Image credit: Wall Street Journal

Business Survival Guide in Pandemic: Top 12 Winning Practices

The coronavirus has been wreaking havoc worldwide, and businesses of all sizes should start off preparing for the impact. Should your business be yet to have an emergency plan in place, it’s high time that you made that a priority on your to-do list.
By Kaley Nguyen | EnvZone Staff
on March 29, 2020 | 12 min read
Image credit: Wall Street Journal

There is no doubt that coronavirus is shaking up the customers’ behavior and business landscape on a massive scale. Both the public and private sectors are scrambling to slow the spread of the illness and contain COVID-19 infections. Also, a myriad of small businesses across the country is waking up to fear and uncertainty due to the far-reaching impacts of such a global pandemic.

Should your business be yet to have an emergency plan in place, it's high time that you made that a priority on your to-do list. Let's go through some small business best practices to restructure your business operation strategies and adapt to uncertainty.

Business Survival Guide in Pandemic: Top Winning SMB practices

External Operation: Staying Connected with Your Customers

Over the past several weeks, consumers have grown increasingly panicked about the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. Store shelves are depleted of necessary goods like toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Several schools are closing, numerous offices are urging employees to work from home and not a small number of SMBs that rely on foot traffic are seeing their in-store sales take a hit.

Business Survival Guide In Pandemic Top 12 Winning Practices - Fig 1
Image credit: Forbes

Should your business have also experienced a drop in patrons, you're not alone. Based on NFIB Research Center, nearly one-quarter of small business owners shared that the coronavirus pandemic is negatively impacting them in the form of slower sales (up to 42%), supply chain disruptions (up to 39%) and sick employees (around 4%).

Nonetheless, whilst your target customers may be on self-quarantine or avoiding public places, that does never mean that communicating with your audience gets disrupted or you can't stay connected and continue offering outstanding products or provide excellent service. Within such an ever-evolving digital landscape, there are a plethora of ways – even for brick-and-mortar businesses - keep your audience engaged and in the loop.

Below are some wise strategies that are worth your attention:

#1. Acknowledge Customers That You're Making Efforts to Prevent the Spread of Coronavirus

It’s a great idea to send an email to your regular customers or post signage in your store to assure them that you're “leaving no stone unturned” to protect their health when they visit your store. You can share any increased cleaning, disinfecting and hygiene protocols you are following, and let them know that you are enforcing self-quarantine among any employees who might be experiencing symptoms.

If you are altering your working hours or temporarily closing your store for a deep-clean, you should let your customers know that, too.

#2. Shift Your Sales Strategy to Online

Undoubtedly, Chinese businesses, forced to confront the reality of coronavirus shutdowns before most American companies, provide a blueprint for weathering this storm. As storefronts shuttered their doors and workers stayed in place, savvy business owners shifted their sales strategy to avoid heavy losses.

To take an example, in Wuhan, the cosmetics company Lin Qingxuan closed almost 40% of its stores but the brand’s 100+ beauty advisors took to digital platforms like WeChat to engage customers virtually and increase online sales. And according to Harvard Business Review, “its sales in Wuhan achieved 200% growth compared to the prior year’s sales.”

As you’re planning on closing your brick-and-mortar store, you’d better off finding ways to keep your employees earning a paycheck by selling on social media, putting your email list to good use or using a video tool to reach new leads.

Maybe you have already offered phone and email support to your customers, but now is the time to increase your customer service capabilities and ensure your patrons can reach you — no matter where they are or whether they're on self-quarantine or not. Digital channel such as social media is truly a great place to start, as you can offer the option to chat via Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and other instant messaging platforms. Furthermore, you can also offer video conferencing options through Skype or FaceTime so that your customers can get that "face-to-face" feel without actually being there in-person.

#3. Focus on Your Social Media Presence

Of course, the majority of your customers are already on social media, but these days, they are likely to play around and check in much more frequently - to get the latest updates on the virus or simply kill their boring time. Whether you're posting about the virus specifically or trying to offer light and positive content to help take people's minds off the panic, it will probably be helpful to increase your posting frequency to ensure you are showing up in their news feeds.

#4. Offer Appealing Deals Online

If your business already establishes an e-commerce component, remind customers that they can still comfortably shop for their favorite items on your website and other linked social sites. Giving out a coupon or discount will do wonders to encourage online shopping while your customers are staying home.

