COVID-19 has required small businesses across the world to act quickly and implement their emergency business plans. And if they haven’t, most businesses are currently in the throes of learning to adapt and create plans on the fly.
What happens when a business faces an emergency?
At the start of an emergency, most businesses identify ways to communicate with their employees and stakeholders, as well as take steps to maintain operations. After the initial shock, the business may adjust to a new normal or end up capsizing.
This is, of course, the nature of emergencies.
Yet, given COVID-19 and the shelter in place orders, what can you do right now to weather the storm? And how do you create a long-term emergency plan to ensure you’re not derailed should things take an unexpected turn? Below, we’ll show you.
SPONSORED: Find a Qualified Financial Advisor
1. Finding a qualified financial advisor doesn't have to be hard. SmartAsset's free tool matches you with up to 3 fiduciary financial advisors in your area in 5 minutes.
2. Each advisor has been vetted by SmartAsset and is held to a fiduciary standard to act in your best interests. If you're ready to be matched with local advisors that can help you achieve your financial goals get started now.
1. Perform self-assessment to create a business continuity plan
During an emergency closure due to natural disaster, crime, or property damage, your business may have used an emergency business plan checklist (or an ad-hoc solution) to maintain continuity of service and cash flow.
Whether your restaurant offered takeout, your yoga studio started streaming classes, or your book store became a shipping hub, you found a solution that continued to connect customers to your expertise.
As you create your long-term plan, continue to assess the value of your services in your local community. All Business suggests that small business owners reflect on four areas as they create their business continuity plans:
By completing this self-assessment, you can begin to plan for the adjustments you’ll make in these four areas, both in the short- and long-term.
Consider how you can continue to sell your product during your closure and reopening.
- How are your products and services valuable to your local community during your closure? Is there a way to maintain continuity of service? Options include shipping directly to your customers, providing online services, expanding your product line, or encouraging customers to buy gift cards.
- Upon reopening, will there be enough demand for your product in your neighborhood? If not, how can you expand your product line or your customer base?
For example, if you’re a massage therapist who began to offer online workshops in lieu of in-person services, can you continue to teach virtual classes even when you resume your in-person services?
Similarly, if you’re a restaurant that—during a crisis—became a market, can you continue to offer grocery pickup for specialty ingredients even as you reopen your doors?
The economy is a shapeshifting organism. If there are changes during your business’s closure or period of interrupted service, then keep track of economic developments in your nation and try to determine how this might affect your pricing and products.
Questions to ask include:
- How do your prices compare with larger competitors’, and with other local businesses’? If they’re higher, how can you distinguish your product from theirs?
- Are customers able to afford your product at its current price? If not, what sales and incentives can you offer without sacrificing your profit margin?
- Is there a way to decrease your production costs?
New customers are the lifeblood of most small businesses. Consider the efforts you’ve made in the past (including during your closure). How have you promoted your small local business so far? Which routes have been the most successful? What new avenues of advertising could you try?
New routes to explore include:
- Online marketing, including email marketing strategies
- Local marketing: flyers, commercials, newspaper ads
- Connecting with your community on Nextdoor
- Networking and creating cross-promotions with other local businesses
As you try new advertising endeavors, be sure to keep track of your returns so that you can invest your resources where they have the greatest impact.
Building an effective business is about more than making sales. Consider how your business can become a more integral part of your local community.
- How do you maintain visibility in your local community? What groups and organizations are you a part of? What events and meetups can you attend?
- How can you improve your online presence on Nextdoor, and engage customers on social media?
Cash Flow Management
These 4 Ps are helpful for businesses to understand different tactics to improve cash flow. However, at the end of the day, they’re just different levers that a business can pull and manipulate. The one your business decides on has to make sense for your industry, product, service, and niche.
2. Keep connected with community
As your business seeks to maintain continuity and remain present in the local community, it’s more important than ever to find ways to connect with your neighbors. It doesn’t matter if your business is closed or open—the best way to communicate is online. This is especially true during times of COVID-19, which has caused a sharp uptick in online usership—websites like YouTube and the Washington Post have seen traffic increase by 15% and 50%, respectively (and they’re the rule, not the exception). Thus, one great way to maintain visibility is to create a Business Page on Nextdoor.
