Small Business Guide for Navigating COVID-19
The Impact of COVID-19 on Small Businesses Small businesses nationwide are already feeling the effects of the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic. With many states issuing shelter-in-place or stay-at-home orders, the closure of non-essential businesses has led to major financial interruptions. While some businesses, like restaurants, were able to modify services by providing take-out or delivery orders to meet regulations, other businesses are cutting hours, moving operations entirely online or closing altogether. Currently, there is no set time when social distancing bans will be lifted, and until we have an effective strategy for COVID-19 testing and research, we could see more waves of social distancing in the future until a vaccine is available to the public. So what does this mean for your business? How do you manage operations and keep your business afloat during a global health and financial crisis? This short guide will help you create a business management plan of action, to help you manage today, and prepare for a future of unknowns. Your First Step: Create a COVID-19 Plan The very first step for your small business during the coronavirus outbreak is to create a plan by taking inventory of your services, your expenses, and your community of customers. Here are some basic financial and social steps to take in 2020. Assess Your Financial Situation What worked well for your business prior to the COVID-19 social distancing orders may no longer be reasonable. The first thing you should do as a small business owner is to assess your current finances. Get a clear picture of your current inventory, expenses and staffing. Review money coming in and going out. Prioritize immediate needs and mitigate waste or unnecessary expenses now. Take this time to review your financial resources and emergency funds, and assess your insurance policies to see if you qualify for additional support or benefits. File Your 2019 Taxes If you haven't already filed your taxes this year, the IRS has now extended the 2019 filing deadline from April 15 to July 15. The Treasury Department is hoping this extension will offer some relief for small businesses and individuals who may owe money upon filing. The deadline also applies to quarterly taxes that would have been due on April 15. However, if you can do them now, go ahead and file your taxes sooner rather than later. You may receive a refund that could provide some relief for your small business now. Be sure to check your state's deadline requirements for filing, as not all states have followed these extended federal deadlines. Develop a Marketing Plan to Retain Customers Creating an adaptable marketing plan as part of your management strategy will be vital to how you retain existing customers and find new customers as well. Social media posts, blogging, and email newsletters are just a few ways to reinforce ongoing dialogue with your customers. How to Interact With Customers During COVID-19 When communicating digitally with your customers, it’s important to be genuine. Be honest and transparent in your posts and messaging about what services or products you can offer at this time. Make customers aware of how to make purchases. Provide realistic expectations and explain what steps you're taking to guarantee the safety and health of your employees and customers. Remember to preserve sensitivity and be careful with your messaging, as some people may be directly affected by this crisis. Sending too many emails, using fear or hard-sell tactics can come across as opportunistic and insincere. Finally, remember to remind customers why they are important to your business and how much you appreciate them. Right now, people want to support local, small businesses. Tell your story while offering your customers reassurance that you’re open and here to stay. Tune Up Your Online Presence If you don't already have a website (or if yours is outdated), now is a great time to create one that represents your small business digitally. Keep operating hours, contact information, shipping or service delays and other critical messaging up to date and accurate. Along with posting updates about your business, your strategy may include ways for customers to make purchases online or over the phone. Think outside the box to discover what services or work products you can sell online. For example, a home repair company may consider providing “how-to” videos or guides to help people DIY. If it makes sense, allow customers to purchase gift cards for future services. Event planners can provide virtual tours and meetings to plan future events. If you haven't already, consider moving all purchasing and invoice paperwork, customer reports, and other paper management systems to a digital platform you can access remotely. Mobile invoicing solutions not only streamline your business to save you time and money, but allow you to better function and operate remotely. Remember, business will pick up again once this is over. All of these strategies can help you stay at the forefront of your customers’ minds, once they are able and ready to purchase. Set Your Company's Tone Setting the tone for your brand is just as important as having a modified marketing plan - and both go hand in hand. When talking about COVID-19, it's recommended you focus on facts and continuing developments that are relevant to your company, and within your control. Keeping an appropriate and calm tone that reflects your customers' needs will help humanize your brand and deepen connections with your consumers and followers. Model your