This is an uncertain time for business owners worldwide, but it’s no time to panic. Here’s what you can do now to start preparing your small business to weather the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
1. Curate credible resources for COVID-19 information
From federal health advisories to local organizations offering must-know COVID-19 info, here are some best practices for bookmarking resources that can help you, your employees, your customers and your community manage better through the COVID-19 pandemic.
2. Plan for change
To start, evaluate changes you might need to make in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Will you need to adjust the way you do business?
Outline a plan and prioritize action items. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recommends prioritizing critical operations: “Be prepared to change your business practices if needed to maintain critical operations (e.g. identify alternative suppliers, prioritize customers, or temporarily suspend some of your operations.)”
Adopt a customer-first mindset. It’s never been more important to nurture existing customers. Show them how much you appreciate their support. Think about how you can help them manage their way through the COVID-19 crisis. For example, as a result of coronavirus-related disruptions, some utility companies are trying to help customers who can’t pay their bills right now. Likewise, some businesses are offering free and freemium services. In an effort to help restaurants, Uber Eats committed to “Supporting the restaurant industry through an uncertain season” by waiving the delivery fee “for the more than 100,000 independent restaurants across US & Canada on Uber Eats.”
Check local resources for possible closures or cancellations that could affect your business operations. For example, school closures will likely impact a childcare provider who operates in line with the local school district’s schedule. Companies like Zoom are stepping up to help educators. Zoom already offers a free plan, but they have lifted the 40 minute limit for on free accounts for schools affected by the coronavirus.
Companies like Scholastic, PBS, Prodigy Math and many others are also offering free lessons and resources to help children continue learning while schools are closed. Prodigy Game tweeted this list of resources.
If you rely on a single global supplier, consider diversifying your supply chain.
If you need to focus more on a specific aspect of running your business, look into outsourcing other tasks. For example, you might hire a freelance writer to help with customer emails or blog posts. Or you might hire a virtual assistant to answer the phone and manage your calendar, freeing you to do business-critical work.
Modify travel plans. Stay on top of travel health notices from the CDC here. Some airlines, like JetBlue, are waiving change and cancellation fees.
How will you support employees?
If you have employees, will you need to make changes to support your workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic? Here are some things to consider:
Communicate to your employees on the steps you’re taking. Provide an easily accessible FAQ sheet to keep your team updated with COVID-19 news.
Arrange for remote work / work-from-home options. A number of companies are offering free and discounted tools and services to enable remote work.
For example, LogMeIn has created a “Remote Work Toolkit” to help employers and entrepreneurs seamlessly transition into a remote workplace. The resource page features tips for working remotely, ideas for maintaining a work-life balance, steps for creating an emergency plan, and more.
Review paid time off and sick leave policies.
Listen with empathy. Like just about everyone else, your employees probably have concerns about the COVID-19. Be available to hear them and respond in the best way you can.
Tip:Bookmark resources like the U.S. Department of Labor, which is releasing guidance related to managing the COVID-19 crisis.
How will the COVID-19 pandemic affect your small business’s finances?
It’s likely hard to NOT think about how this virus is impacting your bottom line. But there are steps you can take to help mitigate the financial fallout.
Work up a cash flow forecast. Partner with a financial professional, if necessary.
Consider applying for an IRS tax extension.
Look into rent and supplier deferment programs.
Explore emergency funding options, including:
The SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loans: This program provides small businesses with working capital loans of up to $2 million “to help overcome the temporary loss of revenue they are experiencing.”
Emergency grants and low-interest loans from municipal governments.Cities like New York City, San Francisco and Seattle have already stepped up to help small businesses. Check for similar programs in your local area.
3. Practice “social distancing”
The CDC defines social distancing as “remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible.” They recommend practices ranging from avoiding handshakes to taking transactions online.
This can be especially tough if you’re a brick-and-mortar business like a restaurant or hair salon or comic book shop. Tough, but not impossible.
For example, Food Bank for the Heartland, in partnership with Feeding America, has been purchasing food and establishing “drive-up pantries” so that people who can’t afford pantry staples can still have enough to eat during the quarantine.
4. Figure out what you want to say to customers
Many companies have been doing their best to keep people up-to-date with what they’re doing in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. You’ll no doubt want to do something similar, even if it’s just a statement you post to your blog or website, rather than emailing it out.
Some messages you might want to send to customers include:
Thank them for their support.
Explain what your business is doing and how it affects them.
Detail the changes you’re making, including to terms of service.
Tell them about updated refund and cancellation policies, if applicable.
Tell them how to get in touch with you.
Reassure them that we’re all in this together.
Here’s a great example: California-based Exploratorium
5. Make it easy for customers to contact you
To help you make it easy for your customers to contact you on a consistent basis, here are a few measures you can take:
Website. Give your contact information prominent placement on every page of your website.
Here’s a great example: Ignite Dance & Yoga in Washington
Online business listings. Be sure your contact info is up-to-date on online business listings like Google My Business and Yelp.
Email. Make sure to include up-to-date contact information in all email correspondence with customers. All them to reply to your emails directly.
Social media. Let customers as well as other business owners know you’re active on social media to connect with you and drop you a message. Include links to your social profiles in emails, blog posts, etc. so customers know they can also connect with you on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the other networks where you have a presence.
Chat apps. Using tools like Facebook Messenger and Twitter Chats — and letting customers know that you’re available on Messenger during certain hours — can help customers feel connected to you in real-time.
Dedicated phone number. Enable customers to easily get in touch with you over the phone by sharing the best number to reach you. If you’ll be available via phone outside of normal business hours, let them know.
Signage. If you’re a brick-and-mortar business, post your up-to-date contact info on highly visible signage.
