The Coronavirus pandemic has clearly disrupted commerce throughout the Untied States, and governors throughout the country are issuing safer-at-home orders instructing so-called non-essential workers to shelter in place for the foreseeable future. That in turn is forcing an increasingly large number of small businesses to close their doors – at least temporarily.
While these business closures may be critical to flattening the curve of COVID-19 infections they nevertheless put an unprecedented strain on business owners and their employees. Closing a business, even for a few short months, will certainly lead to hardships for small business owners; some of whom may not be able to fully recover when the all clear is finally given.
Dealing with Temporary Shutdowns and Limited Service Options
It is important to understand that these temporary shutdowns are really only part of the problem facing small businesses during this global health crisis. As infections and hospitalizations decrease throughout the country, many Americans will begin to go back to work. Main Street will undoubtedly reopen for business and customers will indeed return to the shops. But it’s not going to happen overnight, and certainly not all at once.
As small business owners struggle with temporary shutdowns and limited service options it’s time to rethink how we do business in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. To that end we’ve put together some tips for small businesses riding out the Coronavirus storm. Hopefully these tips will prove helpful in weathering the current storm of temporary closures as well as the future return to limited, and no doubt restricted, business operations.
Rethinking what it Means to Be Open for Business
Businesses that deal directly with the public, such as restaurants and general merchandise retailers, may need to consider limiting their hours of operation and restricting the products and services they keep on offer. For example, a restaurant might be best served by restricting menu items and hours of operation to dinner service as opposed to trying to maintain a full service menu and schedule. The same holds true for general merchandise retailers who are not classified as essential by local and state authorities. They may need to rethink their hours of operation and shift emphasis to better selling and more profitable merchandise.
Limiting your hours of operation and reducing the number of products or services on offer may help to keep the doors of your business open during these difficult times. However, you will also have to keep a close eye on your financials and weigh the costs of doing business against the reduced income you’re generating. If, in the final analysis, you are spending more to keep your doors open than you are earning in restricted sales it might be wiser to close and pay your fixed costs for the duration of the lockdown.
Reconsidering How Your Business Operates
In addition to limiting hours of operation it may also be necessary to reconsider how your business deals with the public. Social distancing directives are likely to remain in place even after the Coronavirus curve flattens, so business owners should likely be prepared to continue restricting the number of customers served on-premises at any given time. During a temporary shutdown, and moving forward with the limited reopening of nonessential businesses, it will likely be necessary to limit the number of patrons allowed in storefronts as a way to ensure the health and safety of both customers and employees.
Businesses that rely primarily on in-store interactions with customers may need to consider shifting to a predominately remote service model. Customers can place orders by phone or online, and those orders can be prepared in isolation. Patrons can then pick up their order at a designated area, thereby minimizing any person-to-person contact.
Businesses that can only function through in-person interaction should consider taking steps to assure customers that they are following CDC safety guidelines. You should also be prepared to adopt and practice appropriate hygiene measures such as regular cleaning and sanitizing of all public areas as well as encouraging both customers and employees to maintain a minimum of six feet between each other.
Consider Changing Your Customer Service Focus
Depending on your current business model it may be possible to temporarily shut down customer-facing operations and transition to online services. If your company already has an ecommerce division now is a good time to beef up its presence. This can help retailers suffering a temporary or partial shutdown to continue moving product and serving customers.
Businesses that can successfully shift to a predominately ecommerce sales model, even if only temporarily, should be better positioned to retain current employees and possibly even create new employment opportunities. Investing now in your online sales division will also pay dividends as the economy recovers; giving your business an advantage over those competitors who let their businesses lay fallow during their enforced shutdowns.
Pivoting to a Different Service Model
This is really only an option for businesses in the hospitality industry. Restaurants and bars that have been forced to close their doors to the public may be able to shift, at least temporarily, to a direct sales service model. Access to food distribution services makes it possible for restaurant owners to transition from in-house dining and delivery services to direct food sales. In essence becoming a kind of pop-up food market.
Business owners may find that they can keep staff on payroll and continue operating if they shift to this kind of direct sales model. This will not only help to keep the restaurant owner’s business afloat, it will also benefit the local community by providing greater access to food and other essentials. It will be necessary to consult local government regulations to ensure that you are authorized to sell directly to the public, but many local and state authorities are making exceptions to allow local businesses to temporarily shift focus in order to provide much-needed public services.
Looking after your Employees
All small businesses owners should be mindful of the value and importance of their staff. In times like these it is more important than ever to look after your employees and give them as much support as possible. Remember, they are the lifeblood of your business, and you will need their support to continue to operate now and when the economy begins to return to normalcy.
Keep the lines of communication open with your staff. They are as worried as you are about the financial repercussions of a partial or total shutdown, and they will be relying on your guidance. Keep them informed of critical business decision, and clearly explain any plans you may have to furlough employees or temporarily lay-off staff. If possible help your employees with any state or federal financial aid that they may be eligible to receive and support them in their efforts to find suitable emergency assistance.
If you are planning to maintain partial operations during a shutdown, or simply want to be prepared for when that shutdown is over, now is the time to initiate paid sick leave for all of your employees. Your staff needs to understand that they are financially protected should they fall ill and need to take time off to recover. This is also an important protective measure for you and your other employees. If someone becomes ill they will need to self-isolate to avoid spreading the infection. The last thing you want is someone coming in to work sick because they can’t afford to miss a paycheck.
Take Advantage of Federal and State Relief Assistance
Many small businesses will be eligible for either state or federal financial relief programs. In accordance with the federal government’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) the Small Business Administration is offering several relief opportunities for small business owners adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. SBA debt relief, emergency loans, and paycheck protection programs have been put in place to provide immediate financial support for small business throughout the country. These programs have been designed to address the needs of small and medium sized businesses with fewer than 500 employees.
Applying for financial relief through the SBA should be a priority for any small business facing financial trouble due to local shutdown orders and loss of custom. The sooner you apply for assistance the sooner you can take steps to safeguard your business and your financial investments.
In addition to federal relief programs most state governments have initiated their own financial aid programs to help support small businesses impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. These programs vary according to state and local municipalities. Business owners are advised to contact their state governments, as well as local chambers of commerce, for information on any financial aid programs for which they may be eligible.
Weathering the Storm
The Coronavirus pandemic has seriously disrupted the economic landscape of the country, and it will be some time before things return to any real semblance of normality. Temporary shutdowns and social distancing directives are likely to be in place for some time, and business owners should be prepared to take proactive steps to keep their operations fluid and productive during the next several months.
The tips outlined here will hopefully provide business owners some much needed fuel for thought, and help them find new ways to keep their businesses in operation during these trying times. The challenges brought by the Coronavirus crisis are not insurmountable, and working together business owners and their employees will be able to weather the storm and continue serving their customers throughout these challenging times. The secret to survival is in keeping a calm head and taking the necessary steps to protect your business investment.