-breaker period to keep their employees and customers safe. At the time, all of their sales came from their three physical retail stores, which had a total of 15 employees. They decided to act fast and get the business ready for the future.

They invested in equipment to digitalise the business, and immediately started selling their products via e-commerce platforms such as Shopee and Lazada. “Digitalising my business makes me more confident about the future,” shares Mr Wong Hing Kong, Director of Unidbox Hardware. Today, they offer in-store shopping as well as online shopping, satisfying old regulars while capturing new customers in the process.

Going digital will be crucial to business recovery and growth post-pandemic. Don’t know where to start? DBS Start Digital Programme is designed to help SMEs kick start their digitalisation journey. By offering a suite of digital solutions tailor-fit for business needs—from accounting, HR, digital payments, and even digital marketing—the programme lets SMEs focus on business recovery and stability. 

  1. Practice prudence.

Prudence means being more strict and disciplined about how your SME governs and handles its money. With the continued lack of cash flows, prudence can spell the difference between business continuity and business closure. Even local SMEs that already have an overseas presence are adopting a more conservative mindset, with the intention to downsize and better control the costs of running the business.[5]

“Prudence is important in times of high inflation, as the cost pressure weighs down the profitability of the business. But you still need to be strategic with your cost-cutting measures,” reminds Seah. “If you adopt a purely cautious approach and start exercising unnecessary cost-cutting measures, often it is self-inhibiting and hinders growth. You might miss out on opportunities that the business can leverage.”

Instead of engaging in perpetual cost-cutting, find ways to optimise business spending. And if there is a need to spend, make the informed and strategic decision to invest in revenue drivers. There are many digital solutions that can help you stay on top of your business accounting and manage your cash flow better.

DBS IDEAL offers intelligent and intuitive business banking at your fingertips. It lets you access digital banking and cash management tools from a single dashboard. Check your account balances, give payment approvals, and pay salaries and suppliers—all from a single screen. If you want to streamline your business accounting operations even further, you can also connect your DBS bank account to Xero and set up a daily bank feed for automatic reconciliation. Xero and DBS customers can enjoy a seamless journey with the connection now also available in DBS’ Online Loans Application Form. This collaboration allows for greater data integration so you can gain access to more SME financing options easily. 

  1. Go beyond your immediate market.

While having regular customers is desirable, it won’t be enough to survive and thrive in a post-pandemic business environment. Take this time to capture new customers and tap into new customer bases.

8 in 10 MSMEs reported that they were able to reach more customers through digital platforms.[6] With digital technologies, SMEs can build their customer base through digital marketing and social selling, as well as maximise their reach and gain data for business intelligence.

Going beyond your immediate market can also mean exploring other avenues to sell your products or services. Taking a food court online might sound like a stretch, but this is exactly what Asian Food Mall did at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the circuit-breaker period, dining establishments, including food courts, had to suspend their dine-in services. Asian Food Mall, which operates a 350-seater food court in Singapore, saw a 70% decline in its earnings.

“DBS walked us through the setup of our e-commerce platform,” recalls Ms Wong Minying, General Manager of Asian Food Mall. “They even helped with the photos and videos for our social media.” With the launch of their online delivery service, as well as the return of in-store dining, Asian Food Mall’s sales gradually recovered. 

There are also opportunities for SMEs to expand overseas. You can go at it slowly and prioritise expanding within Asia. Intraregional trade, or trading within Asia, remains strong despite a contraction in global trade.[7] Prioritise markets with close proximity, or with similar consumer demands and behaviour, to ease this expansion.

“If SMEs are looking at expansion, opportunities in the immediate or near future would most likely be in the ASEAN region, given that regions like Northeast Asia are still in a different phase in the COVID-19 cycle,” explains Seah. “That said, political uncertainty is still a big hindering factor in the ASEAN markets and mostof thesemarkets are also feeling the heat of inflation.” 

  1. Take advantage of external support.

No business is an island. Even with a can-do, by-the-bootstraps attitude, SMEs will need external support, especially for financing and growth capital, to thrive and succeed in a post-pandemic business environment.

“SMEs that are not as adaptable now would really need to reassess their situation, and then reach out to banks and government support entities to make the necessary adjustments,” explains Seah. “Trade associations also provide a good network to broaden the support system available to SMEs.”

Across Asia, governments have increased the availability of credit to SMEs through direct lending by state-owned banks, reduced interest rates, expanded credit guarantee schemes, and extended grace periods. DBS SME Banking, for one, offers government-assisted schemes to fund SME growth. Government support also opens up opportunities for SMEs to connect and expand to overseas markets.    

Banks and other financial institutions are also channeling growth capital to SMEs. Boxgreen, a homegrown social enterprise that produces and sells healthy snacks online, secured financing from DBS SME Banking to support its operations amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The demand for our snacks actually went up when more people started working from home,” recalls Mr Walter Oh, Chief Pantry Officer at Boxgreen. “We needed cash flow to continue our operations and, of course, to retain our staff. With the cash flow from a DBS business loan, we managed to increase our capacity in time.”        

SMEs can also tap into peer-to-peer financing, crowdfunding, and other platforms for raising financing. These platforms not only provide access to funds but also open up opportunities for SMEs to validate their products and services, as well as expand their customer base.


As Singapore’s leading bank, DBS has helped finance growth since 1968. We are here to help your business thrive in the new normal. Through our range of tailor-made solutions that go beyond digital banking, we help you run your business with ease. Talk with one of our experts today to learn more.