Online bookings and scheduling. Let customers know they can manage appointments with you using online tools (bonus if your website includes the ability to schedule and modify appointments). If you’re a Microsoft Office 365 user, you might already have access to Microsoft Bookings.
Here’s a great example from California’s Lede Family Wines:
6. Stay top-of-mind with content that helps your customers
Redirect downtime to creating content that helps your customers (and boosts their confidence in you).
Blog posts. Article ideas include “How Can You Cope With X During the COVID-19 Shutdown? (X is the problem your company solves for customers),” “What We’re Doing During the COVID-19 Shutdown,” and “The Top 10 Things We Love About Our Customers.”
Videos. Take your blog articles above and tell stories about them. Videos are a great place to tell stories, not just relate lists of information. Also, consider doing some video interviews with colleagues.
Podcasts. If you don’t want to do video interviews, start an audio podcast instead. Record them with a basic voice recorder app on your phone, or use a program on your laptop like Audacity, GarageBand, or even Skype and Call Recorder (a Skype add-on).
Webinars. Webinars are a great way to educate people about your company’s offering without actually doing any selling at all.
Social posts. Of course, now that everyone is staying at home, they’re all watching Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, so it makes sense that you meet them where they are. Engage with people, talk with them, have conversations with them.
Many people are nervous, so help them cope by just having normal conversations with them.
This is not a good time to hard-sell your products, but it’s a great time to relate to people as people. Share your stories, blog posts and videos with them. Since those are pieces of content that will inform, explain, educate and (perhaps) entertain, they’re worth sharing on social media.
This is also a time to serve as a resource for your customers.
Pay attention to them, set up an alert for certain industry terms, and then respond to the posts that use those terms. People may have questions or even some ideas, and it’s worth engaging with them about it.
7. Craft smart emails to communicate with customers
COVID-19 is an unprecedented crisis affecting the entire globe. And though every country is handling it differently, one thing remains certain: we are all in this together. And anything you can do to bolster that sense of solidarity with your customers is appreciated.
Emails you send to your customers should address the crisis immediately. In these messages, you can:
Talk about how it’s impacting the world and your company.
Discuss what you’re doing differently in its wake.
Be upfront about what you plan to do for your customers during this trying time.
Discuss how COVID-19 might impact your ability to serve your customers, if relevant.
For instance, Imperfect Foods recently sent out an email indicating service may slow over the coming weeks as demand for their products increases. But they also go on to reassure customers how they’re handling the crisis internally and that they ensure the safety of their produce for customers.
8. Engage on social media
Many people are turning to social media for information and a sense of connection to the world, especially as they are practicing social isolation. Here are some more ways that you can use social media to continue to build and sustain relationships with your customers.
Update your social media profiles with any changes to your hours or what services you’re providing. For significant updates, like reduced hours or closures, be sure to pin that post at the top of your profile for easy reference.
Share real-time updates. Beyond just email messaging, you can connect with your customers on social media to give them real-time updates on how you and your business are handling COVID-19.
Share helpful content, including blog posts and videos.
Build community through asking and answering questions.
Leverage automation and scheduling tools to keep your social presence up-to-date.
9. Leverage a supportive community
Physical distance separates us all, yes, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make the effort to build community within companies and with customers.
Form strategic partnerships. Look for opportunities to partner up with other local businesses, or explore strategic alliances through organizations like BNI.
Get active in professional and trade organizations. For example, the National Association of Realtors® is offering a COVID-19 resource guide for members.
The National Retail Federation is also doing its best to keep retail establishments informed of the latest information on COVID-19 and the virus’s direct impact on the retail industry.
Likewise, the National Electrical Contractors Association put together a list of resources that can specifically aid electricians as they navigate these uncharted waters.
Encourage support for fellow small businesses. Refer customers. Announce partnerships.
These times are tough, but that can be mitigated by reaching out to others.
10. Stay healthy
Despite all that’s going on in the world and the fact that many of us are cooped up in our home offices or at the very least practicing social distancing, it’s still important to take measures to protect or enhance your health in mind, body and spirit.
If you’re a business that provides health and wellness services, your customers need you now more than ever. For example, Yogis Anonymous, a yoga studio in Santa Monica, California, is offering free online courses for 30 days.
Many healthcare providers also are offering telehealth services.
Lots of mental health pros are offering online therapy sessions to avoid the need to come into their office for a face-to-face appointment.
The CDC offers up a number of suggestions for taking care of yourself and others during this difficult time, noting that while everyone reactions differently in times of strife, the stress and anxiety the outbreak can cause is valid.
The CDC’s recommendations for reducing stress include:
Limiting your consumption of news and social media about the pandemic.
Taking time to participate in physical exercise daily. Even within your home, you can stretch, do yoga, or follow along with an aerobic fitness routine from YouTube.
Eat a balanced and healthy diet.
Get enough sleep.
Avoid alcohol and drugs.
Dedicate time to relaxation when possible and/or participate in an activity you enjoy.
Take time to talk with friends on the phone or through video chat/FaceTime.
These are all things you can do to look after your own health. But you should extend these concerns to your employees and business partners as well. This can take many forms including:
Sharing factual information about COVID-19 with your employees.
Offering flexible schedules.
Reducing workload expectations.
Offering paid time off/medical leave/family leave if you have the ability to.
Share exercising and nutrition tips/advice/assistance whenever you can.
Basically, support your team as best you can.
The COVID-19 crisis is causing unprecedented disruption to individuals and small businesses around the world. But we’re all in this together. Use whatever strategies in this article you feel will help you steer your unique venture through the COVID-19 pandemic.
If you’re an Appily App Builder customer, don’t hesitate to contact us if you need help.