How to Navigate a Small Business During a Pandemic

Man using phone, tablet and laptop

Small businesses across America employ millions of Americans. These small businesses, owned by families and others in the private sector, are the backbone of small town and city economics. Without them, the entire American economy begins to suffer from the bottom up.

For everyone, this global pandemic came as a shock. Businesses had set up to have their most financially successful year yet were struck hard, having to change goals and plans quickly. COVID-19 became the center of everyone’s focus across the world almost overnight.

Multi-billion dollar companies, such as Facebook, may take a hit from difficult times like these, but the small businesses depending on each sale are going to be the ones that struggle the most. Many people wonder if it will be possible for them to stay open through this trying time.

As everyone has adapted, help has come from all angles, and applicable advice rising from some successes and closures that have already panned out.

Stay Informed

Woman on phone in office

Keeping informed helps protect customers and employees alike as everyone moves through this together. Small companies should keep up with current news reports, closures by the state, and the most recent advice from the CDC.

Knowing what the recommendations help customers know that they are respected and that their health and safety are essential. Maintaining a community-based reputation is especially important for small businesses and needs to always be at the forefront of business planning.

Being aware of the guidelines also helps to protect employees. For many businesses, this has meant transitioning into a primarily work-from-home environment.

Letting customers know what is happening with supply, closures, appointments, or anything applicable keeps them calm. In a time when nothing is very stable, people are always desperate for information. Keeping calm prevents panic and overdemand, causing a supply shock, such as in the toilet paper shortages around the country. 

Take Advantage of Assistance

Luckily, almost as quickly as the pandemic swept across the world and forced global shutdowns, governments, and successful companies in the private sector began to offer financial aid solutions.

Regard the area of financial assistance as another area to be informed. Stay up to date with local grant programs offered for small businesses. Business owners need to take the time to figure out which federal aid programs they are eligible for to get them through the worst crises. 

Many of the loans offered by the federal or local governments are set at a low-interest rate to make it easier for businesses to stay afloat and continue supporting the local economy.

The Small Business Administration is another essential avenue to look into if a small business needs a loan. Contact them to figure out what the options are depending on the industry under which the company falls.

Business owners shouldn’t just rely on their knowledge. This epidemic is unprecedented; little experience can be drawn on to offset the economic shocks that have come with the pandemic. 

Fortunately, the United States Chamber of Commerce created a tool kit that lays out guidelines, resources, and easily accessible information for business owners to adapt to rapidly changing economic circumstances quickly.

These tools have been put together to help owners navigate the uncertain waters of the time. They include customizable communications tools to help appropriate customer communications.

Adjust Business Operations

Adjusting business operations to match the changes during the pandemic is perhaps one of the most important parts of handling this pandemic better.

Small businesses are directly impacted by even small changes in the economy and local demand. Without making appropriate adjustments, such as planning for decreased productivity and lower revenue than previously predicted, there will be too much strain for finances to absorb.

Reduce Productivity

Covid-19 closed sign on shop door

Businesses in all industries worldwide have had to lay off employees or place them on furlough to help cut costs. Some companies have managed to keep their workforce intact, perhaps only cutting back some hours.

It is crucial to note that levels of productivity are not going to be the same. In some areas, they might be significantly increased, depending on people’s panic reactions, causing a temporary jump in demand. For most others, it means a slash in community demand.

Small business owners, especially in heavily impacted areas, should also account for missed time from employees caused by illness or because they need to care for other ill family members.

It makes it easier to deal with these unscheduled situations to have a plan in place for expected occurrences. It is better to have a plan and not put it to use than be caught off guard when the situation occurs.

Plan for lower productivity and inform customers immediately about any expected delays, perhaps having others on call for added help if available. The strategy may also include planned efforts to enable the business to catch up quickly once fully staffed.

Working From Home

COVID-19 has caused a work-from-home experiment larger than ever before. For some businesses with direct in-store customer services, working from home does not necessarily translate well. Another solution to the problem is to spread out, using a workspace that allows for larger offices and conference rooms.

However, for many, even part of their business model can move online, allowing part or all of the workforce to stay at home and stay safe.

Proper Training

Man in office on computer

Some businesses already have the infrastructure for online communications and work environments built into their company. However, this is often not the case for many small businesses.

When it comes to facing the transition to working online, employers shouldn’t assume anything for their employees as the entire work situation shifts. Many of them are likely unfamiliar with the programs they need to use, and working from home presents completely new problems with focus, parenting situations, and communications.

To make the transition into an online business model more seamless, provide proper training for every new program and task brought in. Thorough training makes any other difficulties encountered in personal lives more bearable, allowing employees to fulfill expectations.

