With coronavirus (COVID-19) cases spreading across the U.S. and dominating the news, many small business owners are wondering what they can do to protect their employees and their businesses. While no one can predict the future with any certainty, there are some steps you can take now to prepare for potential disruption and soften the impact.
- Keep your staff safe and informed. Your employees are your most important resource, so be sure to remind everyone to follow best practices for minimizing personal risk (avoid contact with sick people; avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth; and clean your hands often by washing them with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer) and make sure your workplaces are cleaned and sanitized regularly, even if there isn’t an outbreak in your area. Keep your staff informed about your action and contingency plans, make sure employees who could work from home are set up with the necessary remote-work technology (do a trial run if possible), and encourage employees to take sick leave if they feel unwell. (If you don’t usually offer sick leave, consider doing so for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic.)
- Talk to your banker. Depending on your location, industry, and business model, the coronavirus pandemic could have a significant impact on your business — as travel is restricted, supply chains are interrupted, and events are canceled — even if none of your employees become ill. Keep in close contact with your banker and provide regular updates on your business situation. Ask for information and communicate your needs clearly as conditions change. In addition to relief your banker may be able to provide, a number of resources are available through the U.S. Small Business Administration. Small business owners are eligible to apply for a low-interest loan due to Coronavirus. Find more information at SBA.gov/Disaster.
- Keep the lines of communication open with your clients, suppliers, and partners. Call your important clients if possible, actively monitor and respond to relevant comments on social media, and send out email notifications about any changes to your business operations. Also, be sure to talk to critical suppliers about their ability to deliver, and line up alternatives if necessary.
- Prepare for location closures. If your storefronts or offices might need to close, make sure you have a plan for security and equipment maintenance, and create physical signs advising the public of the closure — including an indication of where to find more information (for example, on your website or social media channels).
- Think outside the box. If your normal way of doing business is at risk, consider alternatives. Can you provide any services over the phone or online? If you’re a sit-down restaurant, can you offer takeout or home delivery? How can you help create boundaries that encourage social distancing?
As with any other type of crisis, preparation and communication — not panic — are key to ensuring the best outcome in a pandemic. A bit of planning now will help you position your business to better weather the potential storm.