COVID-19 health guidance is evolving constantly. Please refer to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization’s health and safety guidelines for the most recent updates.
In time, restrictions brought upon by the coronavirus will loosen, and life will begin to resume. Hopefully, that means your business operations can start to resume as well. But reopening might not be as simple as flipping your sign.
Reopening an office or storefront may mean implementing new safety policies and procedures. On top of establishing strict cleaning plans, business owners may need to allow for flexible sick leave consistent with public health guidance. They may also need to establish social distancing practices among employees and customers, which may include investing in physical barriers or a modified workspace. They may even have to rethink their business practices entirely to reduce close contact with customers.
Experts across the country agree that business owners and consumers will have to adapt to the effects of the coronavirus. Some believe that these weeks of self-isolation and shelter-in-place orders will shift the way the world operates permanently.
So how can small business owners prepare to reopen and prepare for future challenges? Let’s take a look.
3 ways to embrace e-commerce
Over the past few weeks, consumers have adapted to buying groceries online, ordering food for curbside pickup, and attending classes virtually. Experts believe that consumers are likely to continue turning to these online services long after quarantines have ended. Only a third of respondents surveyed by Engagious would travel, go to the movies, or visit a theme park without medical assurances.
For businesses that rely on foot traffic or in-person interactions, this poses a challenge. But it’s a challenge you’ve likely been managing. And if you’ve already taken some steps to make your business more online-friendly, you’re moving in the right direction.
Business owners may need to make adjustments and continue to think creatively if they hope to reopen and remain open safely. The CDC recommends adjusting your business practices to reduce close contact with customers, and many states require businesses to make adjustments as part of their phased reopening plans. These adjustments may include drive-through services, curbside pickup and contactless delivery options. All business owners should review their state and local reopening guidelines and plan accordingly.
Now, more than ever, it’s important to continue looking for new ways to meet your customers where they are. Think about how you can operate your business online or provide your services virtually. Shifting from in-person services to virtual offerings can be challenging. Fortunately, we’ve got a few tips to help you make that shift happen.
1. Start selling gift certificates
No matter how you slice it, it might not be possible for you to offer your services or sell your products virtually. If that’s the case, selling gift cards or gift certificates could be a good way to keep your business moving forward. And you can start selling gift cards in a few simple steps.
2. Transform your products and services
Consider reinventing your business to meet the need for virtual offerings. Hairstylists can’t style hair over a video call, but they can sell quality hair products and conduct home hair-care tutorials. Likewise, not all restaurants can offer curbside pickup. If that’s the case, it might be time to reinvent the menu with some to-go friendly options.
3. Get online
Now is the time to embrace e-commerce and online services. Etsy, eBay, and Amazon make it easy to sell products online if you didn’t build your website to accommodate online sales. And you can set up your business for online sales in five steps.
How to determine if you’re ready to reopen
If yours was one of the thousands of businesses that closed due to the coronavirus, you’re probably antsy to reopen. But on top of the many safety precautions, you’ll also need to consider whether you’re ready financially.
Before you flip your open sign, you may want to consider these questions:
- Can I afford to invest in the physical barricades and other health accommodations required to reopen safely and maintain proper social distancing?
- Can my business survive at a significantly lowered capacity as I reopen in phases?
- Am I prepared for a possible spike in absenteeism if my workers get sick or need to care for family members or children?
“Reopening might require you to undertake some expenses that you may not have in your budget,” said Sen. Marco Rubio during a recent QuickBooks Town Hall. “It’s one thing for Walgreens and Rite Aid to put [plexiglass] in all their stores… It’s another to ask a small vendor to do that.”
Before deciding how to reopen, business owners may consider reviewing the phased approach outlined in the White House’s Guidelines for Opening Up America Again to get a baseline understanding of reopening measures. The White House’s phased approach is based on the current levels of transmission and the healthcare capacity at the state and local level. It also accounts for your readiness to protect the safety and health of your employees and customers.
The CDC also published a Workplace Decision Tool which can help you decide if you’re ready to reopen your doors safely.
Once you have a baseline understanding of what may be required for your business, be sure to check and follow any state and local guidelines applicable to your business prior to reopening.
3 tips to help you reopen your business
Reopening your business is bigger than flipping your open sign. If you let your employees go, you need to think about how to bring them back. You need to have a plan for communicating with your customers. And you need to make sure your business is adapting to new safety standards. To help you do that, we’ve got a few tips.
1. Reach out to your employees right away
Even if you’re not ready to open up yet, it’s still important to keep your employees in the loop. If you’ve had to lay off or furlough employees, let them know when you plan to rehire them. You might not have all the answers, but frequent communication is key.
2. Communicate with your customers
Additionally, it’s important to communicate with your customers regarding your business. As you prepare to reopen, make sure you have a plan to communicate new hours and processes going forward. Are your store hours changing? Are you continuing to sell products and services online? Do your customers need to reschedule appointments? Get this information in front of your customers as soon as possible.
3. Keep safety top of mind
Remember, many consumers and workers are still feeling iffy about resuming “normal” operations. Your customers and employees want to know that you’re doing everything you can to keep them safe. That could mean providing protective equipment to your workers, cleaning and sanitizing surfaces often, or revamping your sick time policies.
The CDC’s Resuming Business Toolkit can help business owners prepare to reopen as safely as possible for their employees and the public. Additionally, the CDC offers specific advice for small businesses, bars and restaurants, and office buildings.
3 ways to build a back-up plan for your business
As the coronavirus closed down businesses, many small business owners discovered that they didn’t have enough cash to last longer than a month or two. If you were caught off guard by the financial impact of the coronavirus, you’re certainly not alone. Use these lessons learned to prepare for the future, whatever it may bring.
1. Create a continuity plan
A business continuity plan allows you to plan ahead and think about how you might manage a worst-case scenario for your business. Acknowledge your worst fears for your business and identify the biggest challenges you could face. Then work backward to come up with some solutions for business and supply chain continuity. No one expects you to have all the answers or do this alone, so lean on your team and the experts for support. Remember, even the most successful businesses can encounter hardship. Having a plan in place can be the difference between succumbing to hardship and overcoming it.
2. Build up your cash reserve
It can take years for a small business to become profitable. During that time, you might find it challenging to cover your basic expenses and contribute to a business savings account. But when the unexpected happens, you’ll be glad to have some cash in reserve. Work with a financial advisor to develop a realistic savings plan for your business. And look for new ways to keep more cash in your pocket right now. Make sure you’re taking advantage of business tax credits, cutting down on expenses, and keeping your business as lean as possible.
3. Reduce your fixed debts
If you’ve recently taken out a loan through the Small Business Administration (SBA), you may not have to pay it back right away. Make sure to fully understand the loan terms and discuss any questions you may have with an accounting or financial professional, or a lawyer. The SBA’s debt relief program may defer your payments through the end of the year automatically. If you have loans outside the SBA, work with your lender to develop a payment plan that works for your business.
The resources described above are made available to businesses within the United States of America.
COVID-19 relief programs are evolving regularly. Please visit SBA.gov for the most up to date information.
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