Nextdoor users value small businesses: 98% of Nextdoor users say that small local businesses make a positive impact in their community, and 75% are willing to pay more for a product from a SMB than a big-box retailer. Your Business Page allows you to connect with neighbors, your local customers, who are eager to see your business thrive throughout and after a crisis.
Thus, consider these steps:
- Register your Business Page for free.
- Customize your page, adding your business’s story, service offerings, and contact information.
- After your business receives one recommendation, you’ll show up in neighborhood search results. Try asking a friend or client who already uses Nextdoor.
- Use your Business Page to explain your shifts in service and your timeline for reopening.
- Join in on local conversations to connect directly with your neighbors as well as other small business owners.
Nextdoor is your neighborhood hub, and the best place to connect with the locals who’ve also been affected by the crisis. On Nextdoor, embrace your local community and move forward together.
3. Get your paperwork in order
After completing this business assessment, you’ll have a clear sense of the changes you need to make in both the short- and long-term in order to reopen your doors and remain profitable. However, the specific steps you’ll need to take to reopen your business depend on the way you dealt with the emergency.
- If you kept your business partially open or moved online, you won’t need to file any paperwork regarding your business license and reincorporation to reopen. However, you do need to make sure that you’re aware of any back payments towards rent, utilities, or taxes so that you can stay open.
- If you had business interruption insurance, be sure to communicate with your insurer about your reopening, and to see if your policy can help cover costs associated with moving, back payments, lost profits, etc.
- If you dissolved your business to avoid financial liability during your closure, you may need to reincorporate your business and file new paperwork with your local or state government.
4. Seek outside help
As you complete any business license or reincorporation paperwork and payments associated with reopening your business, you may realize that there’s significant expenses involved. You may also realize that you need financial assistance for any of the following:
- Making back payments on rent, utilities, or taxes
- Rehiring employees and covering your payroll
- Starting a new product or service line
- Amping up your advertising and promotions
As a small business owner, you’re used to being self-reliant, but after an emergency, it’s important to seek outside help if needed. According to FEMA, 40-60% of small businesses never reopen after a disaster. To make sure you’re not one of them, look for help from the federal government and your local community.
- Take advantage of the Small Business Association’s Disaster Loan Assistance program
- Check with your bank to learn about their small business lending options
- Try a community-supported fundraiser through a platform like GoFundMe
- Be sure to check with local, state, and federal aid packages that are being developed on the fly. These will have clear instructions on state and local web pages.
Communicate with Your Customers
As your business deals with an emergency or crisis, it’s important to maintain open lines of communication with your customers and your local community. Be sure that customers know if and how you’re able to maintain continuity of service, as well as how they can support your business during its closure.
They know your business is vital to the local community, so let them know how they can help your business thrive.
During a crisis or emergency, community members might be overwhelmed with news and information, so be sure to update them as changes take place in your business services in the most relevant places. In addition to posting updates on your website, consider frequently keeping customers informed on the following platforms:
If your business doesn’t already have a listserv or newsletter, consider creating one so that customers have a way to keep track of developments (and you have a new way to market and promote your business).
5. Announce your reopening or your continuation of services
After a period of closure, it’s a great accomplishment to reopen your doors. This is an opportunity to connect with existing customers as well as the wider community.
When safe and ready to open, consider throwing a grand reopening party, or a weekend of events. As a part of the festivities, you could partner with local businesses to provide free or discounted services to the community, extend sales and promotions, and encourage new customers to walk in the door with in-store celebrations with a call to action to support local.
As always, be sure to communicate with customers and your local community through your various inputs. The more connections you create online, the more likely your business can thrive when the time comes to finally reopen its doors.
- How to engage customers on social media
- How to write a crisis communication plan
- How businesses can best manage finances during Covid-19
Featured Image Credit: Darwin Brandis / iStock.