These key components should fuel small business restart programs across the United States as the economy tries to rebound from COVID-19 related closures and slowdowns.
- Lean ops
- Cash flow
- Common spaces
- Customer contact
- Marketing evolution
- Well-being and peace of mind
Small business restart programs must address COVID-19
It’s not just the elephant in the room, it’s the iceberg that sank the economy. In early 2020, COVID-19 disrupted what was inarguably one of the fastest growing economies in nearly all sectors, and for nearly all segments. The U.S. went from all time low unemployment overall and for women and minorities to record high unemployment when many states imposed COVID-19 lockdown and business shut down emergency orders.
Are you ready to restart a small business in the wake of COVID-19?
As elected officials and business owners seek ways to reopen and reignite the economy so that the temporary economic stall doesn’t become lead to long-term negative economic effects, small business restart programs are popping up across the country. If you are a small business owner who is ready to restart or expand operations, here are ten things to consider.
10 Musts for Small Business Restart Programs
1. Lean operations
The pre-pandemic economy was robust and many businesses enjoyed being able to spend more on discretionary items, hire more employees, pursue growth opportunities and expand employee perks, benefits and “extras.” The post-pandemic reality is that many small businesses shut down completely or experienced a significant slowdown. As you restart your small business it would be beneficial to “think lean” when it comes to operations.
Planview.com lists seven principles of lean operations:
- Eliminate waste
- Build quality in
- Create knowledge
- Defer commitment
- Deliver fast
- Respect people
- Optimize the whole
It is worth noting that lean operations is not just about cutting costs or eliminating waste, but it is also about adding value for customers, employees and other stakeholders. Small business restart programs must focus on efficiency throughout operations.
2. Cleaning and disinfecting the workplace
One of the more challenging aspects of restarting a business after COVID-19 is that the dangers of the virus are often invisible. You cannot spot virus particles on a surface and many people who have the virus are 100 percent asymptomatic or experience only light symptoms, which might mimic allergies or the common cold.
Americans do not want to infect one another or unintentionally bring potentially dangerous germs home to their loved ones or friends. Small business restart programs must address cleaning and disinfecting of the entire workplace, for both customers and internal stakeholders like employees and vendors.
It be advisable to do a thorough cleaning of your business before restarting and to develop a plan for how you will continually re-clean and sanitize commonly touched items (such as door handles, restrooms, break rooms, keypads, etc.) as well as a thoughtful plan for cleaning and disinfecting every area of your business on a regular, and probably more frequent, basis than before.
3. Small business financing
You may be wondering whether to use small business financing tools in general or specific to COVID-19 to restart or resume full operations. The U.S. Small Business Administration lists both regular SBA financing programs and guidelines for Coronavirus funding options including:
- PPP loans – loan forgiveness for retaining employees by temporarily expanding the traditional SBA 7(a) loan program
- EIDL loans – economic relief to small businesses and non-profit organizations that are currently experiencing a temporary loss of revenue
- SBA express loans – small businesses who currently have a business relationship with an SBA Express Lender may be able to access up to $25,000 quickly
- SBA debt relief – financial reprieve to small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic
Government programs are only one type of small business financing that might support your efforts to restart your business or return back to more normal revenues. Your bank may also be offering small business financing programs and your business banker could be a good resource for financial advice at this time.
Non-traditional small business invoice factoring could also help you speed up receivables collections, especially if some of your customers are paying more slowly due to current economic conditions. If you are a B2B (business to business) company or you sell goods and services via third party platforms (such as software developers, Amazon merchants, Zulily vendors, etc.), you may be able to get paid in 1-2 business days instead of waiting weeks or months on payments by factoring invoices.
4. Speed up cash flow
Cash flow has always been a key concern for most small businesses; speeding up organizational cash flow might be crucial to restarting and resuming normal operations. Inadequate cash flow can make your company vulnerable to several potential problems, such as:
- Inability to fund payroll
- Higher costs (inability to take advantage of early or quick-pay vendor discounts or incurring service and interest charges for late payments)
- Creating concerns among investors and creditors
- Failing to reduce long-term debt or increase equity
- No reserves for short or long-term emergencies
- No cash to fund repairs, maintenance or growth
Cash flow is our business! We help clients leverage invoice factoring as a financial tool to speed up cash flow. If your company invoices clients on terms or you sell through third party stores or platforms, you probably wait weeks or months to get paid. By factoring invoices, you can eliminate the wait and get paid within days (or hours) of when an invoice is generated or from the time you receiving an earnings statement.