tone for other employees and stay consistent in communication with both employees and clients. Seek Out Assistance You are not alone. Many businesses are fighting to stay open. Forbes estimates that 30 million small businesses are struggling all over the U.S. Fortunately, resources are offering financial support during this temporary period. What Resources are Available for Small Businesses? From loans to relief funds to grant programs, there are many resources available to small businesses right now. While some resources assist businesses in their direct communities, such as Amazon's fund to support Seattle businesses, other similar funds are available nationwide. GoFundMe's Small Business Relief Initiative is just one example. The U.S. Small Business Administration is also offering disaster assistance and providing low-interest rate loans to small business owners who need financial support for staffing, health insurance and more. Be sure to research additional fund programs in your home state and city. U.S. Chamber of Commerce Coronavirus Response Toolkit The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has compiled a coronavirus response toolkit with information and links to emergency loan applications, sample graphics to use on your social media pages, and sample messaging for workplace best practices. The toolkit also provides information about state and local government policies, as well as a digital form that helps you create a custom flyer for your small business. How to Keep Your Business Running Day-to-Day Even if you're no longer able to offer your full range of services, there are steps you can still take to keep your small business active and operational. Your plan will need to be personalized based on your company's size, structure, the products and services you offer, and whether your business is deemed essential by your state's government. Here's our advice for running your business during a pandemic. Set New COVID-19 Company Policies Along with setting an appropriate tone, you should issue new policies and protocols specific to the coronavirus outbreak, especially for your employees. You should include the steps you're actively taking to mitigate the spread of the virus and follow all local and federal social distancing recommendations. Be clear about work from home policies, sick leave, traveling to and from work, hygiene and sanitation best practices, and any additional measures that may require adjustments. Expand Your Sick-Leave Policy Remember, this is a global pandemic which means your employees might fall ill. Support sick employees who are self-isolating at home or sick in the hospital, by expanding upon your current sick-leave policy. If an employee contracts COVID-19, they will not be able to return to work until they've fully recovered and have been cleared by medical personnel, which is a minimum of 14 days. Some workers may require even more recovery time. If Possible, Work Remotely We know not everyone will be able to take their small business completely online, but if you can do so, now is the time to work remotely. Remote work might mean employees work from home and hold meetings virtually, or it might involve reaching customers online instead of at your physical business location. If your staff is working from home, create a new routine, set clear expectations and check in on their progress and stress levels. Give employees time to adjust and find ways to connect and establish a sense of normalcy. Limit or Eliminate In-Person Meetings and Travel Any required in-person meetings should be done remotely, even if your small business isn't working from home full-time. Set up video conferences in place of any regular in-person meetings to help minimize contact and adhere to guidelines set by the CDC. Almost all industry conventions and other work-related events have been canceled or postponed at this time, but if you do need to travel, be prepared with sanitation supplies and any necessary gear to stay hygienic and safe while traveling. Be Flexible with Your Employees A key theme here is to remember why we're all here in the first place. Be flexible and understanding of the individual situations your employees are facing at this time, especially with employees who are considered high-risk or who are caring for someone at home who is high-risk. Reevaluate any policies for individuals who may require special accommodations. Make Long-Term Plans COVID-19 is an ongoing situation that's currently without a definite end date. Though we may experience times in the future where social distancing guidelines are relaxed, we'll likely see new waves of cases throughout the year. Take this time not only to create a short-term plan but also to get procedures ready for quick shelter-in-place orders at a moment's notice. What If You Can't Operate Remotely? Remote work will not be an option for every small business. For essential businesses, many companies are still providing services face to face or in-home. Take these steps to protect both employees and customers and mitigate the spread of the COVID-19. Sanitize Your Workspace Frequently Stay updated on workplace sanitation guidelines released by the CDC and know how often items need to be wiped down and cleaned. Sanitize frequent-touch items, like door handles, tablets, registers, computers, and counters throughout the day, and well as employee break rooms and offices. Promote Positive Hygiene Protocols Again, along with having a business management plan for sanitation, you should provide multiple stations for self-sanitizing. Create cleaning protocols, wear gloves and masks when