Depending on where your small business is located, you might be running your company in as normal a way as possible during this coronavirus crisis. You may be operating under new, hopefully temporary, regulations from your local or state government, or you might be cooling your heels at home, waiting for your area to be given the word you can reopen your business.
Whatever your particular circumstance, most small business owners were surprised by the impact the coronavirus had on their businesses. Now that we are at least a bit more informed, we can better prepare for what may come next and manage any risks our businesses face.
Assess Your Risk Exposure
First, assess your company’s risk exposure. Be as broad you can. Look at all the areas that can possibly be affected:
- Supply chain
- Cash flow
- Business partners
- Communications (internal and external)
- Real estate
- Customer attraction and retention
If you have employees, involve your top staff in this process. Include your accountant in the discussion at some point. It might be smart to assign a point person who is responsible for keeping up with Covid-19 news, especially any regulations.
What’s Your Plan B?
After you have a better understanding of what risks your business faces, create a contingency plan (Plan B). Start by asking yourself, “What will I do if…?” and then list the alternatives.
This is where you get specific and come up with detailed solutions. For instance, if your city gets shut down, how fast can you deploy virtual solutions? That may not be as easy as you think. Sure, it’s likely your entire staff have computers they can use. But are they secure? Do they have adequate internet coverage at home so productivity doesn’t lag?
Some of you may own businesses that can’t be run virtually. Your contingency plan needs to cover possible other ways to earn money, in case of a shutdown. We learned a lot from the safer-at-home policies that went into effect earlier.
Restaurant owners, for example, explored various alternative solutions:
- Expanding outdoor dining space
- Concentrating on food delivery and curbside pickup
- Using established delivery services can be expensive. Consider joining up with fellow restaurant (and other business) owners and creating your own delivery service so you can avoid the hefty fees.
- Selling food packaged as “groceries”
You can keep up with industry regulations at the Coronavirus Update section on the website Nation’s Restaurant News.
For retailers who have to temporarily close their brick-and-mortar, consider:
- Expanding e-commerce sales
- This may mean you have to find new suppliers or redesign and/or upgrade your website
- Turn your social platforms into additional sales channels
- Sell your goods on large marketplaces, such as Amazon, Walmart or Etsy
- Consider adding a delivery option like restaurants offer. (This is different than mail order.)
Are you an accountant, therapist or consultant? Your Plan B may entail forgoing in-person consultations and meeting with clients using video conferencing tools.
You might need contingency plans for employees who depend on travel to service clients or meet prospective customers. Create new travel policies, include them in your employee handbook, and make sure everyone understands the new rules.
Still Open for Business, But…
Even if your business is open, you need to develop new company policies.
- Will you be taking the temperature of employees every day before they can come into the office, your store or restaurant? What if they have a fever? Will you pay them for taking a sick day or PTO?
- What if an employee doesn’t feel comfortable coming to work? This can get complicated. While there are no national regulations that cover this, some states and some cities have passed legislation addressing this issue. Some of your employees might have certain health conditions that make them more vulnerable. Can you make special accommodations for them? Allow them to work from home, even if everyone else is back in the office? If that is not possible, talk to the impacted employee. Can they take a leave of absence? Do they qualify for leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA or Act)? Are they covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act?
- What about customers—will you be checking their temperature as well? How will you handle it if a customer does have a fever or seems ill?
- Have you changed the layout of your business so customers can easily remain six feet apart?
- Will you change your open hours or limit the number of people who can enter your business at one time?
Whatever plan you come up with, it needs to be flexible and one you can implement or change quickly.
Create a Communications Plan
Communications are more important than ever for small businesses these days. It is essential you communicate frequently with:
- Employees. Create an internal communications plan that provides your staff with the latest updates. Don’t broadcast information at them; allow them to ask questions and answer them honestly.
- Customers and clients. In addition to sending your regular sales communications, you should check in with your clients and customers. Be careful not to overcommunicate; only send updates when you have something relevant to say. If you have a more personal relationship with your clients, such as a hair salon owner, you might want to check in about once a month.
- Suppliers, vendors and business partners. Supply chain disruptions have plagued many businesses lately. Staying in touch with your suppliers, vendors and business partners can head off any surprises.
- Your support network. Who do you depend upon to give you solid business advice? Be sure to keep your accountant, attorney, banker, insurance agent, SCORE mentor, etc. current about what the state of your business.
All businesses need to maintain strict cleaning and maintenance standards. The Centers for Disease Control has some guidelines you should check out. OSHA also has COVID-19 updates. And SCORE’s Small Business Resilience Hub has a lot of helpful information.
The coronavirus has deposited a lot more work on business owners’ plates these days. There’s more to know and more to do. It’s imperative you do whatever you can to protect the business you worked so hard to build.
Learn more about how to manage other critical risks in Progressive’s e-guide, Prepare and Protect: The Small Business Owner’s Guide to Identifying and Managing Risks.