Curfews and shelter-in-place orders, restricting food services to takeout only, and general social distancing have impacted the bottom lines of many small businesses. Although most small businesses can expect highs and lows in demand throughout the year, you can usually plan ahead for those times.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has changed all of this. The resulting uncertainty has left many small business owners wondering whether they will be able to pay the bills and sustain their business and livelihood.
If you’re faced with these challenges, there are some smart moves you can make to help your business and your employees. Here are 18 things you can do now to help sustain your business during the coronavirus pandemic.
Apply for an SBA loan
The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is an independent federal agency whose purpose is to help people start and succeed in businesses. The SBA offers traditional loans for small businesses. However, because the coronavirus has had such a significant economic impact, the federal government has allocated additional money for Disaster Assistance Loans through the SBA.
These low-interest SBA loans are available in most states and regions to provide “working capital to small businesses suffering substantial economic injury as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19),” according to the SBA website. To see whether you’re in an eligible region and what you need to do to apply, visit https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela/.
Consider a 0% introductory APR credit card
Although you want to be mindful of taking on high-interest debt, a business credit card with a 0% APR introductory rate may help you manage costs during this uncertain time. Some cards offer a full year with no interest on purchases. This buys you some time to get what you need now and pay off those expenses over a longer period.
If this sounds like a good short-term option for you, the Chase Ink Business Cash is worth considering. It offers a 0% introductory APR for 12 months on purchases.
Call your insurance company
If you have a small business insurance policy, you may also have a business interruption add-on. Business interruption insurance allows you to submit claims for lost income and some expenses if your business must close due to a covered disaster. If you also have extra expense coverage, you could apply for reimbursement of money spent beyond normal operating expenses to keep your business open during or in the wake of a disaster.
Covered disasters are usually events like fires or tornadoes, not pandemics. Because pandemics happen so rarely, few insurance providers account for them in policies. However, some insurers may be extending coverage to policyholders for damages due to coronavirus restrictions. Call your provider and ask if they’re doing this and what they can do to help you.
If you don’t have small business insurance, now might be a good time to shop around for coverage. A new policy may or may not help with issues related to current COVID-19 losses, but it can help safeguard you in the future.
Encourage loyal customers to purchase gift cards
Selling gift cards today gives you cash-in-hand to make it through the short term, and targeting those who already know and love your business is a smart place to start. Yes, you will have to provide the value of the cards in goods and services in the future, but you will have the money you need to pay today’s bills and payroll.
Plus, if more people have gift cards to your business, it ensures you will have customers in the future. And if they like what your business offers, you may have some repeat customers in the future.
Keep your customers informed
Communication is essential right now. Your customers want to know what’s happening with your business; what you’re doing to protect them and your team; and what your plans are as things change.
Take some time to craft thoughtful messages that can be delivered in multiple ways. Website updates, social media posts, direct emails, and even text messages and signs on storefronts are popping up all over the country as businesses try to keep their customers up-to-date.
Consider giving back
With the closing of schools and public buildings, nonprofits that provide food, clothing, animal care, etc., have limited options to help local community members who are in need. If you find that you have more time on your hands due to slower business or you have a location that can be used to collect donations, consider offering your resources to help.
You could work with the local animal shelter or food bank to set up collection bins for food, blankets, clothing, or pet supplies at your office or store. Then communicate to customers and the broader community that they can make touch-free donations at your location. Arrange for the organization to pick up donations from you or safely drop off the donations. This not only helps you do some good in your community, but it also shows goodwill between your business and both existing and potential customers. They will remember how you helped in a crisis.
Offer touch-free services
Could you conduct your business online? Is there a way to offer your customers products and services without much physical contact? Now is the time to start thinking about these possibilities.
Many restaurants that didn’t offer takeout before the pandemic now have drive-up services to keep the sales coming in. If you’ve been thinking about turning your shop into an e-commerce website, learn about web hosting companies and what you need to do to make this happen.
Once you’ve come up with a new way of servicing customers, communicate it through every channel at your disposal: social media, signs, emails, press releases, phone calls, text messages, and more.
