With government taking a risk-adjusted approach to managing the COVID-19 pandemic, small businesses in parts of the country can expect to see the easing of some lockdown measures over the month to come. This will come as a relief if your small business has not been able to trade at all or has only been able to offer a small selection of its usual products and services.
Yet every small business owner knows that restoring operations after a hiatus is not as simple as flicking a switch. You may need to make sure that your business is ready for new social distancing and sanitation protocols to keep staff and customers safe from the virus. Customers will want to know that you’re reopening or expanding your offerings.
And there are many other practical considerations to think about, too: inventory levels and stock availability, employees’ readiness to get back to work, access to financing, how your market and customers’ finances and expectations have changed during lockdown, and more..
Here are four practical steps for preparing for the loosening of the lockdown restrictions:
Prepare the workplace and your team
Most of the country is expected to move towards a Level 3 lockdown by the beginning of June. That means small businesses have a couple of weeks to start prepping workspaces and people for new ways of working. This is a good time to look at your physical space and make it compliant with government regulations and advice.
For example, is your premises big enough for everyone to come to the office and sit at least 2 metres apart? If so, what changes will you need to make to the physical configuration of your workstations? If not, can people work in shifts? Where are the optimal places to put hand sanitisers? Will you supply face masks for everyone or ask them to bring their own?
Of course, where employees can work from home, it’s still best to allow them to do so. It’s also important to think about ways to protect vulnerable staff, including those older than 60 and those that have made you aware that they are immunocompromised. Some employers are also looking at whether they can provide private transport so that employees can avoid taxis and other public transport.
A few other things to think about:
- Do you need to book a cleaning service to deep clean before you reopen?
- How will you enforce physical distancing for customers that enter your premises?
- What procedures will you follow if one of your employees is tested COVID-19 positive?
- Does the nature of your work setup or industry require the purchase of special protective equipment such as disposable gloves or transparent plastic barriers between employees and customers?
- Do you need to notify staff about new rules around storage and preparation of personal food?
Before you reopen or expand your offering, you may want to take stock, literally and figuratively. For example, you may want to check which items you have in stock and which you expect to be in demand once you can trade more freely. If you have slow-moving stock and a cash flow challenge, you could consider a back-to-work sale to start bringing some money into your business.
If your suppliers or business partners are open, you can check in to find out whether they expect in bottlenecks in product and service provision. Manufacturing and importing of many items stopped during the level 4 and level 5 lockdown – as we move to level 3, it might be wise to manage customer’s’ expectations since there might be shortages of or price rises on certain items.
Let your customers know
The key challenges you’ll face as you reopen your doors are bringing back customers as quickly as possible and closing sales. Start by updating your website with an alert to let people know when you hope to be back, along with updated opening hours. Also remember to do the same on your profiles on Google My Business, Facebook, Instagram and so forth.
You can also share a post with customers across your social media channels and drop an email to your database. Let them know that you’ll be trading soon as well as which products and services you hope to offer and any deals or promos you’ll be running. People might also want to know about your sanitation and social distancing measures so that they can feel safe dealing with you.
You can use your mails and social posts to let people know what has been going on behind the scenes during the lockdown. Tell them about how things might be changing and what elements of your offering remain the same. Conclude your messages with a strong call to action, or seek some feedback about what customers need from you at this time.
The reality is that many of your customers will be strapped for cash and fearful about the future. This means that you will need to be sensitive about the messages you take to market and have some innovative offers. People are also used to spending only on essential items, so it may take a carefully targeted campaign and compelling deals to get them back.
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Speak to your creditors
If you have not been able to trade for nearly two months, or are operating at limited capacity, your bank account is probably looking rather sad right now. This is a good time to get in front of any difficult discussions with your bank, suppliers, service providers, and anyone else who has given you credit. If you are proactive, you have a better chance of reaching a workable payment agreement with them.
Bear in mind that the major banks – including the big four – are supporting the Coronavirus COVID-19 Loan Guarantee Scheme. Funds borrowed through the scheme can be used for operational expenses such as salaries, rent and lease agreements, contracts with suppliers, and so forth. Your bank will have the details.
You can also go directly to the Debt Relief Financing Scheme and Growth Resilience Facility, a scheme from the Department of Small Business Development.
Surviving the novel coronavirus
Most small business owners have weathered trying times, but the COVID-19 pandemic is unlike any crisis we have seen in recent years. While the immediate focus is on reopening, small business owners will also be thinking about how they can be more resilient in future crises. This is a time to stabilise the business – but it can also be a time to reflect on its strengths and weaknesses in a changing world.
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