By Michael ‘Mike’ Willem
It’s frightening times, especially for small business owners. To pour one’s resources, time and passion into a business only to see it devastated within a few months is difficult. In an effort to address the economic fallout of covid-19, the government quickly provided funding. Unfortunately, there is no way of ensuring that the most vulnerable sector, small businesses, can count on all they need in terms of assistance (of all natures) to remain afloat. This must be recognized, and there one must look for other ways to mitigate the consequences, how painful these might also be. And the reason is very simple: we need all possible businesses to stay afloat, so that the unemployed have some jobs to return to over time.
Until that time, there are several things small business owners may do to weather the COVID-19 storm:
- Make certain you utilize available resources: Familiarize yourself with the government programs that have been announced, if you have not done so yet. Ask questions of your local lender, CPAs, economic developers and fellow business owners. Make certain your applications and supporting documents are precise and complete.
- Determine who needs to be paid: Have a conversation with suppliers, providers and landlords. Ask for a payment plan which is fair to you and the people to whom money is owed. Consider your personal expenses. Can you reduce them and use the savings for your business? Ask your accountant to review your balance sheets and to make recommendations for more efficiencies.
- Talk to your staff: Ask for ideas and input. We’re in this together. Brainstorming may lead to credible ideas which can be implemented into successful strategies. Encourage everyone to search for innovative and effective methods to curb losses.
- Diversify your market: Do you sell a product that may be utilized for another application? Research! Ask! Just some examples: If you have a restaurant and are known for great seasonings and sauces, why not package them and sell them on-line ? If you own a house-cleaning business, diversify to offer sanitizing and disinfecting services. Many gyms and fitness clubs are providing virtual instruction, in addition to the traditional business that may have been curtailed as a result of social distancing protocols.
- Use this time to train: Every business owner wishes he or she had more time to train employees, learn a new system or upgrade skills, especially in light of your new business model. Use this time as an opportunity to begin that training. Find links to webinars, virtual learning and online playbooks. Ask your employees if they have an interest in furthering their knowledge
- Find new ways to deliver your product or service: Most restaurants are offering curbside delivery but what about retailers? Whether you are a small gift shop, florist or larger store, develop an online app that asks: “Do you need a gift? For what occasion? What is your price range? Do you need it wrapped?” Provide a list of items which are readily available for sale, offer a method for making a purchase and provide curbside pickup. Several stores are offering a virtual tour or a FaceTime browsing option, allowing customers to view items easily. This approach may become a permanent part of a business’ operating model. Be inventive!
- Reach out to your customers: Let your customers know you value them and are anxious for them to return. Send a handwritten note. Include a coupon for a buy-one-get-one offer when you reopen, or a discount on an item or service. Send an email or post a message on your Facebook page. If you don’t have a social media page, get one! Ask your customers to give you some thoughts or ideas on how you can stay engaged and what services you might be able to provide.
This pandemic will end. Use this time to assess your business model, become more efficient, engage your employees, negotiate with your vendors, and enhance and customize some of your services. And try not to panic. We will persevere and may even find better ways in which to operate our businesses.
~ Michael “Mike” Willem is a former Minister of Labor and Social Affairs, acting Minister of Justice, former Member of Parliament and former Island Council Member. He currently works as a consultant. ~