If anyone had asked three months ago if business leaders’ knowledge of epidemiology would play a critical role in their understanding of the American economy…well, there would have been both confused faces and nervous laughter. But, here we are.
Businesses of all sizes, from StartUps to SMBs to Enterprise are all feeling the economic ripples of the current global pandemic. The US has fast become the top country for new cases and cities across America are simply shutting down in order to help “flatten the curve.”
This does not bode well for businesses and the economy. With politicians fighting over relief funds and consumers unable to move about freely in their regular routines, we’re encountering revenue loss scenarios that none of us had even dreamed of before.
But there’s hope and there’s help.
How to Keep Your Business Afloat During Coronavirus Shutdowns
Analyze your expenses.
If you haven’t already done so, there’s no better time than the present. From the tools you use to the bills you pay, it’s time to take out the proverbial magnifying glass and see what your expenses truly are.
Take a look at your near-term cash management challenges and make a plan to plug as many holes as you can. This may mean pushing back payments to vendors and lenders. If you haven’t already met (virtually) with them, again, now is the time. Some businesses and individuals have reported that their lenders and vendors have COVID-19 plans in place to help defer payments or reduce payments while the economy is struggling.
Now is not the time to equivocate about getting help. In the long term, it may be the difference between keeping your business or having to shut it all down.
Economists and business leaders are also urging small businesses to keep as much cash in hand as possible. By checking in with your lenders and vendors, analyzing your expenses, and making your cash-management decisions wisely, you may be able to stave off layoffs or closures.
If you’re not sure how to assess your expenses, here is a link to Entrepreneurs’ easy guide on how to do so. There are also tools like QuickBooks, Certify, PlanGuru and many others that you can use to track, organize, and analyze your expenses and plan your budget.
If you need more tool recommendations, check out this article by AllBusiness with a list of tools for things you may have already needed anyway and especially need now.
Protect your employees, even the ones you’ve had to let go.
Everyone is scared right now. Whether they’re the stoic kind of scared that panics in private or they’re the overt kind of scared that shows every emotion on their face during a video chat, it’s imperative that leadership is taking the time to keep their employees safe and informed.
For employees still with your business, come up with a plan to touch base with them. Check out the blog I just recently wrote about how to manage a team remotely if you’re struggling a bit with how to keep everyone together.
Make sure your employees are clear on the plan for what’s happening now, even if it’s constantly evolving, make sure they understand and can access their benefits. Check in to be sure they have what they need to do their jobs. While you can’t be with them in person, creating digital connections can be comforting in their own ways during this time of isolation.
If you’ve found yourself in the situation a lot of other businesses have and you’re letting people go, make sure they, too, understand what to do next and where they can get help. In the past week or so, I’ve urged several people to apply for unemployment benefits, not because they didn’t know they existed but because they’d never had to do it before and felt very overwhelmed by everything that was happening. Don’t assume that everyone knows what to do. It’s better to over-communicate.
Plan for the future.
With everyone weighing in on what the “next normal” will be, a prevailing theme has become clear: social distancing isn’t going away any time soon and it may need to continue on and off for periods of time to ensure that the virus is actually being eradicated once the vaccine is widely available and in-use in our communities.
This means that while the shutdowns and shelter-in-place orders aren’t forever, even as the virus begins to make its descent into nothingness again, the world will be different. Planning to go back to business-as-usual is not going to work, nor is it going to be profitable for you in the long-run.
What does this mean? McKinsey & Company distills beautifully in their article COVID-19: Implication for Business. It’s not an enthralling read but it is important. A particularly helpful part is an easy-to-remember action plan that covers 5 “horizons:”
Understand that this is real, it’s happening, and it’s not going to be over in a week. Asses, reassess, and make new plans.
Make sure you have a plan in place, try to retain as much liquidity as possible, and plan for now and later by paying close attention to the shifts in the economy so you can use real data and numbers to help you figure out your next steps.
As I mentioned above, this is not forever but the “next normal” that comes after this will not mean business as usual. Everything has changed and what comes next will require updates to plans and strategies.
You may not have to totally restructure your business or reinvent your product or services, but you may need to think about what Post-CVOID-19 looks like for your customers/clients, your business, and your employees. People will be struggling with debt, healthcare, childcare, education, and a myriad of things that will impact their ability to use or buy your service or even return to the office with the same schedules or available resources.
Get ready to come out of that COVID-chrysalis ready to tackle what’s next. It may require only a few tweaks here and there or it may require a heavy-lift but right now, you have some downtime to figure it out. Use it wisely.
VINE founder and host of the MVP Business podcast, Steph Silver, adds “ Look at the current situation and determine how you can best serve your customers at this time– it may not be the best money-maker but it’s what is necessary. Keep your customers happy, loyal, and engaged and keep your employees working.”
Engage with your local government
Be sure to check in with your local government to stay up to date on restrictions, regulations, and possible assistance you may be able to receive. The Federal government has its plans but so do the cities in which you reside. Don’t overlook your locally-available resources.
Also, don’t forget about your local Chambers of Commerce (and the US Chamber: https://www.uschamber.com/co/small-business-coronavirus) as many are hosting virtual town halls and sharing valuable information for business owners that could be crucial during this time of need.
Research assistance programs
While you may be waiting for your CARES compensation to come, there are other relief efforts for businesses available. The Small Business Administration, or SBA, has disaster assistance for small businesses as well as a very helpful COVID-19 page with guidance on how to get help as well as resources for loans.
The links are here:
Practice patience, kindness, and healthy habits.
It seems hoaky to promote patience, kindness, and healthy habits when you’re trying to find every single penny and scrap but your health, as well as the health of your employees and your community should still be a priority.
Everyone is scared. Everyone is struggling in their own way. It’s up to you, as a leader, to help how you can. You not only need to help those around you, but you need to help yourself, as well.
I recently heard an amazing quote: It is your obligation to use your power to help as many people as possible.
Your power might be communication, or stress-relief, or writing, or making the best jokes at the right time…use what you have to help others. Not just because you will be remembered for what you do in a crisis, but because we’re all in the same boat, and we all need each other now and in the next normal.
Remember that this is not forever.