While most business owners may expect the occasional curveball, few could have expected one as impactful as COVID-19. But with every unexpected roadblock comes a learning opportunity. What lessons can small business owners learn from COVID-19 to build resiliency for the future? Business experts shared these five tips to prepare your small business for whatever life throws your way next.
1. Build a secure virtual game plan
COVID-19 has forced many small businesses to shift their teams to work from home. Remote apps and tools have helped teams adapt. But other processes like payroll, HR, or client billing could also use a digital upgrade.
“It will be more important than ever to do all your core business activities remotely,” says Dan Luthi, chief operating officer of Ignite Spot. But it’s important all your remote activities are protected from outside threats.
“Remote work facilities [should] have strong cybersecurity,” notes Donny Shimamoto, a certified public accountant and managing director at IntrapriseTechKnowlogies. Without proper security, data breaches can expose sensitive information. Shimamoto, who’s also a certified information technology professional, suggests these tips:
- Encrypt data and company devices: Encrypting files or devices can be as simple as creating a strong password to get access. Virtual private networks (VPNs) are another option that encrypts data sent through web browsers. For more information, Gizmodo offers some easy tips on how to set up encryption on your devices and files.
- Use encrypted home Wi-Fi networks: To improve your business’s remote security, employees should have password protection or encryption on their home Wi-Fi networks. Never use free public Wi-Fi when working with sensitive data.
- Download anti-virus software on all work devices: Review the best anti-virus options for businesses and your preferred operating system. You can also get anti-virus protection for Android and iOS devices.
- Train employees on cybersecurity: Knowledgeable employees can be your best defense against security threats. Educate them on types of cyberattacks, and best practices to avoid or report breaches.
- Perform regular security audits: Perform regular audits on your business’s security setup. Update computers, anti-virus software, and passwords. During an audit, you can also check for potential malware, delete obsolete files, and perform a data backup.
2. Keep financial paperwork organized
It’s easy to only think about bookkeeping around tax season or when applying for loans. But organizing your books is something you should do year-round, says Katey Maddux, founder and CEO of Millennial Accounting. Try these organizational tips:
- Separate personal accounts and purchases from those of the business.
- Retain receipts or expense forms for all business purchases.
- Create separate records for accounts payable and accounts receivable.
- Use a detailed filing system for your business paperwork or invest in a digital accounting option that can organize your paperwork for you.
3. Research financial assistance
Research what assistance options may be available to you, no matter your situation. Our experts suggested these as a place to start:
- Economic Injury and Disaster Loans (EIDL) from the Small Business Association (SBA).
- Other 7(a) loans from the SBA.
- Temporary debt relief options from the SBA.
- Employee Retention Credit (ERC) from the IRS, which is available through the end of 2020.
- Other financial assistance programs your state, city, or preferred lender may offer.
4. Update and diversify your online portfolio
“[One COVID-19 lesson is] ensuring your income streams are more distributed,” says Luthi.
Selling online as a second income stream has helped many shops maintain sales during COVID-19. Having only one income stream leaves your business vulnerable to economic disruption.
Besides selling online, your digital portfolio should also include an email address and at least one social media account. But, all online channels should be regularly reconsidered and reconfigured to ensure they remain profitable. Updates to those channels may include finding a new online marketplace or improving the photo quality of products.
But some owners may not have the time to do all that themselves. One solution is to hire someone to run your social media. You could also pay a firm to run an SEO audit on your website.
5. Build a network of support
It pays to have a network of support from business experts, your lender, and your customers during a crisis. For instance, SBA experts and your lender can help you access emergency financial assistance.
“Maintain connections to the sources of information about programming,” says Beth Melcher, owner of Be Money Fit. “Something like the Small Business Association [of your state]. Their job is to keep you informed.”
But don’t forget your bank or preferred lender. “Take the time to nurture the relationship with your commercial lender,” says Melcher. “And if you don’t have a relationship established, go build one!” A positive lender relationship can help when you need emergency loan assistance or are facing financial hardship.
Lastly, loyal customers can help support you through any crisis.
“Connect with your audience as human beings, not as potential customers,” says Emily Soccorsy, co-founder of Root and River. She recommends letting the humanity of your business be the driving force in creating a connection. Be honest and transparent when communicating. Use your business’s unique story to create compelling marketing and to further connect with your audience.
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