Should you run a service-based business such as a restaurant or a beauty salon, you may wish to consider offering online sales of gift certificates. Let’s stimulate your customers to buy a certificate now so they can treat themselves and redeem it when the virus outbreak has slowed or their self-quarantine period is over. No matter how simple this idea may seem to be, that can help to maintain sales for your business while giving your customers something fun and exciting to look forward to.

#5. Stock Up on Sanitizing Products for Customers’ Use

For those customers who do set foot in your store, it's more than essential to enforce good hygiene practices and encourage everyone who passes through your doors (both customers and employees alike) to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommendations (CDC) – facemask wearing, hand washing, close contact avoiding, coughs and sneezes covering, to name a few -  for preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Besides, be 200% sure that people know where to wash their hands! If your store has a restroom built out for customer use, then just put up extra signs pointing them in the right direction to wash their hands, and post the CDC's guidance in the restroom. If not, you may wish to place hand sanitizers near the front of the store for customer and employee use.

#6. Communicate Transparently with Your Customers

Always bear in mind that every single one is facing this challenge together, so let’s be transparent about what your business is really going through. Customers can empathize with brands facing a crisis, as long as you communicate with them properly.

Based on Harvard Business Review’s report on “Make Customers Happier with Operational Transparency”, “when customers are separated from the work that’s being done behind the scenes to serve them, they appreciate the service less and then they value the service less.” Thus, it’s advisable to accurately and briefly describe the steps you’re taking to mitigate risk as well as give them clear-cut insight into the measures you’re adopting to help the community.

Internal Operation: Staying Safe & Prioritizing Critical Operations

#7. Establish A Remote Work Option

As a business owner, you should start off making preparations for implementing strict sanitation practices while ensuring that critical business operations are still being met. And implementing teleworking policies will be an awesome option!

With a large number of employees already working from home, there exists a wide range of free management tools and platforms business owners can employ so that teams can stay in touch and keep working even if they aren't in the same place. To make it effective, it's a "must" to draw up and properly carry out a remote work policy that covers essential things for collaboration such as:

  • When you expect your team(s) to be online or available?
  • How to communicate - via email, Microsoft Teams, Slack, or video call?
  • Which specific deliverables each team member is responsible for completing?
Business Survival Guide In Pandemic Top 12 Winning Practices - Fig 2
Image credit: Business Insider

#8. Apply Proper Cleaning Procedures & Safety Tips in The Workplace

Should remotely working be just not a viable option for your business, then be 200% sure that you implement appropriate cleaning procedures at your business location. Regularly clean all frequently touched surfaces, which include doorknobs, table surfaces, and handrails. Have disposable wipes on hand and provide employees with tissues and no-touch trash cans for easy disposal. Also, ascertain that you provide hand sanitizer as well as soap and water in multiple locations.

Furthermore, it’s a “must” to educate yourself and your employees to be “obsessive” about hygiene and cleanliness. Let’s stop the spread of the virus by following these health and safety tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • No handshakes: Use a non-contact method for greetings.
  • Wash your hands: Employees should wash their hands when they arrive and every time they enter the premises, as well as frequently throughout the day.
  • Try not to touch your face, and remind employees to do the same
  • Constantly and regularly disinfect surfaces, including doorknobs, handrails, the POS system, tables, and desks.

What’s more, it’s a “should” to try staggering shifts at your workplace, which will help minimize contact among your employees. Proper sanitation practices and hygiene procedures will help keep you and your employees safer, which ultimately saves your business.

#9. Reduce Offline Meetings & Traveling

With concerns for corona outbreak, several states are now recommending social distancing, trying to keep opportunities for exposure to the virus to a minimum! Thus, it’s a good idea to cancel all work-related events and meetings. All overseas conferences or other planned travel should be skipped as well. Should these scheduled business gatherings be too essential to be called off, then just try to postpone them to a later date or take up the option of holding them virtually.

Before rushing to any decision, always bear in mind that if your workers, unfortunately, get sick because of travel or meetings, you could have a liability issue on your hands, or you will have to manage the issues of low morale and sick leave requests.

