The lasting effects of COVID-19 remain unknown. All across the country, U.S. men and women are eager to return to normal, but there is little consensus about how long that will take and what our new normal may look like. That is especially true for businesses.
The results from the U.S. Census Bureau Small Business Pulse Survey released in early May reveal that 51.4% of business owners report “a large negative effect from COVID-19” and fear “that it will take more than six months for their businesses to return to normal.”
While sales and profits decreased pretty much across the board, many states are beginning to give at least some businesses the green light to reopen, slowly and with restrictions in place.
Follow these essential business tips as the U.S. navigates reopening.
1. Explore Financial Resources
For businesses that are currently struggling, there are several financial resources available to help temporarily (or not-so-temporarily) make ends meet.
On a federal level, business owners can take advantage of the Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. The Paycheck Protection Program is a loan offered by the Small Business Administration (SBA) with the intention to help businesses keep as many employees as possible on the payroll. Plus, “SBA will forgive loans if all employees are kept on the payroll for eight weeks and the money is used for payroll, rent, mortgage interest, or utilities,” according to its official website.
The Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) grants eligible businesses an advance of up to $10,000. Businesses can use these funds for any business-related expenses, including payroll, maintenance, or product and equipment sales. For now, the SBA has received an influx of applications. New applications are open only for agricultural businesses. However, keep an eye on the SBA website. Eligibility requirements may open up again as time passes.
Check local government websites or community websites for local resources.
2. Start Outside And Work Your Way In
Partial reopenings allow for takeout and delivery, and, depending on your local area, outdoor seating and indoor seating with limited capacity. Many retailers can now welcome customers inside brick-and-mortar locations to shop, also at limited capacity. Even in areas where the strictest lockdown measures remain in place, customers out for a drive or a walk still see the exterior of brick-and-mortar locations.
Make the best possible impression and put the best possible foot forward for your business by starting with its exterior. Do not leave potholes, cracks, and fissures in parking lots untended. Team up with a local parking lot paving service to smooth imperfections. Not only does this keep up appearances, but it also keeps parking lots safe for customers and/or those incidentally walking by. Sweep and clean parking lots, and make sure to have professionals apply a protective sealant to prevent wear and weather-related damages every few years.
Other smart business tips amid COVID-19 and gradual reopening include carefully maintaining outdoor signs and entryways. Wipe down signs, construct shade over outdoor signs if at all possible, and replace any worn or missing lettering and burnt out bulbs. Clean commercial doors, refresh them with a new layer of paint and hire a commercial door service to help with any routine maintenance. Commercial door services can help make certain doors are working properly — not sticking or drafty (and consequently driving up your heating and cooling bills!). If rust or corrosion presents a problem, professional services can help clear it away and apply coatings to prevent it from building up next time.
3. Be Transparent With Your Customers
In the midst of reopening and the eventual aftermath of COVID-19, it is important to be as transparent as possible with your customers. In times like these, it is nearly impossible to over-communicate.
Just like you would be completely transparent about renovations and ask for your customers’ understanding and patience, it is important to share your business’ process and the concerns you rightfully share with the community. Remember, any construction or additions to architectural metalwork would come along with a “please pardon our dust” sign. Put up signs displaying any new regulations enforced by local governments or any precautions you are personally taking as a business to keep employees and customers safe. If you are asking customers to stay six feet apart or to wear masks, put up signs clearly communicating that. Don’t stop there. Make posts on social media. Send out updates via email newsletters.
No matter what products or services you sell, outline how you plan to safely package or present them and get them to customers without increasing COVID-19 risks.
4. Prioritize The Essentials
Yes, finances and transparency come first. Immediately after, business owners may want to prioritize essential repairs and maintenance. This falls among the top business tips because, when they go unused for weeks or months, it is surprising how quickly appliances, systems, and rooms fall into disrepair.
Even if your business operations are remote and/or entirely online, for the time being, prioritize main repairs, like electrical repairs and roof repairs. Staying on top of electrical repairs is crucial for safety. Neglected wires and electrical systems can overheat, give off sparks, and quickly become a fire and/or injury hazard. Even if your employees manage to stay safe with wiring that is on the fritz, lack of maintenance and repair may lead to electrical shorts, outages, and more. This may put the functionality of systems and large appliances at risk and slow or hinder company operations.
Similarly, regular roof inspections and roof repair are just as important. Like homeowners, businesses need to get their roof inspected regularly. Roof inspections catch little problems before they become big ones. A professional can identify peeling or gaps in essential protective sealants, loose flashing, leaks, invasive and/or nesting critters, and other potential problems. A leaky ceiling or bowing ceiling from neglected roof repair is that much more damaging to businesses. Not only do you have expensive repairs to worry about, but you also need to play damage control when it comes to customers’ impressions and future worries. Prevent this from happening in the first place by keeping up on small, routine repairs.