You might also like: 10 Ways to Maximize Business Cash Flow
5. Safe workstations
We all watched as grocery stores and big box retailers updated cashier stations with plexiglass, added plastic, easily-cleanable coverings to keypads and instituted other protections for workers and customers. Whether your business serves customers on-site or not, your employees still expect that their workstations will be conducive to social distancing and contactless interactions. You may also want to provide employees with cleaning and disinfecting products like wipes, hand sanitizer and with masks and other essential PPE (personal protective equipment).
6. Common spaces in the workplace
Employee workstations are not the only spaces that employers must address as part of small business restart programs. Before COVID-19, many small business teams worked in open environments, took meal and rest breaks together in common kitchens and cafeterias, regularly crossed paths in hallways and corridors, met together in conference rooms and utilized communal restrooms.
Employers must take all common spaces into account when restarting as part of their efforts to keep employees safe and healthy. Some ways to mitigate risk in common spaces in the workplace might be to:
- Temporarily suspend use of common spaces for breaks or meals
- Redesign common spaces for social distancing
- Require employees to wear masks, gloves or other PPE in common spaces
- Designate traffic flows in hallways or corridors
- Contactless cafeterias and food lockers
- Provision of food options on-site (so employees do not have to leave work for meals and/or where there are only limited food service options available due to closures)
- Ensure regular and frequent disinfecting of common spaces and frequently touched areas (appliances, appliance handles, faucets, door handles, chairs and tables, restrooms, etc.)
Customer and employee communications have changed due to COVID-19 and those changes will probably linger far after viral infections subside or disappear altogether. Many employers have decided to extend work-from-home opportunities indefinitely to those workers who can effectively perform remotely. Likewise, businesses are evaluating whether customer and client communications that were previously done in person or at events can be moved online.
Virtual meeting tools like Skype, Facetime, Zoom, StartMeeting and similar platforms have all enjoyed exponential growth as a result of the change in communications. Your business may also want to consider whether now is a good time to expand or revitalize communications programs for social media, email and other online tools that can help you connect with customers and employees in the ways needed to grow your business.
8. Customer contact
For many small businesses, face-to-face customer contact is the most personal and sometimes the most effective option for helping prospects move through the buying journey, supporting new customers, generating referrals and creating an overall positive customer experience. In the current environment, however, it is not the safest form of customer contact and may not even be an option anymore. Laws in your area may even preclude customer contact, at least temporarily.
In other small businesses, such as retail and restaurant businesses, it is an absolutely necessary factor for restarting and resuming business operations. Just as with on-site employees, small business restart programs must address safety conditions for serving customers at your place of business. Modifying the shopping and payment stations, cleaning and disinfecting, and PPE for both employees and customers will all be considerations for restarting.
9. The evolution of marketing
As with other aspects of customer contact, marketing has changed dramatically, and those changes will probably continue indefinitely for the foreseeable future. Businesses plan to decrease investing in in-person marketing tactics, as well as advertising and paid marketing in favor of online events and organic search.
According to MarketingCharts.com, the percent of businesses that plan to decrease these marketing investments:
- 80% – events / experiential marketing
- 39% – out of home marketing
- 33% – TV (advertising)
- 25% – paid social advertising and marketing
- 23% – online display advertising
Conversely, the percent of businesses who say they plan to increase marketing investments are choosing:
- 67% – webinars
- 56% – organic social media
- 44% – online video
- 39% – paid social media
- 34% – SEO / search
- 34% – online display advertising
10. Well-being and peace of mind
Before COVID-19 stalled and disrupted the economy, American workers and customers largely went to work, shopped and did businesses free from fear of health concerns. With COVID-19 still dramatically affecting the business environment across the nation, and even as it subsides, the “new normal” will not be like it was before.
Small business restart programs must account not only for addressing the physical safety of employees and customers, but also the perceived well-being and peace of mind promoted by the “new normal” of how they plan to do business going forward.
Perceived well-being and peace of mind is a real concern for business owners. Many people have experienced extreme fear and anxiety as a result of the pandemic. You may want to consider whether to offer counseling services to employees as a part of their return to work program.
Employees and customers do not just want to be safe, they want to feel safe at work or while doing business with you. It will be vital for you to effectively communicate what steps you are taking to promote health and safety at your place of business to all of your internal and external stakeholders.
The bottom line for restarting a small business after COVID-19
We all want to get back to the business of doing business! From making changes to physical aspects of the customer and employee experience with your business, you can foster a safer workplace that contributes to the health and well-being of your business, as well as all of its stakeholders.