necessary, limit patrons inside your building, and create floor markers to mark appropriate spacing, six feet apart. Set up visual reminders for increased hand-washing to improve the hygiene habits of your employees and customers, while also making everyone who interacts with your small business feel safer. If you're a home contractor, advertise and practice any sanitation changes you've implemented to keep customers safe while you work in their home. Proper hygiene and sanitation routines will play a critical role in your ability to keep your small business running. Check with your state and local guidelines for recommendations about providing gloves and masks for employees, and whether customers are required to wear a non-medical mask. Encourage Employees to Stay Home If Sick Because coronavirus spreads from person to person, it is crucial for employees who feel sick to stay at home and self-quarantine until they are symptom-free and able to determine that they do not have COVID-19. This is tricky because of the high volume of asymptomatic carriers with this particular virus. If you have multiple office locations, consider keeping people separate to avoid your staff from all getting infected at a central location. Make sure employees know it’s safe to stay home and don’t feel pressured to work while ill. Have a Backup Plan When Employees are Out Your COVID-19 business plan should account for time employees may be out sick. Create a list of your employees who can cover shifts beyond their typical work schedule. Establish a clear communication line to reach those staff members who would need to come in and cover for the person who is out. If the backup staff member is working a different shift for the first time, or taking on new duties, be prepared with instructions and expectations for that person to jump in and help. Start cross-training employees in different roles now in anticipation of sick time. If an employee feels okay but can't work because of a doctor-ordered self-quarantine, consider ways to allow this person to work remotely. Connect Daily and Offer Positive Reassurance As a manager, you should actively check in with your employees to get the latest updates about their circumstances, as well as physical and mental health. Your staff should feel comfortable reaching out to you. Make employees feel reassured during this stressful time. Offer support, thank employees daily, and remind them of why their work is valued and important. While this is an unprecedented time with policies and guidelines that are rapidly and constantly changing, remind yourself that this is temporary. It can feel overwhelming, but it's essential to stay positive for yourself, your employees, and your customers because your attitude and outlook will affect others who work directly with you. How InvoiceASAP Keeps Your Business Going As a small business owner, this global health crisis could be one of the toughest, most challenging obstacles your company faces during this lifetime. How you prepare now can impact your transition with employees and customers during periodic times of lockdowns, and even once this is over. Right now is the ideal time to get your technology in order and focus on the small details that have been holding your business back. From inefficient accounting and billing systems to lacking overall customer management, implementing a single solution can help streamline the critical functions of your business while saving you money. InvoiceASAP offers a multi-platform app and dashboard to help you easily manage invoicing, accounting, estimates, payments, sales, customers and more. Here’s how it works. Real-Time Business Insights Online reporting helps you know exactly how your business is doing at all times. Get daily, weekly, and monthly reports to forecast expenses and inform better business decisions. Types of Online Reports Available Invoice Reports Payment Reports Customer Reports User Reports Sales Reports Item Reports Profitability Reports Jobs/Location Reports Tax Reports Automated Accounting and Finance Records Unlike most invoicing platforms, InvoiceASAP is designed to fully integrate with QuickBooks Desktop. No need to start over or retrain employees on new accounting software. Just integrate your existing data for seamless processing and accounts management. Save time and money with a view of all paid and unpaid invoices and customer management summaries. Easy Online and In-Person Business Transactions Many of our clients work in the field and need access to clean and simple estimation and invoicing creation-software. You can easily create a professional-looking invoice, attach photos, and capture customer signatures. You get paid faster by accepting credit cards and allowing customers to pay in-person from your phone or tablet. Integrate all this data with your accounting software for clean and seamless day-to-day operations. Online Training Tools Take advantage of this time to dig deep into platform functionality and ensure employees are fully versed in best practices. Review our resource library and get help integrating your current systems with InvoiceASAP’s platform. Future-Proof Your Small Business With InvoiceASAP As you create COVID-19 company policies, business backup plans, and online marketing strategies, remember to reevaluate inefficiencies and get your invoicing and accounting technology up to speed. Save money, make employees’ lives easier, and attract customers with streamlined technology built for small businesses. Find out how InvoiceASAP can help you manage your business during stressful times. Sign up to create a free account today!