5. Think About Customers’ Comfort
What are the best business tips as businesses begin to reopen? Customers may be wary to venture outdoors and especially to venture inside restaurants, retailers, and businesses for the first time in months. Ease the transition by prioritizing customers’ comfort.
Accomplish this by doing all you can to stay current with AC maintenance. Proper ventilation is an important part of keeping your customers and employees safe. Swap out filters regularly once a month — or once every three months at a minimum. This will keep allergens and particles from getting trapped inside. Look into HVAC repairs at the first sign of ventilation fan or duct troubles. Both components keep fresh air circulating throughout your business and may be used to exhaust or remove air from particular rooms, like bathrooms and kitchens.
6. Invest In Large, Worthwhile Projects
Some large projects need doing, even in the midst of and/or the aftermath of a global pandemic. While a lot of business tips right now focus on cutting costs and saving money, sometimes it is worthwhile to invest in expensive undertakings or repairs.
For example, if you own a warehouse, warehouse-type setting, or a construction company, it is important to take on any big repairs — like forklift repairs — right away. Sometimes, big repairs are important for the safety of your employees and the continuation of your business. The last thing you need right now is to get a pricey safety citation.
Another repair that is costly but similarly cannot wait is furnace repair. A malfunctioning furnace may pack all kinds of potential consequences. A neglected furnace may overheat, leading to uncomfortable temperatures and damages, like cracks and leaks in ductwork. Gas-fired furnaces pose even more potential problems, with contaminated air, gas leaks, and combustion possibly at stake.
7. Ramp Up Cleaning, And Be Vocal About It
Once upon a time, it was considered a matter of pride for many restaurants and businesses to keep routine cleaning out of sight. Busboys and busgirls cleared remaining plates, napkins, and utensils off restaurant tables after patrons vacated them. Office buildings, hotels, and retailers called in the cleaning crew after hours. Now, things have changed! Customers want to see staff cleaning and taking extra measures to sanitize and disinfect surfaces.
If you own a restaurant or any business that serves food, go ahead and disinfect tables and surfaces out in the open. Ask employees to wear gloves and change them as necessary. Ask employees to wear masks, and encourage your customers to do the same when possible.
Business tips for other businesses are more or less the same. It’s okay for customers to see you disinfecting surfaces. Focus on high-touch surfaces in particular. “Tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, sinks” all constitute high-touch surfaces, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Employees should wear masks whenever possible, and put hand sanitizer dispensers out for employees and customers alike to use — and to use frequently.
Ask employees to stay home if they experience any cold and flu symptoms, and ask all staff to wash their hands and practice good hygiene.
Review the CDC and World Health Organization (WHO) websites for tips to properly clean and sanitize your building or premises.
8. Rethink And Retrain
You will have to make changes, no matter what business you are in. Rethink your budget, your business plan, and your day-to-day operations. For example, do you save on utility bills and ease employees’ concerns about safety by allowing some remote work? Consider working that into your long-term business plan. Weigh the benefits of using task management applications or software to help employees stay on-task and collaborate remotely.
If you can move more operations and sales online, do it. Make the most of the avenues and resources available to you.
Finally, customers will inevitably have questions about COVID-19 and the future of your business. It is a good idea to do your best to anticipate the most common questions and prepare answers for them.
When you have your new budget, operations, and answers to how your business will weather COVID-19, create new training materials and educate employees about any new policies and practices you will put into place.
9. Strengthen Your Online Presence
In a 2014 study, 80% of small businesses survived their first year into their next, 2015. Of course, that is much easier to do when a global pandemic isn’t looming in the background (or, in some cases, the foreground). Conventional wisdom and business tips are changing amid COVID-19.
How are things changing? Now is the best time for businesses to reinvest in websites, online marketing, and online sales. If you were previously most comfortable selling out of a brick-and-mortar store and spreading news by word of mouth, now is the perfect opportunity to change.
More than half of marketers view blog content as their top investment. Use this time to find a trusted search engine optimization (SEO) and/or content creation company. Polish your website. Troubleshoot glitches and slow loading times, and invest in software to ensure that your website is secure.
10. Give Back, When You Can
One of the business tips that will remain the same during a pandemic, war, or any other major event is this: your company’s image matters. Ingratiate yourself to your customers or clients by showing that you care about the community in the midst of COVID-19 and its aftermath. If you are doing particularly well, you can always make a charitable donation to the community or adjust operations to contribute to relief efforts (e.g., breweries began producing hand sanitizer during the first few months of the pandemic).
For businesses who are already working with a tight budget, there are still things you can do! Ask customers to donate and raffle off items or have sales and promotions to give them an added incentive.
How are business tips evolving in the midst of COVID-19? What will business tips look like when the pandemic is over? Things are continually changing and advice and best practices are changing, too. Get started with the tips above, and keep an eye out for updates from trusted organizations, like the WHO.