- Communication: It is essential to share your current status (working as normal, delays in deliveries, closed due to government guidelines etc.) and highlight all future plans (closing on 99/99/99, re-opening on 99/99/99, stock availability, etc.) with your customers. If you have a physical premises, provide clear updates at the front (and rear) of the premises. If you have an online presence ramp up your messaging on all platforms. If you don’t have an online presence, get one. An example of good communication (regarding the virus) is how Qantas and other airlines are currently keeping their customers abreast of their latest issues and availability. If you can, explain why you are making specific decisions; context makes a big difference and helps customers buy-in to your decisions.
- Finance: It is essential to be abreast of the latest government and financial institution support offers/packages. Every government (be it federal, state or local) is responding differently to support businesses; make sure you know the latest offerings for your business regarding payroll tax, government duties etc. The same goes for banks and other financial institutions; if you have a bank loan or an overdraft find out what options you have for lower interest rates/payments, deferred repayments, improved line of credit etc. If you pay rent for your business premises try and negotiate a lower rent or “rent holiday” for the next “n” months – your landlord would rather you stay in business than go bankrupt and they lose all their income.
- Staff: Make sure your staff are kept up to date with all relevant business decisions regarding the virus. Daily updates are best. Make sure they are issued at the same time every day, so that everyone knows when to expect the news. No news creates stress and tensions and wastes time for managers having to answer the same questions multiple times. For small and medium sized businesses simple communication channels are best – setting up a WhatsApp Group for all staff is a really simple and zero cost approach. Create an FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) document and make sure it is reviewed/updated daily as this is a very fast changing issue. NOTE: Make sure you time and date stamp every update, so that it is clear when the update/decision was made.
- Management: There is a tendency in small to medium sized businesses for the owner to make all the major decisions themselves. In times like this, this is the worst possible approach. Share as many ideas as possible with your staff. The people on the frontline of the business usually know what will work and what won’t. This virus needs to be approached like a battle. Ideally you will conduct daily updates with all senior staff to make sure everyone is across the latest developments. Early morning is the best time for this so that staff know the latest developments.
- Planning: Plan to get through this and come out the other side. Create a week to week vision of what needs to be done and once things become a little less frantic move to a month to month focus. The impact of the virus is currently changing daily (sometimes even hourly), so to planning too far ahead is pointless. Focus on what you know NOW, not what you think you know or don’t know. There are so many unknowns at this time (and will be for the foreseeable future) that “what ifs” are generally futile AND and major waste of time and focus. If we had the luxury of planning for this 3 months ago we could have looked at “what ifs” and alternatives, but we’re all in the thick of it, so focus on what you know, and what you CAN control.
- Time: We are currently all in “Covid-19 Time“. This means a couple of things. Some things are moving extremely fast (the outbreak itself, toilet rolls!) while some things are moving seemingly slowly (availability of testing kits, government promised payments, etc.). Accept that you and your business have less control over time than you have ever had in your entire businesses existence. The worst may still be to come, the worst may have past, the worst may be happening right now. The worst may never happen!! You don’t have the luxury of thinking this one through, put it in the “Someone else’s stuff” basket and focus on how best to use the time YOU have.
- Be Creative: Every business is different. You may be a retailer, you may be a tradesperson, you may be a performer. No matter what you do, now is the time to focus on your strengths and what it is that makes your business what it is. Don’t focus on what you can’t do, focus on what you can do. Don’t assume that, because you can’t open your coffee shop, you can’t sell coffee. If people can’t come to you, maybe you can go to them? If you ground your own coffee, maybe selling it online is an option. If you are in a “personal beauty business” maybe you can hire a van and operate as a mobile business. You could set up perspex screens to reduce the impact of the virus. Now is a time to be creative. You never know, changes you make now could mean that your business comes out of this with more diversity and that means stronger than before.
- Provide Discounts and other Incentives: Help your customers through these difficult times. Major banks are beginning to offer assistance for customers, think about whether your business can do the same. I’m not saying that you bankrupt your own business to help some of your customers, but there can be creative options to make life easier for your customers. If they are prevented from visiting your place of business because the schools are closed and they have to look after their kids maybe you can provide a safe place for the kids while your customer is with you. Maybe you can “pay it forward” by providing free services to some of your clients or maybe revert to the old “bartering system” by offering your services in return for services from them. Maybe your business can offer its services to local charities or government departments to support vulnerable people. This has the added advantage of keeping your own staff busy.
This is the first in a series of posts designed to help small to medium sized businesses get though the current Covid-19/Coronavirus epidemic. Please feel free to comment or ask questions.
The author has worked with many major organisations on “Disaster Recovery Planning” and Strategic Management.
Dateline: Melbourne, March 22, 2020