Adapt or go broke. That's the scenario many Canberra businesses have faced in the past nine months.
Their traditional operations were blown up by COVID-19, but the pandemic also gave many business owners an opportunity to pivot and re-energise their services.
A survey of over 350 small and medium-sized enterprises found 70 per cent of small businesses adapted their services over the pandemic, according to not-for-profit small business advisers, Realise Business.
The wedding industry has deeply felt the economic brunt of COVID-19. Photographers Mel Hill and Michael Conlin had to re-evaluate after nearly all their scheduled wedding events were cancelled.
The husband-and-wife team have run Mel Hill Photography in Harrison for 14 years.
"When COVID first hit I thought that could be the end for our business. I didn't know if we would resurface at all," Mr Conlin said.
But determined to keep their business afloat, they partnered with other wedding suppliers to create "pop-up weddings", a pre-packaged wedding deal designed to give couples a small, affordable, but beautiful wedding experience.
"It simplified things for people, it removed a lot of uncertainty, risk and confusion. It's been really successful, so there's clearly a market for couples who don't want the big wedding experience," Mr Conlin said.
They also updated their portraiture services to be COVID-safe and developed no-contact newborn baby photography sessions.
The changes not only made their business more resilient, but more profitable.
"Our business is performing better now than it had before COVID. The revenue figures in the current now and last quarter are stronger than they've ever been in 14 years," Mr Conlin said.
Despite difficult operating conditions and the negative effect on the economy, 57 per cent of small business owners remained confident in the future of their business, the survey showed.
"The pandemic was a chance to reset, reassess and come back stronger. It's not something I thought was possible but now we're optimistic about the future," Mr Conlin said.
It's a lesson that can help businesses develop resilience and flexibility, said small business adviser at WeThinkBusiness, Natalie Sammons.
"Sometimes you get so caught up in the day-to-day running that you forget it could be better," Ms Sammons said.
"It's important to work on the business rather than just in the business. Give yourself a couple of hours each week where you can focus on what the business needs to do rather than getting caught up in servicing clients."
JobKeeper has been a lifeline for many businesses, especially those in the hospitality industry.
However, many small business owners had been careful to avoid significant reliance on government stimulus.
The owner of Patissez Café in Manuka, Anna Petrides, was determined to ensure her business was self-sufficient.
"There's a minimum we have to make, and people we want to keep employed. Even though the government came up with incentives, there's still going to be a life after COVID and I didn't want to get caught out in any sort of debt," Ms Petrides said.
Known for its sit-down brunch menu, when COVID restrictions were enforced the usual operation of Patissez was no longer going to work, so Ms Petrides swung into action and developed a takeaway system.
She used an old mobile phone for customers to text their orders to and bought takeaway boxes in bulk.
The change resulted in a 10 to 15 per cent revenue increase, Ms Petrides said.
"I never considered the fact that there was a market for takeaway brunch, so if it wasn't for COVID I probably wouldn't have done it. It's become a little second business within the business," Ms Petrides said.
Social media promotion of the takeaway service had contributed to the rise in business for Patissez, which Ms Petrides managed daily.
"I never had as much social media engagement as this before we offered takeaway. It raised the business profile to a whole new level. I had customers who had never heard of the business, who had never bothered driving to Manuka, who were living on the other side of Canberra - as far as Bungendore - ordering from us," Ms Petrides said.
Creative business solutions and social media were essential for businesses to adapt their product or service offering but there needed to be long-term planning and funds in place, Ms Sammons said.
"It's alright to think about creating an online presence but if you don't know how to do that yourself it's obviously going to cost you money. If you don't have those funds and the customers have dried up, then there's no way you can put that in place. It's about long-term planning," Ms Sammons said.
"Business owners need to make sure their business is robust and they're earning the money they should be earning because if something like a pandemic happens then they've actually got money in the bank and capital behind them to pivot."