The impact COVID-19 has had on businesses around the globe is unprecedented. Whether you own an essential activity or not, you’re likely dealing with new challenges you never expected to face. The truth is that even when stay-at-home recommendations pass, there will be trials in 2020 for companies.
According to a March report from McKinsey & Company, the US and European countries could have a long road to economic recovery. Experts predict a slow upward tick through 2023, finally hitting pre-pandemic levels at the three-year mark.
Fortunately, there are things you can do that will hasten your business’ return and lessen the financial impact. Brands have an opportunity not just to survive but eventually thrive if they come up with the right plan and stick to it.
1. Protect Your Workers
Your first responsibility right now is to be a beacon of hope for your staff. They may feel uncertain about how long their job will hold out and even have safety concerns if they deal with the general public. Put protocols in place to keep them safe. However, you should also hold daily stand-up meetings (small five-minute gatherings) to get everyone on the same page and give them all a pep talk.
2. Ramp Up Online Efforts
Brick-and-mortar stores should ramp up online marketing efforts at this time. More people are home and browsing the internet. They may be looking for a local store that stocks what they need. Think about how you can best alleviate any problems they have. For example, a woman might be looking for a place to deliver groceries to her elderly mother. Be her small town resource for those items she can’t find at the big chains. A well-placed banner ad or Facebook post targets just the right audience.
3. Provide Clear Directions
People know the suggestions of staying six feet apart, washing your hands, etc. However, not everyone does a stellar job of observing the rules, and it makes your customers nervous. One thing you can do to help guide your patrons is placing signage that explains the process of checking out. Create signs on the floor with footprints that show where to stand to stay six feet apart.
Offer signage with clear directions to remove any uncertainty. You might also hang up a sign for temporary store hours, reminding people to wash their hands, or with encouraging phrases.
4. Deal with Empty Shelves
Your usual methods of handling store inventory may not work right now. For whatever reason, people hoard toilet paper, and consumers are weary of seeing empty shelves where the paper products once lived in abundance. It’s like coming across a rare endangered species to find a roll or two of Charmin.
Essential stores such as groceries may have a hard time keeping products on the shelves during the increased demand. About 43% of stores don’t keep a close watch on inventory, which can make inventory management a nightmare. Start with your point of sale (POS) system and order according to current demand. Come up with new ways to present the product that saves your workers time, such as placing opened boxes on a palette at the front of the store.
5. Write Out a Financial Plan
Create a financial plan for the next year or two. Start with three months out and then expand. You can always revise your strategy if things go better than expected. Take a careful look at cash flow and any issues you might encounter.
If you run an essential business, you may be in a boom period at the moment. How much do you want to set aside in case things slow down in the summer months when people can grow their food?
If you run a non-essential business, then you may need to find creative new ways to reach customers. Can you take part of your business model digital? How will you pay for rent, utilities and salaries if your revenue continues to take a hit? Is a business loan a smart move for you to get through this time. If you don’t already have a financial advisor, now is an excellent time to consult one.
6. Find the Opportunity
While it’s heartless to try to profit on hard times, you can use the COVID-19 outbreak as a chance to reevaluate the way you do business and tap into current needs. For example, in southern Indiana, a small winery called Huber’s has a distillery they’ve transformed into a hand sanitizer factory. They’re making up huge batches for their local customers. Liquor stores around the country now carry toilet paper and other necessary items. Figure out what your customers need and make their lives easier by selling it.
7. Freeze Hiring; Ramp Up Training
Unless you do run an essential business and are overwhelmed with foot traffic, now isn’t the best time to hire new workers. Instead, freeze new hiring and pour into the employees currently on your payroll. Pay for courses that teach them new skills well-suited for the current environment. If you plan to increase digital marketing, select the most likely person, and dedicate their efforts to learning the ins and outs of branding online.
8. Host Virtual Events
Perhaps you had a grand opening planned, or you typically host a family fair in the spring. Since large gatherings are discouraged at the moment, you’ll need to think outside the box. Instead of planning that same summer wine tasting event or cooking classes, you may want to shift your focus more toward virtual happenings.
Go live on Facebook, host a chat with just a few people at a time and give them one-on-one attention, or offer a free webinar. There are still ways to reach your local community without putting anyone in danger. You’ll just need to think outside the box.
9. Honor Social Distancing
Churches and social clubs are changing their plans and coming up with some truly creative ways of connecting with their people without putting anyone at risk. Businesses can learn a lot by studying what they do. For example, one church changed their annual easter egg hunt a bit. Instead of gathering dozens of kids in a field to grab filled plastic Easter eggs, they placed giant eggs around town and created a scavenger hunt.
10. Seek Grants
In addition to small business loans and government grants, many organizations around the country offer grants for business owners. Also, you may be able to point your employees to help offered by different non-profits to get them through a temporary layoff.
11. Cut Business Costs
Some businesses may falter a bit from the closures and the resulting impact on the economy. Now is a good time to look at all your business expenditures and figure out where you can cut corners. Start with fixed expenses, such as rent, insurance and subscriptions. It doesn’t hurt to ask your landlord for a reduction in rent or to shop around for new coverage. Cancel any subscriptions you can. If you get water delivered, pick it up yourself.
Next, look at variable costs, such as payroll, electricity, etc. Pay attention to areas of waste. If you keep the lights on in the store overnight, how much will shutting them off save you, and is it worth the security risk? Perhaps you can leave one main light on instead. Find creative ways to cut corners.
The number one thing you can do to help your business survive COVID-19 is keeping a positive outlook. Your employees look to you to guide them and set the tone. Your customers may feel uncertain, and your happy greeting is the one bright spot in their day. Don’t wallow in the worry of what might happen when the pandemic passes. Instead, focus on the elements you can control and work as hard at building your brand as you always have. This time shall eventually pass, and people will get back to business as usual. You’ll be one of the companies that weathered the storm.
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