#10. Improve Your Business’s Cash Position

Another factor that does have a substantial impact upon any business’s survival is having enough cash - or access to cash - to keep the business afloat as well as go through this challenging time. With this in mind, let’s cast a glimpse over these key steps to stay on top of your financial health:

  • Working Capital Reviews

It’s imperative to establish which the estimated amount of cash your business needs to continue day to day activities.  Also, take into account of all possible changes to your usual spending patterns, as a result of both the adaptations you have to make in terms routine operations (working from home support, health and safety measures, sickness pay) and also in many cases to reduce or delay certain spending.

  • Cash Flow Forecasting

Let’s think of cash flow forecasting as an ‘’early warning system’’ since it will empower you to identify potential shortfalls in cash balances in advance, therefore giving you time to formulate the upcoming plan. And just as already mentioned, financial forecasts may also change accordingly with your corporate spending adaptations. To make it effective, you'd better off hiring a dedicated staff or an external team on hand to support your teams in preparing or sense checking your cashflow forecasts, as well as adapting these as things progress.

  • Cash Injections

Should you run out of operating cash base, then it's high time that you obtained funds by utilizing the support packages offered by the government or raising external borrowings. For instance, the Small Business Administration (SBA) announced it would offer disaster assistance loans for up to $2 million for small businesses affected by the coronavirus. Such low-interest loans are available to businesses that have sustained “substantial economic injury” due to the spread of the coronavirus. These loans can be used to pay off outstanding debts, payroll and any other bills they are unable to pay. Nevertheless, small businesses that already have access to credit are not eligible. Small businesses with no available credit qualify for an interest rate of 3.75%, and nonprofits will have an interest rate of 2.75%.

Besides, the New York City Department of Small Business Services states it will offer financial assistance to small businesses in the form of loans and grants. The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce also plans to petition the government to waive fees for businesses with low margins. Plus, Washington state, the site of the earliest outbreaks, will offer no-interest loans for businesses that encounter cash flow problems.

As regards non-governmental financial institutions, several banks and credit card companies also offer assistance for businesses of all scale. Capital One, Citi and Wells Fargo have all issued statements indicating that they are willing to work with customers that experience financial difficulties. Citi issued a statement that for 30 days, small business customers are eligible to have their monthly service fees waived. In addition to donating around $6.25 million in aid to help the public relief effort, Wells Fargo also encouraged customers that are experiencing financial hardship to contact customer service for assistance.

#11. Consider Business Interruption Insurance

As you suffer significant business losses as a result of shutting down from the pandemic, business interruption insurance may turn out to be a wise option for you. It’s time to ask your insurance broker about business interruption insurance to cover unexpected major events and see what qualifies for coverage. Whereas it may not cover this emergency, you’ll end up being better prepared for the next time your business suffers similar economic losses.

#12. Stay Fully Informed About What’s Going on In Your Area

At the moment, the full impacts of the coronavirus in the U.S. in terms of economic health are still unknown. Whilst the virus has now infected citizens in almost all 50 states with new cases emerging every day, its severity depends on where you’re specifically located.

Keeping this in mind, you should stay in frequent contact with state and local officials who will be issuing updated guidance for your community. In this way, you'll rest assured that you’re informed about any new policy recommendations affecting your area.

Additionally, if you learn new information and then make any adjustments accordingly, let’s bring them to your employees’ notice. Adequately communicating with your employees on a regular basis will ensure that everyone in your business is on the same page, which helps to stop the spread of fear and misinformation. Also, being open and direct to work-based communicating will allow your employees to identify gaps (in any) in your plan and make critical improvements.

The Bottom Lines

Whereas the full economic consequences of this “black swan” event are still unclear, the tremendous effects that COVID-related virus - COVID-19 and “potentially severe” COVID-10 - as well as the drastic measures being taken to contain it have already precipitated marked changes across industries. No matter which industry or niche you're in, it's high time that you restructured your business operation strategies and employed some adaptive practices to manage the uncertainties.

Preparing your business for economic uncertainty due to the corona epidemic is already overwhelmed with several restructuring activities but keeping your image visible online is more than crucial to ignite the profitability of your business. Should you need any help with a dedicated team to get your business exposed to the digital world, don’t hesitate to get an online presence manager.

This article is also credited to the US Chamber.

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