Anonymous Feedback

Many company owners have found success in utilizing anonymous feedback forms with so much transition and unexpected difficulties. Some people feel unintelligent if they still don’t understand a new program, some have suggestions for how to streamline production, and others want to leave supportive feedback.

Not all suggestions and comments need to be put to use. However, anonymous forms allow employers to be aware of situations that they need to pay more attention to or where further clarification is required.

Create Weekly and Daily Deliverables

Schedule on laptop

Trust is essential when moving a team online. The accountability and focused area present in a confined office space are no longer there when the team spreads out into each home.

Even if there is a lot of trust between team members and managers, it still helps business productivity to keep accountability present in a work-from-home situation. Use calendar and business-planning programs to create schedules for deliverables during the week. 

Make these accessible to the entire team to keep track of everyone’s progress as they tick items off of daily and weekly lists, or keep it viewable only between the manager and each employee. Either way, everybody benefits from a schedule, especially if production and tasks change from what is typical.

Team Talks

Keeping the team functioning as one helps maintain cohesion and communication between all of the working members. Anonymous forms help managers and employers understand how team members are making changes. Still, team talks are important to ensuring everyone is on the same page and functioning well.

Some businesses benefit from having short briefs at the end of every working day, while some may only need to “meet” every other week. All of this can be done online through the help of programs like Zoom. Schedule these in and inform employees of what they should have ready to report on or what will be covered. 

Businesses can also utilize co-working spaces better suited to meet health needs than the primary office or store space. 

Fill Unmet Needs

Adjusting a business plan doesn’t only entail changing to an online, work-from-home routine, but may also include changing directions in the entire business plan. Finding new ways to meet the community’s needs can also be a way to jumpstart business again, whether temporary or permanent.

Keep an eye and ear out for unique needs created by the new stay-at-home culture being shaped by the pandemic in 2020. Depending on the original business format, production, and services, a small business might be able to create new directives for their team.

This method helps businesses maintain financial stability, but they also help keep the community close in a world where six feet away is the new normal. 

Move Online

It hasn’t only been necessary to move employees into an online workspace, but may also be beneficial to move as many services online as well.

If a business has not prioritized creating an online store or resources that enable customers to access their services through the internet, this scenario creates the opportunity to do so. 

Fortunately, this remains a useful new aspect that enables small businesses to reach an expanded customer base. Online shopping was swiftly becoming one of the most common ways for customers to purchase items. Now, it is more vital than ever to supply this option.

Create a Reopening Plan

Hand writing a list

Trying to reopen as soon as possible without a plan in place makes everyone involved in a rocky transition. Guarantee more success for the overall company by creating an outline before reopening and allowing flexibility for future waves or potential shutdowns.

Start by creating a list of everything that needs to happen before a single customer comes in after lockdowns lift. Assign these as team directives for a set reopening date to be an achievement.

Create a cleaning guideline to keep everyone safe and alert customers about it, so they feel comfortable coming into the office, store, or otherwise. If applicable, rearrange the workplace to maintain proper social distancing.

Coming up with phases also helps to ease into a transition after so many abrupt changes had to be made. Offer curbside pickup or institute a delivery program to get customers the supplies they want before opening the doors back up again.

Take the Opportunity to Focus

Although this pandemic has rocked global economies to the core, there are still positive aspects that shouldn’t be taken for granted. One of these is that suddenly part of a workforce might find themselves with extra time on their hands. If the business can maintain their hours, or even part of them,  refocus their directives.

Take advantage of the newfound time to focus on areas of a business that may have been lacking before or when there simply wasn’t enough time to do them.

For many small businesses, this means working on their digital presence. If they don’t have a website, they should get one up and running in the modern technology age. If they already had a website, then updating it to look more professional or with the most recent changes in services.

A website isn’t the only part of the digital aspect of a business. Build a team more focused on digital marketing. Where potential customers might have seen signs and billboards previously, less community traffic means less exposure. 

With the massive jump in internet usage recently, take advantage of the opportunity to get the business’ name out there digitally and in front of a customer base once more.

Everything about this global pandemic is unprecedented, and there are no guidelines or societal rules in place from any previously occurring incident. No one knows precisely how long the pandemic’s direct effects will continue or how long the ripples will extend across global economies.

Although small businesses have a rocky road ahead of them to adjust with societal changes, there are many options developing for alternate routes to take as a business owner. Taking advantage of current resources and staying updated with each new development allows a small business to find success, and coming out the other end stronger than before COVID-19 became infamous internationally.

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