Whatever your business goals were at the beginning of this year, Covid-19 has probably changed them. Companies that anticipated exponential growth are struggling to survive, while businesses that provide essential products and services for the pandemic cannot keep up with demand. Even leaders who weathered the storm of 2008 find themselves in unfamiliar territory now.

Many experts have indicated that social distancing measures could last up to 18 months, and while business owners must remain optimistic, it's crucial to operate with the worst-case scenario in mind. The impending economic recession could be more damaging than 2008, and the recovery may start later than anticipated.

Businesses, especially smaller ones, must act now to safeguard their futures. From financial assistance to strategic pivots, here are four ways you can save costs and keep your business operational in spite of the challenges ahead. 

Work with contractors

According to CNBC, unemployment in the United States could reach a staggering 32 percent at the peak of the pandemic. Most businesses will have to lay off at least some of their employees to make ends meet. Economic stimulus packages can help workers and businesses stay on their feet, but leaders can't sit still and wait for the job market to correct itself.

According to research conducted by Upwork and the Freelancers Union, 57 million Americans worked as contractors in 2019--around 35 percent of the entire workforce. As many people lose their full-time jobs, that figure will skyrocket as workers pursue any possible opportunity.

Businesses should use this chance to tap into some of the brightest minds in their industries. Contractors offer a wide range of benefits even in calm times, and with economic unrest in place for the foreseeable future, businesses can save money by leaning more heavily on freelance work.

Scale your buying power

There's a good chance you won't hit your sales goals for this quarter, so managing your inventory and supply chains will be vital to staying afloat. To save upfront costs for inventory and operational supplies, think about ways to leverage your purchasing power to get the best possible deals.

Consider joining a group purchasing organization, to employ collective bargaining power when negotiating with suppliers. Everyone feels the strain of the pandemic, but partnering with other organizations can help you get bulk rates and deals normally reserved for massive enterprises--and give you a chance to help other small businesses in the process.

Increase communication and content

Slashing budgets doesn't mean reflexively eliminating sales and marketing initiatives. Shortsighted companies that stop communicating with customers and prospects during this crisis will pay a price in the long run. You may decide it's not worth the budget to advertise in traditional spaces, but don't shut off your marketing entirely.

Take this time to invest in your content creation process. Work with the subject matter experts within your organization to create blogs, infographics, email campaigns, and other types of helpful content addressing the crisis. Consider more stable advertising channels, such as affiliate marketing -- which allows you to only pay for the sales your partners convert.

Take the help you can get

It's as true for organizations as it is for individuals: when times are difficult, don't be afraid to seek help from others. Federal, state and local governments have developed several programs to help small businesses stay on their feet, and private organizations are stepping up as well. Google, for example, recently committed more than $800 million to support small businesses, healthcare organizations and government agencies.

You may be eligible to apply for payroll relief, low-interest loans, tax credits or other assistance, depending on your industry and situation--it's worth talking to your accountant or tax expert and exploring your options.

And finally, if you're one of the businesses in a position to pay it forward, think of ways to do so. Partner with other local businesses to provide aid to people in your community who need it. When this crisis passes, people will remember the companies that stepped up to help others.