States across the country are relaxing or removing mandatory stay-at-home and social distancing orders, allowing non-essential businesses to reopen. That doesn’t mean the financial and logistical difficulties of reopening are going to disappear. There are many day-to-day operating challenges to consider, including the potential for a second wave of infections that could cause many restrictions or full closures to be reimplemented.
This reopening toolkit for small businesses outlines what many will need to address as they resume business.
1. Find accurate & timely information
Finding reliable sources for information can be challenging, particularly when it comes to COVID-19, so read carefully and rely on reputable sources and government agencies.
Here are some of our favorites:
- U.S. Chamber of Commerce
- National Retail Federation
- National Restaurant Association
- National Association of Realtors
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- World Health Organization
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration
2. Review & manage your finances
If you’re one of the millions of business owners impacted by COVID-19, you’ve probably already considered how you’re going to restart your business during this crisis. Finding the money to do so has been challenging for many, but there are alternatives to the Paycheck Protection Program and Emergency Injury Disaster Loans, like emergency lines of credit. On top of that, filing your business taxes this year is likely to be significantly different.
The importance of having a long-term emergency business plan has also become apparent for many business owners. If you didn’t already have one, here’s a great emergency checklist tool to get you started.
Some of the financial options you may not have considered are:
- How to negotiate your rent
- The best way to manage your business finances
- How to use crowdfunding to support your small business
For most businesses, it’s going to be impossible to just start up again like nothing happened. Some of the key issues to consider when deciding what the future of your business holds include:
- Your budget. How much money do you have access to and how long will it last?
- Customer and staff safety. Is your business space large enough that you can provide for adequate social distancing?
- Your vendors. How is your supply chain looking right now? Is it necessary to find new ones to get you back up and running?
- Delivery of products and services. How can you make your business better prepared to meet customer needs right now? Are you sure you know what those needs are?
3. Communicate with your customers
Knowing what your customers need is especially important right now and your marketing efforts should reflect that. If you haven’t been maintaining relationships with your customers during the pandemic, check in. How are your regular customers faring? What can your business do to help them? It’s a great way to spread some goodwill and keep your business top of mind as you prepare for reopening.
If you’re not sure how to get started, take a look at what your competitors are doing. But don’t stop there. Looking at a broad range of marketing and communication examples, including large companies, can better help you figure out what is and isn’t working. In general, though, it’s a good idea to avoid overly promotional messages.
Ernst & Young recommends companies follow these best practices when communicating with customers:
- Use multiple channels to ensure your message is widely received and reinforced.
- Demonstrate that customer interests are a priority and address their concerns directly.
- Create and share an FAQ document outlining specific questions around your supply chain, your health and safety practices, and potential risks to your customers if they continue to patronize your business.
- Reach out to affected customers and offer assistance where appropriate.
Even if you’re still open for business, reaching out to customers is a great way to remind your community that you’re there for them. Consider emailing to let them know what you’re doing to prevent COVID-19 from being spread in your establishment, and post a sign that says you are following business guidelines proposed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Ramping up your online presence now so you are able to serve your customers virtually and focusing on communicating through social media channels can help to ensure you’re better prepared.
Don’t have a website or social media? No worries. These are some of the best free website builders
out there. And here’s a handy guide for engaging your customers on social media.
Here are some other small business resources to guide your customer communications:
- How to promote your business locally
- Social media tips for small businesses
- How to manage your online reputation
- How to write a crisis communication plan
4. Be sure you can comply with social distancing rules
Individual states, and even counties and cities, have established their own guidelines, so it’s important to find out what those are. Depending on the type of business you operate, there may be industry-specific policies and recommendations from public health officials. If your state requires strict physical distancing and sanitation protocols, you’ll want to be sure you and your staff can properly adhere to those.
It’s also a good idea to review how technology can help you. Everything from shopping portals, virtual classes, and even virtual diagnostics can make serving customers easier. If you can’t go completely virtual, consider things like curbside pickup, contactless delivery, queueing technology apps that summon customers when it’s their turn in line, digital contracts, and even services by appointment only. Of course, where you operate will determine just what type of approach you’ll need to take. Here’s a straightforward guide for how to transition your company to meet customer demand during social distancing.
5. Take care of your team
Your team. The backbone of your company. These days, making sure they’re safe and healthy is of utmost importance, and that includes keeping up morale during these tough times. Of course, that gets trickier if you’ve had to lay off or furlough your team. If that’s the case, you may want to consider helping them with their unemployment benefits applications.
Above all, you need a communication plan. Your employees need to have easily accessible and accurate information about safety measures and other workplace changes. It’s a good idea to make this information available through multiple channels — email, social media, your chat app, and physical displays in the workplace.
6. Make your workplace safe
Perhaps the most critical part of taking care of your employees these days is following CDC cleaning guidelines and ensuring your staff stay home if they aren’t well. It may take a rethinking of day-to-day practices to ensure you’re restricting shared items and spaces, that workstations are spaced adequately or have physical barriers between them. Of course, training the entire staff in whatever safety actions you determine are necessary for your business to safely operate is equally as important.
Here are some further tips for keeping your workplace safe.
7. Understand how disaster legislation will affect you
The biggest challenge for most small businesses these days is income. Issues with federal emergency funding has left many without the resources they need to keep their businesses going. As we said earlier, though, there are other options available for businesses and individuals alike. Check out this emergency loan guide by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and see this state-by-state breakdown of COVID-19 legislation compiled by the National Governors Association, for more helpful information.
8. Be prepared to close again
It’s a good idea to be prepared to close if another outbreak occurs and have a plan for what that will look like. It’s the worst case scenario, of course. But better safe than sorry.
Also keep in mind that, no matter how prepared you are, reopening may be much more difficult than you expected. Be ready to pivot and do so swiftly.
9. Execute your plans
Once your planning and preparations are complete, it’s time to put them into action. Here’s a helpful guide for doing that:
Figure out your timing
Even if your state has completely opened for business, the CDC recommends you only consider reopening if your community does not need significant mitigation, you are in compliance with state and local orders, and you are able to protect at-risk employees and customers.
In order to make your reopening as smooth as possible:
- Be sure your staff is on board and make sure they’re comfortable getting back to work, especially if they deal directly with customers.
- Make a list of pre-opening tasks like having your workplace deep cleaned, and adding any social distancing aids (tape lines on floors, signs explaining your mask and/or social distancing policies, providing hand sanitizer, etc.).
- Get your vendors back online. Make sure your supply chain is up and running and can get you what you need.
- Tell your customers you’re reopening. If you’ve already been in contact with your customers, or keeping them updated via social media or other channels, this should be quick and easy. Even if you don’t have an exact date, letting them know it’s coming is important
Continue talking to staff and customers
Regularly asking how your employees are doing during your first few weeks of being open can help them feel you really do have their health and safety top of mind. Same goes for your customers. Are they comfortable in your establishment? Do they feel safe? Would they like to see any changes or improvements? Be prepared to act on any negative feedback.
Track your analytics
Chances are your business isn’t going to be at the same levels it was pre-closing, so be sure to keep an eye on your sales data and especially customer behavior. Also, track what customers are saying about you in public forums and reviews.
Featured Image Credit: wundervisuals.