Offer sales and discounts
Slashing prices, offering discounts or free shipping, or waiving fees can make your products and services more appealing to customers. Many companies are finding this strategy is keeping their businesses afloat, even as consumers are staying home more and spending less. Just make sure you’re providing ways for them to patronize your business that are in line with current health recommendations.
Look for short-term health insurance
If you’re a small business owner who is not covered by health insurance, you can shop around for a short-term policy that may help cover medical costs if you get sick and need emergency treatment. These policies generally don’t comply with Affordable Care Act regulations, and they often have restrictions based on preexisting conditions or previous treatments. However, they can be a big help should you be hospitalized for any length of time.
Create a disaster preparedness plan and communicate it to your team
A disaster preparedness plan will help give you a guidebook of what you and your team need to do, even when things are uncertain. A plan like this can be used during the coronavirus pandemic, in times of flooding, hurricanes, fire, and other drastic events that may disrupt business as usual. Making sure your team knows about this plan and what their roles are is also critical.
The Department of Homeland Security has some great information about how businesses can prepare for an emergency and what to put into a disaster response plan. Things to consider include:
- What types of emergencies you are preparing for
- Employee roles and responsibilities
- Evacuation, shelter-in-place, and lockdown procedures
- Emergency contacts
- Internal and external communication plan
- Policies for work procedures if employees cannot access the building/office/shop
Encourage people to work from home, if possible.
Keeping your distance from other people is incredibly important in slowing the spread of the coronavirus. To protect your employees and customers, encourage people to work from home. Even if you don’t have specific software for remote work, you may be able to come up with a way for employees to continue their work using company or personal computers, phones, etc.
Cancel company travel
Traveling can wait right now. It’s more important to keep your team healthy. Many conferences and meetings have been canceled or rescheduled. Most things you would travel to do can likely be done remotely or postponed until the pandemic is under control. Many airlines have adjusted their policies around cancellations recently, and portions of your trips may also be covered by travel insurance. Call your hotels, airlines, and credit card issuers to see what your options are.
Invest in remote work tools for communication, collaboration, project management, etc.
If you’ve been thinking about offering employees a work-from-home option, take a look at what kinds of tools, hardware, and software you would need to make that happen. This will benefit your business in the long run, as you’re able to offer your team more flexibility and may be able to continue operations without missing a beat during future disasters. If you’re concerned about costs, free resources such as Google Hangouts and Google Drive can help you keep expenses down.
Implement protective measures
If remote work just isn’t a possibility, make your place of business as safe as possible. Invest in disinfecting products, hand sanitizer, and antibacterial soap. Implement handwashing procedures and guidelines.
Set up a new cleaning schedule that includes disinfecting doorknobs, counters, products, and other items that may have been touched during the workday. Then communicate to customers and employees what you’re doing to protect them.
Offer flexibility with regard to employee schedules
Your team needs your understanding and flexibility now more than ever. Offer them some wiggle room with schedules if they have children or family members to care for at home.
Emphasize the importance of staying home if you’re sick and provide paid sick leave
Sick employees who come into work risk getting worse and transmitting their illness to others. Plus, they will not perform to the best of their abilities if they’re ill. Encourage them to stay home until they feel better and assure them that it’s really OK.
Providing paid sick leave will help make this decision much easier for them. Congress is also working on providing paid sick leave opportunities for people who cannot work due to the coronavirus infection.
Keep the lines of communication open
Have calls, exchange emails, connect through instant messaging, use video conferencing. Choose the method that works best for your team and keep them in the loop about what is going on. Remember that your team is likely feeling stressed about their finances and their health. Remind them of resources, send them updates, invite conversations and questions, bring them together for meetings. Communication will help keep your team calm and feeling connected to your business.
Provide options for employees
If you have to close your business for a while, furlough employees, or implement layoffs, provide your employees with information about their options. Congress is deciding on what kind of relief employees can get in different situations in which they find themselves without a paycheck. This includes expanded eligibility for unemployment. Find out what is available through your state and share that information with your employees.